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Lynn Kunstman

Fall is the Best Time to Plant Native Plants!

By Beet 2023 10 October

While most gardeners think of planting new garden plants in spring when the weather warms, the very best time to plant those native plants you’ve been meaning to put in is fall.  Autumn planting of natives has many benefits for the gardener, the plants and the soil. Our native plant nursery at Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center has many beautiful native grasses, perennials, shrubs and trees for you to plant in late October for establishment over the winter months. And as an added bonus, we will be selling them on Saturday, October 14th from 9 am to 2 pm. Yes, this is shameless self-promotion, but we want EVERYONE to plant a native this fall!

 

Plants that go into the ground in mid-to-late fall have an advantage over those planted in spring.  Because native plants use the first several months in the ground growing their root systems, they can take advantage of the soil warmth, even after air temperatures drop to the point that top growth becomes dormant. It may look like nothing is happening, but those roots are growing and moving down in the soil, making associations with the mycelial organisms that will help them grow faster in the spring, and helping to infiltrate the rain that falls on your property. When planted in the spring, native plants will often appear to not be growing at all, as they race to get their roots established. By taking advantage of fall planting, and cool season root growth, you can see faster growth in spring of the above ground vegetation.

 

Of course, benefits to the gardener include not having to water through dry hot seasons while the plant establishes itself. Native plants require less water and pruning maintenance in comparison to non-natives, but like any young plant, if planted in spring they will require more watering to ensure survival. Fall planting just makes sense to keep both the plant and the gardener from stressing!

 

Benefits to the soil abound as well. As long as the plant can photosynthesize – that is, build carbon body parts using sunlight and carbon dioxide through above-ground vegetation – that carbon is being absorbed out of the air and into the root systems. Carbon in the form of root tissue can stay in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years. Think of our native prairie soils, made rich and black by millennia of native bunchgrass roots. The exact same thing happens in your garden when you plant our deep-rooted native plants. Soil organisms that evolved with western native plants abound where natives grow, and add to the richness of the soil ecosystem.

 

Plant some native plants in your yard this fall and you will see the ecosystem benefits: healthier soil, more abundant and diverse wildlife, more pollinators and butterflies, more breeding birds, better water retention and less need to irrigate.

 

This fall, GARDEN FOR LIFE!

Beneficial Insects You Need to Know – Part 3

By Beet 2023 08 August

In past articles we discussed predatory and parasitic beneficials.  Now we turn our attention to pollinators.  Who are the important pollinators in your yard?  Everyone is familiar with the non-native European honeybee (Apis mellifera), but there are so many more insects that provide our pollination services.  In Oregon, we have over 700 species of NATIVE bees, all of whom are servicing our native and non-native plants. And good news: native bees do not sting!

All bees need pollen and nectar to reproduce.  Many of our native bees are specialists on the pollen of particular native plants so that, if the plant isn’t present, those bees cannot survive.  Plant natives!  Some examples of our beautiful native bees are bumblebees – which everyone recognizes – sunflower bees, and others shown below.

 

 

Most of these bees are solitary stem or ground nesting bees. Young queens gather and build a “bee loaf” of pollen and nectar to lay an egg on, then seal that egg and food in a chamber.

Our second most important pollinators after bees are our native flies, especially the hoverflies.

 

 

These little bee mimics can be identified by their large eyes and their hovering behavior over flowers.  Our beneficial flies overwinter in fallen leaves, and many of their larvae provide winter food for birds. So “leave the leaves”.

Moths and butterflies are a third group of important pollinators.  Remember that all butterflies are moths (that fly in the daytime and are brightly colored), but not all moths are butterflies.  The moths are critical nighttime pollinators, so it is important to put your outdoor lights on motion sensors, keeping your yard mostly dark for these important insects.

 

 

Wasps and beetles make up the other two large groups of pollinating insects.

For more information, visit the Xerces Society page about pollinators.

 

Master Gardeners Catch the Rain!

By Beet 2023 08 August

In September of 2021, the irrigation wells on the OSU Southern Oregon Research and Education Center campus in Central Point ran dry. Watering of all campus demonstration gardens stopped, and plants in the native plant nursery began to die. Through a massive emergency effort, the nursery stock was either donated to local restoration projects or taken to member homes to be maintained until we could install a watering system.

