An Alameda Garden: July 2015

Friday, July 31, 2015

Collapsible Rain Barrels: Maybe the Best Idea Ever!

I just found this listing on Groupon for a collapsible rain barrel. I've been slow to embrace the idea of installing a rain barrel in my garden simply because I knew that even in a non-drought year it would sit empty, taking up room in my garden or in the driveway for most if not all of the summer. But given how severe the drought has been, I've finally started shopping around for one.

But this collapsible rain barrel has caught my eye. I love the idea that I could easily take it down during the winter (assuming we get rain again during the winter), and only put it up in the summer when rain is in the forecast. Then after it's empty again, poof! I can fold it up and put it away until it's needed the next time.

The question is, is it durable? Has anyone tried one of these yet? For the price, even the steeply discounted Groupon price, I would want it to last at least a few years. Please leave a comment if you have any experience with these!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Monday, July 27, 2015

How to Grow Epiphytes (aka Air Plants)

Orchids and staghorn ferns are two kinds of epiphytes.
One trend in houseplants that comes around every so often is a resurgence of interest in epiphytes. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants, but they aren't parasites. In their natural habitats they take moisture and nutrition from the air and the rain without robbing the plants they dwell on of any nutrients. For that reason epiphytes are often called "air plants." You'll often see epiphytes attached to driftwood or shells, or even hung directly on a wall. They can live perfectly happily outdoors under the right conditions, but their soilless state and ability to grow on just about anything make them a natural choice for a houseplant. Common epiphytes include some types of orchids, bromeliads, anthuriums, philodendrons, staghorn ferns, and Spanish moss.

Epiphytic orchid growing
on a piece of tree branch
But don't let the term "air plant" mislead you. Epiphytes can't survive in your home on just air. Once or twice a week you should submerge your epiphytes in room temperature water for up to three or four hours. You can use municipal tap water on them, but they'll appreciate rain water, bottled water, or well water even more and will likely bloom more quickly with it. For extra nutrition, you can mix a half-strength dose of orchid food into the bathwater once a month.

The proper lighting is important too. Situate them in bright, indirect light, just like they'd find if they were perched high into a dense canopy of a tree. Direct sunlight could dry them out too much.

Dry air can also be a problem, so during the summer months if your home is either very hot or very air-conditioned, you should give your epiphytes a spritz of water every couple days in between soakings.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

How to Repot a Citrus Tree

Do you have a potted citrus tree that's been in the container for three years or more? It's time to repot it! You'll find your tree will be completely reinvigorated when you repot it and move it up to a slightly larger container--if you do it right. For years the conventional wisdom has been to prune the roots when you repot a container-grown tree, but I just came across this video from the folks at who, following the advice of the citrus experts at Four Winds Growers, now advise that you skip the root-pruning. They tell you exactly how to repot a citrus tree, what kind of soil mix to use, and how to feed it. Check it out.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Reminder: Water-Wise Gardening Talk at Mill Valley Public Library

Just a reminder that I'll be at the Mill Valley Public Library tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. to talk about water-wise gardening. I'll be discussing the new water restrictions, tips and techniques for watering your garden as effectively and efficiently as possible, and most importantly, exactly what sort of rain dance we're supposed to do to ensure that El Niño comes to our rescue. I'll also have copies of my books for sale following the talk. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, July 25, 11:00 a.m.
Mill Valley Public Library
Creekside Room
375 Throckmorton Ave.
Mill Valley

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Picture This: Pond Reflections

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

4 Things About Weed-Trimmers I Learned the Hard Way

One of my most-needed garden tools is also my most-hated garden tool: the weed-trimmer (or as I affectionately refer to it, the %*#&$! weed-trimmer. I depend on it to keep down weeds in the many cracks in my driveway and patio as well as the odd nooks and crannies that I haven't yet filled with plants. I depend on it, yet I've often found the tool to be gutless, awkward, and an ergonomic nightmare.

