An Alameda Garden: January 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Good Morning and Welcome to Your New Zone

Did you feel a shift in the cosmos yesterday? A slight bending of the time-space continuum? Well, perhaps it wasn't that cataclysmic, but there was a notable change in the gardening world: the USDA released its long-awaited revision of the Plant Hardiness Zone Map. The new map uses 30 years of weather data and does show generally warmer temperatures shifting northward. So, many people will find that their zones are now a notch higher. Here in Alameda, for example, we've moved from Zone 9b, with low temps from 25 to 30F, to Zone 10a, with low temps from 30 to 35F. That sounds about right to me since getting below 30F here is quite rare. If you want to find the new zone for your specific area, click here and plug in your zip code.

So what does this new zoning mean for you? Nothing radically different. It might justify venturing a little more into the world of tropical plants. Maybe you'll want to try growing your own bananas, which require Zone 10-11 temps. But keep in mind that this "new normal" means that we might have fewer chill hours (hours below 45F) in the winter that some plants require for flowering and setting fruit.

But rather than getting too caught up in zones and average temperatures, the best approach is to get to know your own garden. Identify the warmest spots (probably against a south-facing fence or wall) and the spots most vulnerable to frosts. Take notes and plant accordingly. Take more notes. Pretty soon you'll have more accurate data to work with than the USDA will ever be able to provide you. And then you can name or number your zone anything you want.
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Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Book for Beginning Gardeners

My friend Katie Elzer-Peters has a new book out that is tailor-made for any newbie gardeners out there. Beginner's Illustrated Guide to Gardening has over 400 full-color photos and illustrations that take you step by step through the gardening techniques you'll need to keep your garden and lawn in top shape. There aren't nearly enough books out there that are truly aimed at the beginning gardener and this one fills that very big need. If you are a beginning gardener, buy it. If you know a beginning gardener, buy it for him or her. (That way, they can save their money for plants!)

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Half-Off Discounts on UC Botanical Garden Memberships

 Last year I took advantage of a great bargain on Groupon: a huge discount on memberships to the UC Botanical Garden. Now the offer has come around again and you shouldn't miss it. You can get a one-year individual membership for only $22 (a $45 value) or a one-year family membership for $32 (a $65 value). For that small investment you can have access to 34 acres of amazing plants from all over the world, and discounts to many of their programs, concerts, and plant sales. The Bot is a place with year-round appeal--there's always something incredible in bloom.

Click this link to take advantage of this Groupon deal. (Disclaimer: I will receive $10 for every person who takes advantage of this offer from this link.)

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Alcatraz: The Garden Show

Did you catch the new show "Alcatraz" last night? I watched a bit but I confess I was much more impressed with the actual place than I was with the show. But it reminded me of the tour I took of the Alcatraz gardens a couple years ago. The gardens are in the process of being restored and the tour of the open gardens, with their spectacular views, is a lovely contrast to the creepy, oppressive setting of the prison itself. So here is my own little "Alcatraz" show--the garden version.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

How Bad Economies Lead to Bad Trees

San Francisco is putting in place a policy regarding the maintenance of street trees that I fear other communities could soon pick up on. In an effort to save approximately $300K per year in maintenance costs, the city is transferring responsibility for pruning and maintenance of street trees to individual property owners. For trees that run 20 ft. or higher, pruning can cost between $300 and $1000. I can easily foresee that cash-strapped homeowners will either forgo the necessary pruning, leading to hazardous tree conditions that could endanger lives and property, or they may attempt to do the pruning themselves, in which case we can expect to see a lot of badly pruned trees and injured amateur tree-pruners. This policy has, to some degree, been in effect for a while, but a new round of notices have been sent to lucky homeowners notifying them of the transfer of responsibility.

This kind of policy raises all kinds of interesting questions. If a homeowner doesn't want to be responsible for pruning a street tree every year, can they just have the tree removed on their own? Could we see streets stripped bare of trees because homeowners decide they're cost-prohibitive? How much is it going to cost the city to police the trees to make sure they are being kept healthy and safe? What impact may poorly maintained and potentially hazardous trees have on already devastated property values?

Property owners are being advised that they can appeal the transfer of responsibility for the trees, and if this were happening in my town, I would certainly do so. I understand that municipalities across the country need to cut their budgets but this is a pretty good example of a short-term fix being turned into a bad long-term policy.

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