In October 2021, bids were sought to find a contractor to construct a rain catchment system, pending approval of the project. All contractors with rain catchment skills were fully booked until late Spring 2022. As an interim solution, JCMGA purchased eight 250-gallon cage tanks and filled them with water from a local watering delivery service. A small pump was purchased and watering the remaining nursery plants continued all winter using the two thousand gallons of water in these small tanks.

 

In January 2022, as the new growing season approached, Jackson County Master Gardener Association received approval to install the rain catchment system as an emergency irrigation backup for our well.  Fundraising began for the $15,000 system with a Go Fund Me campaign in February of 2022.  A total of $10,367 was raised, with the remaining funds being acquired through plant sales from the native plant nursery, and a generous grant from Jackson County Soil and Water Conservation District.  Sage Hill Landscape, the installation contractors, also donated one of the tanks to the project.

The system, installed by Sage Hill, was completed in the summer of 2022. It is a 5,000-gallon system consisting of two 2,500-gallon tanks that capture water off the roof of greenhouse #2. When the campus well failed again in the late fall of 2022, JCMGA was able to utilize the rain catchment system, beginning in February 2023 to grow all the plants for our May 2023 Spring Garden Fair.

As of July 2023, the well on campus is functioning, and the rain system tanks are full.  Master Gardeners will use the rainwater to maintain the native plants in the nursery on campus in the event of another well failure. Additionally, the system will serve as a demonstration teaching tool for Master Gardeners, Small Farms, Land Stewards, 4-H programs, and any community association that would like to bring members onto campus to see what a large capacity capture system looks like. An interpretive sign was installed in early July of 2023, and we look forward to the public being able to learn about rainwater catchment on the SOREC campus.

 

Beneficial Insects You Need to Know – Part 2

By Beet 2023 06 June

Back in April you read Part 1 of this series about beneficial insects you can encourage in your yards. I discussed predatory insects: lacewings, mantids, ladybird beetles, pirate bugs and syrphid flies. All of these are active hunters of garden pests. Now we need to shift our focus to the parasitoids – those insects who parasitize other insects. In this instance, females of the parasite find a suitable host insect – usually a caterpillar – and lay their eggs directly in the body of the host.  The host remains alive while being eaten from the inside by the larvae of the parasite. Not a pleasant vision, but one uniquely designed by nature to maintain ecosystem balance. Examples of parasitoids are parasitic tachinid flies, braconid, chalcid, Ichneumonid and trichogramma wasps.

 

Tachinid flies are quite variable in appearance but are usually very bristly. Adult flies feed on nectar and are important pollinators in your garden. Female flies lay one to several eggs in a host caterpillar or similar larva.  Those eggs then hatch and the fly larvae feed on the living host until they are ready to pupate, at which point they emerge, finally killing the host insect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parasitic wasps range in size from small to minuscule and defend gardens against caterpillars like corn earworm, tomato fruit worm, cabbageworm, and tent caterpillars.

 

The parasitic wasp has a piercing ovipositor. She lays an egg on the aphid, and the larva eats the aphid, which is not dead. When you look at an aphid colony and see perfectly round holes in the abdomens of individuals, the wasps have completed their life cycle in the body of the aphid and emerged, leaving behind an aphid husk. If the aphids are tan-colored and fat, they are being actively parasitized. Don’t spray because the parasitoids are part of the cycle.

 

Trichogramma wasps

Are the smallest and one of the most popular beneficial wasps. They are much smaller than the other three parasitic wasps – like a speck of dust. Females lay up to 300 eggs, usually in the eggs of the host insect.  But some also lay eggs directly into the bodies of adult scale, aphids, beetles, psyllids and caterpillars such as cutworms, hornworms, corn earworms, and leafrollers. Trichogramma wasps can be purchased in nurseries and organic growing supply stores.

 

 

 

Braconid wasps lay eggs in caterpillars and aphids too – check for perfect circular holes in mummified aphids or pupating wasps on hornworms.

 

 

 

 

 

Chalcid wasps parasitize caterpillars of several different species, while

 

 

 

 

 

Ichneumonid wasps specialize primarily in tree pest insects.  Chalcid, Braconid and Icneumonid wasps are much larger than Trichogramma and parasitize caterpillars directly.