I bought my first weed-trimmer used, a cordless model by Troy-Bilt if I remember correctly, from the same couple I bought my house from. I don't remember what I paid for it, but whatever it was, it was too much. The thing was heavy and had a battery life that could be measured in sneezes--not nearly enough to get through the weed-trimming chores on even my small urban lot. When the battery ultimately gave up the ghost and could no longer be recharged, and I discovered that the cost of a new battery was roughly the same, or in some cases more than, a completely new weed-trimmer, I moved on to another models, first cordless and then finally corded, each one with its own set of disappointments and frustrations. (I've never tried a gas trimmer, however, so my comments here will not address their pros and cons.) Along the way, however, I learned a few things I wish I'd known from the get-go.

Size Matters--As Do Shape and Weight

Having purchased a couple of weed-trimmers online, I learned the hard way that it's a good idea to actually go to a store where you can see and preferably hold the tool to get a better sense of the size. There is typically an adjustable shaft that you can set to a length that will hopefully work for you, but if you're rather short or particularly tall, some models will have you either stooping to reach the weeds if the trimmer's too short for you or holding your arms at an odd angle if the trimmer's too long. Taller people tend to prefer models with a straight shaft; shorter people generally do better with a curved-shaft trimmer. You should also consider the weight. Because of the angle you need to hold a weed-trimmer at, even the lightest models can start to feel heavy sooner than you might expect. Make sure you're going to be able to handle it for the length of time you'll need to get through your clean-up.

Feeding Matters Too

Check out how the string feeds out from the spool. Some feed automatically, others you have to bump against the ground to feed out more string. That bumping thing gets old real fast, so look for something that feeds automatically. I also found that I prefer dual-feed trimmers--that is, ones that feed out two lines from one spool simultaneously. They just seem to cut more efficiently.

Cordless Is Not Necessarily as Convenient as You Might Think

When I first started using a weed-trimmer I assumed that the cordless models would just naturally be more convenient than dragging a long electrical cord around behind me. But the weight difference between cordless, which can run upwards of about 8 lbs., and corded, which generally weigh between 5 and 7 lbs., can easily cancel out the benefits of the cordless models' go-anywhere range. Those extra few pounds can matter greatly when you have a lot of trimming to do and you have to take breaks because your arms and back are getting tired. Ditto when you have to take breaks to recharge the battery on the cordless model--especially since the breaks will need to be several hours or even a day long for a full recharge. I found that with a 50- or 100-ft. long heavy-duty extension cord, a corded trimmer was more convenient for me because it was lighter-weight and could run as long as I needed, making my most-hated garden chore quicker to get through.

Price Does Not Always Reflect Quality

This was the biggest surprise for me. When a heavier-duty, higher-priced cordless model I'd been using and cussing at on a regular basis finally bit the dust in the middle of cleaning up my driveway, I got mad and stormed over to Home Depot, where I purchased the least expensive model they had--a corded 4-amp trimmer by Homelite. It is smaller, and therefore more comfortable for someone of my height (5'4"). It weighs in at about 5 lbs., so I can generally get through what I need to do without inciting a backache. It has an automatic, dual-feed line that rarely sticks like some of my other trimmers did. All in all, it has been more dependable and easier to use than any other model I've tried. The cost: just $30!

(It should go without saying that it's important to follow all the manufacturer's safety recommendations when using any string-trimmer, not the least of which is to wear fully closed shoes and safety glasses.)

I still hate using a weed-trimmer but finding a model with fewer annoying issues helps me hate it a bit less. There are certainly other considerations to investigate when choosing a weed-trimmer but these are the issues I particularly wish I'd known about up front. I could have saved myself a lot of swearing over the years.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Picture This: Facetime in the Garden

Photo taken on GWA Symposium garden tour, Indianapolis, 2011

Monday, July 20, 2015

From Edible Gardening to Cuisine Gardening

If you're ready to take your vegetable garden to the next level, consider planting an array of vegetables, fruits, and herbs from one particular cuisine. By having the specialty items favored in the dishes of certain cultures readily available to you in your own edible garden, you'll open up so many more possibilities for your home cooking.

