Archive | Gardener’s Notebook

Fall Planting Guide

As the days shorten and the stress of the sun lessens, we’re in a prime window for planting perennial evergreen species that can provide your household with edible abundance. That window stays open from early October until the third or fourth day of our first big storm, when the soil will start to be too saturated for planting. Put these items in the ground now, and then you can “turn them loose,” sit back, and enjoy harvests year after year.

Subtropical perennials that do well in the East Bay include olives, pomegranates, citrus (lemon, lime, kumquat, Satsuma mandarins), currants, loquat, avocado, and lots more.

Dig an Oversized Hole for Planting

Most of the East Bay has clay-rich soils that need conditioning. While sheet mulching can help break up and enhance clay over time, digging oversized holes for planting will help right away.

Generally, holes should be dug to three times the width and two-to-three times the depth of the pot the plant comes in. Thus, a one-gallon plant needs a hole dug to the size of a five-gallon pot. (If you live in one of the few places, like Alameda, blessed with sandy loam, this caveat may not apply.)

Root Crown Height Placement

The most important part of a young plant is the interface between earth and sky, which is known as the root crown.… Read More

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Gardener’s Notebook

Winter is the Time to Plant Bare-Root Fruit Trees

By Joshua Burman Thayer

Garden expert Joshua Burman Thayer is busy planting fruit trees and shrubs this time of year.

There’s a lot going on in a northern forest mid-winter, but you don’t need to head into the wilderness to see it. Just look around. Similar things are happening everywhere in nature, even in the mild and urbanized East Bay. Take, for instance, those fallen leaves. They serve many functions:

  • They return carbon and nutrients to the ground.
  • They create a layer of mulch that insulates the soil from the cold.
  • When the canopy trees are bare, the heat of the winter sun can penetrate into the soil below, spawning the growth and flowering of understory herbs and shrubs.

Planting fruit trees can give your yard those advantages, and winter is a good time to plant or prune, since dormant trees are less likely to suffer from the stress. 

You’ll probably get your new fruit trees in bare-root form. These are plants that have been dug from the ground when they were dormant (leafless), and their roots have been shaken free of soil, so the trees are lighter and thus easier to transport. These bare-root trees will remain dormant until warmer weather and longer days coax them from their winter rest.… Read More

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Plant a Tree Collard
Now is the time!

By Joshua Burman Thayer


As winter brings shorter days and cooler temperatures, our gardens enjoy a reprieve from the dryness of summer. More moisture comes not only from winter rains, but also from condensation as the dew point rises. The dew point is the atmospheric temperature (varying according to pressure and humidity) below which water droplets begin to condense, causing dew to form.

But there’s a downside for gardeners. Cooler soil temperature and the higher dew point can lead to powdery mildew and botrytis mold creeping in among our late season grapes, tomatoes, and other lingering fruits and vegetables. That’s why this is a good time to focus on a different set of plants, the ones we refer to as cool-season crops.  

Among my favorite cool-season additions to the garden is the tree collard. This unique member of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae) is able to continue growing season after season as a perennial, climbing upward each year toward the sky. If you have ever wondered about adding a perennial crop inside or near your raised beds full of annuals, tree collards are a good choice. Here are some fun ways to incorporate them into your cool-season beds:

Plant the Northern Boundary

Tree collards can grow to seven feet tall, which in a small urban raised bed could mean shading out other plants looking for sunlight.… Read More

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Gardener’s Notebook

Pomegranate Pizzazz

Ruby red pomegranate seeds enliven our salads, meats, sauces, and desserts with their brilliant color and tart-sweet flavor. Pomegranate trees and shrubs (Punica granatum) grow easily here in the Bay Area and are best planted between September and November. This is also when the fruits are harvested. 

Pomegranate lovers owe thanks to botanist Gregory M. Levin, author of Pomegranate Roads: A Soviet Botanist’s Exile from Eden, who collected more than 1,000 specimens from the vast dry slopes of Central Asia and brought them back to his Soviet research station in Garrigala, Turkmenistan. Levin propagated plants from wild stock and perpetuated several of the varieties we like to plant here in the Bay Area including the Parfianka variety, which he donated to UC Davis as the
Soviet Union collapsed. 

Pomegranate bushes are easy to grow, and since they need water only once per week, we can practically dry farm these rugged shrubs in the gaps between other plantings. Follow these steps for planting and caring for your pomegranate bushes:

  • Start from a cutting or nursery plant and chose a sunny, warm spot for your bush. 
  • Plant before winter sets in. The young plants can tolerate wind, but once there’s been a week of rain, the soil becomes difficult to work.
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Gardener’s Notebook

Growing Food Near Native Oaks


Is it possible to grow perennial food plants near native oaks? 
Yes, with the right plants and methods.

Here in Northern California, we are blessed with many stoic and picturesque native oaks. Quercus agrifolia (coastal live oak), Quercus lobata (valley oak), and Quercus douglasii (blue oak) are all found in this bioregion. While sudden oak death and other oak ailments may be a result of anthropogenic (man-made) influences, fear not: By following some simple rules and planting specially adapted native plants, you can foster life under and around your oaks.

Drip Line Denotes Microclimate

pink flowering currantOur California oaks have evolved to thrive in dry soil throughout our long summer drought. While those conditions would seem to discourage plant growth, an intact oak savanna ecosystem displays a diversity of plants growing in the “skirts” of the oak trees, due to the increased moisture present in areas around the tree where rain (and accumulated fog) drips from the branches. Called the “drip line,” this is a sweet spot for many of the oak savanna native plant species, and gardeners can put it to good use. 

In my consulting work with homeowners and on ranches, one of the main mistakes I see is that irrigation is installed too close to the drip line of the oak.… Read More

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