 

 

 

To attract all these beneficials into your yard, provide habitat in the form of native nectar plants from the sunflower, mint, and carrot families – native yarrow, biscuit root, and coyote mint.  Remember, tiny mouths need tiny, shallow flowers from which to drink.

 

Resources:

 

 

 

Beneficial Insects You Need to Know: Part 1

By Beet 2023 05 May

As a child, I had a pathological fear of any insects or spiders I encountered in the house.  I was fine with the giant garden spider that hung out in her orb web over my mother’s iris bed, but anything entering the home sent me into hysterical weeping and demands of action of my parental units to eliminate the perceived threat.  Fortunately, I have outgrown this phobia, and as an adult I even hate dispatching black widows and yellowjackets, although I do this if they pose a threat to my grandchildren.

How did this miraculous transformation come about?  Education.  The understanding of the importance of all life to well-functioning ecosystems has changed the way I view the world.

Unfortunately, many people still have that knee-jerk reaction that I had as a child to most invertebrates they see in their yards and homes.  And the response is to reach for the bottle of insect spray so easily found at every nursery and big box store or to call pest control.  This is a plea to everyone to please stop and consider the role these creatures play in nature’s functioning.  When you spray for one insect, you are killing all others in the vicinity, and thereby eliminating potential beneficial insects that might assist you in maintaining the health of your garden.

We are all familiar with ladybugs and praying mantids as good guys, but there are so many more. We will begin with the predators.  By way of introduction, here are a few examples:

 

Lacewings & Snakeflies

The larvae of both are voracious predators of aphids, whiteflies, leafhopper nymphs, scale, spider mites and more.  Look for lacewing eggs laid on stalks in your yard.

 

 

 

Our second most important pollinators are the flies.  Larvae eat garden pest species, while the adults are nectar feeders on small, shallow flowers in the Brassicaceae, Apiaceae, and Asteraceae families.

 

 

 

True bugs – Minute Pirate bug, Big-Eyed Bug and Damsel Bug

All eat a wide variety of pests, in all stages of their life cycle.  To attract these, plant marigolds, native goldenrod, native biscuitroot, native buckwheat, cosmos, or native yarrow.

 

 

 

 

 

Beetles:  Ladybug, Rove Beetle, Soldier Beetle, and Ground Beetle.

 

 

 

Ditch the sprays and encourage these hunting insects by providing rock and wood piles for habitat and leaving the leaves to over winter under your shrubs and trees.  Plant native bunch grasses, native ground covers and native perennial plants near these “beetle berms.”  They will reward you with a garden with far fewer pest species.  A yard in balance does not need poisons.

In the coming editions of the Garden Beet, I will talk about two remaining groups of beneficial insects: parasitoids and pollinators.

Garden for Life!

Come to the After Sale!

By Beet 2023 05 May

Did you miss the Spring Garden Fair on May 6th at Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center?

Were you out of town?

Did you go to the Expo by mistake, and get distracted by the Home Show?

Or did you attend SGF and just not get ALL the plants you needed?

 

If so, you are in great luck!  Jackson County Master Gardeners are having an

 

AFTER SALE 

May 13th from 9 am to 3 pm

Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center

 

All vegetables, herbs, and annual flowers left over from SPRING GARDEN FAIR will be on sale for HALF PRICE.  Many native plants will be discounted as well.  Come on down and shop ’til you drop!

Phoenix Earth Day – April 22nd

By Beet 2023 04 April

 

Celebrate nature and learn more about

how we can protect the Earth

Join in the Kids’ Activities, Music and a Native Plant Exhibit and Sale.

  • Kids’ activities include rock painting, bean bag toss, seed planting, photo ops with the world’s largest caterpillar and more!  Dress as your favorite flower, animal or pollinator! 🐝
  • Music by Jen Ambrose starting at 11 AM and Ring of Trees starting at 1 PM
  • Walk, bike or ride the FREE shuttle bus from the parking area at the Phoenix Civic Center or the parking area at Blue Heron Park. Tenant and ADA parking ONLY at the event site.