Pick any cuisine you love. Mexican? You can plant avocados, jicama, chili peppers, cilantro. Italian? Tomatoes, of course, and eggplant, zucchini, garlic, basil, fennel. How about North African cuisine? Apricots, lentils, olives, ginger, peppermint, even saffron.

Some of the cuisines that require more specialized ingredients come from the Southeast Asian countries. And to simplify things for you, Steve Asbell has put together a tremendously helpful post on his blog, The Rainforest Garden, that outlines more than 30 vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices that are commonly used in Thai cooking and other Southeast Asian cuisines. Want to know how to grow turmeric, arrowroot, or yard-long beans? He's got you covered. And what's more, many of these plants are beautiful as well as flavorful, so they can be tucked in among your ornamental plants.

Gardening by cuisine gives you a palette of ingredients to cook with, which makes preparing some of those complicated foreign dishes more accessible and saves you from the trip to the international food aisle of the grocery store to pick up this or that special item. All it takes is planting a bit of the world in your backyard.

Illustration: Steve Asbell

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Are You Following Me?

I've been doing some virtual housekeeping (so much less strenuous than the real kind of housekeeping) and making an effort to organize my social media life. You're going to see a lot more activity on this blog than you have in a long time, starting next week. And not just on this blog, but on the other social media channels I participate in. So if you don't want to miss anything, make sure you're following me.

For starters, you can subscribe to this blog to have new posts delivered to your email inbox or through an RSS feed. Just fill out the Follow By Email or Subscribe To boxes in the right-hand column.

And to follow me in other social media, look here:

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Man Behind the Knock Out Roses

Check out this article in the Washington Post about Will Radler, the amateur rose breeder who developed the Knock Out line of roses. I don't think it's fair to fault the Knock Outs because they don't fave a fragrance (with the exception of the yellow Sunny Knock Out rose). There are plenty of worthwhile flowers that don't have a fragrance, although I admit not many unscented flowers are allowed in my garden.If you ask me, Knock Out roses, with their disease resistance (except for rose rosette disease) and no-deadheading, have earned their popularity.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Talking About Water-Wise Gardening...

I had a great time visiting the A.K. Smiley Library in Redlands on Monday night to talk about the very hot topic of water-wise gardening. I'll next be crossing the bay to talk about it at the Mill Valley Public Library on Saturday, July 25th at 11:00 a.m. Do you have any questions about low-water gardening and coping with the new water restrictions? Let me know!

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Upcoming Garden Talks in Southern California

Hey, SoCal folks! I'm hitting the road and coming south to do two garden talks next week at libraries in Redlands and Moreno Valley. Here are the details:

Monday, July 13th, 6:00-7:00 p.m.
Water-Wise Gardening 2.0

As California’s drought drags on, we’re now living under new, much more challenging water restrictions. Come and learn how you can meet the challenges presented by those new restrictions and still keep your garden going. We'll discuss watering techniques, drought-tolerant plants and hydrozoning, lawn alternatives, and more. 
125 W. Vine Street
(909) 798-7565

Tuesday, July 14th, 6:00-7:00 p.m.
California Month-by-Month Gardening

Learn how to plan, plant, care for, water, fertilize and troubleshoot your garden every month of the year.
25480 Alessandro Blvd.
Moreno Valley
(951) 413-3880

The talks are free and I'll have books for sale at the end of each talk.
Hope to see you there!

Photo credit: M Kasahara

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Sign Up for "Time in the Garden"

I have long wanted to start a monthly newsletter about gardening but somehow or another, it kept getting moved to the bottom of my to-do list. But no more. This is the month that I'll be launching my newsletter, "Time in the Garden with Claire Splan"! Here's what you'll get if you subscribe:

  • A monthly to-do list for your California garden
  • Tips on saving time on gardening tasks
  • Links to helpful reviews of new gardening products and books
  • Recipes for your home-grown fruits and veggies
  • News and ideas to try out in your own garden
It's free, of course! And no spam, ever--I promise! Click here to sign up.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...