Keystone Shrubs: More Birds in Your Garden

By Beet 2023 04 April

Last month we discussed keystone trees that do well in the Rogue Valley.  As you will recall, keystone plants are those that do the heavy lifting in terms of supporting food webs.  While many homeowners cannot plant larger trees, here are some woody shrubs that can be used in local landscapes and support a wide diversity and number of caterpillar species.  I have quoted the descriptions of these plants from Oregon Flora

 

Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)  “Evergreen huckleberry is a popular species for native and ornamental gardeners alike. This slow-growing, low-maintenance shrub provides attractive year-round interest, readily growing in all light conditions. Glossy dark green leaves complement clusters of bell-shaped white and pink flowers. It fruits best when given some sun, yielding shiny purple-black berries that are delicious in pies, jams or straight off the bush! Perfect in hedgerows and privacy screens, evergreen huckleberry provides erosion control and food and shelter for wildlife.” But the real story is that Vaccinium can support up to 130 species of moth and butterfly caterpillars, so it creates an abundance of food for nestling and fledgling birds.

Vaccinium ovatum Pursh

 

 

Thimbleberry (Rubus nutkanus) “Thimbleberry is a beautiful alternative or complement to common raspberry and blackberry. Thimbleberry’s fast-growing, thornless branches form thickets with large velvety leaves that provide thick cover. Showy white flowers mature into vibrant red berries, which contrast delightfully with the bright green leaves. Ripe thimbleberries are highly sought after by mammals and birds and the tart berries are delicious fresh or in pies and jams. It will tolerate a variety of light and moisture regimes.”  Thimbleberries host 96 Lepidopteran species.

  Rubus nutkanus Moc. ex Ser.

 

 

We have several native roses (Rosa) here in the Rogue Valley: BaldHip Rose R. gynocarpa, Woods’ Rose R. woodsii, and Nootka Rose R. nutkana. Check Oregon Flora to see which will work best for your site.  Roses support up to 94 species of butterfly and moth.

  Rosa nutkana C. Presl

 

Ceanothus is another powerhouse plant for both bees and butterflies.  The link here will take you to a page with all the natives listed.  You can choose deciduous or evergreen varieties.  Ninety-three Lepidopteran species hosted.

Ceanothus cuneatus

 

 

 

 

 

Serviceberry, Amelanchier alnifolia, hosts 81 species and is described thusly: “Pacific serviceberry is a silver barked, relatively slow-growing small tree that does well in sunny cool sites and dry shade. Patience will be amply rewarded with blueberry-like edible fruits and fragrant 1″ white flowers. In addition to providing wildlife habitat, it can be included in a hedgerow, windbreak, thicket, or erosion control planting in your woodland garden. Avoid heavy clay soils.”

Amelanchier alnifolia (Nutt.) Nutt. ex M. Roem.

 

 

Crataegus douglasii, or Black hawthorn is a beautiful small tree that hosts 80 caterpillar species. “Black hawthorn, or Douglas’ thornapple, is a slow-growing tree which can reach a maximum height of about 25 ft. It is particularly hardy and is resistant to diseases to which ornamental cultivars are susceptible. Lovely white flowers mature into black berries (haws). This small tree is ideal for gardeners interested in providing wildlife habitat: its sharp thorns provide protection to birds and small mammals while its berries offer food during winter months. Black hawthorn attracts pollinators, including hummingbirds and butterflies, as well as beneficial insects.”

Crataegus douglasii Lindl.

 

Finally, our native Hazelnut, Corylus cornuta, hosts 71 caterpillar species. “California hazelnut is a hardy shrub growing in full sun to shade and moist to relatively dry soil. It is among the first plants to bloom, its long catkins emerging between mid-winter and early spring. The leaves, which are deeply ridged with a slightly crinkly texture and serrated edges, turn a bright yellow in the fall. Attractive pale green leafy husks hide the maturing nuts which by late summer are a tasty and nutritious snack for humans and wildlife alike. Unlike the commercially grown European varieties, the native hazelnut is resistant to eastern hazelnut blight. If suckers are left unchecked, it will eventually form a thicket.”

Corylus cornuta Marshall

 

Try some, or all, of these wonderful, productive natives in your landscape.

 

 Garden for Life!

 

Grow Your Own Fresh Herbs

By Beet 2023 03 March

Our mission as Master Gardeners is to educate about sustainable gardening.  And what could be more sustainable than growing your own food?  Growing your own herbs is part of that.   Growing herbs can save you money and save water and shipping resources.  Plus, there is nothing more satisfying than walking outside with a pair of kitchen shears to collect the herbs you need for a recipe.

Many of the culinary herbs we use are woody perennials native to the dry Mediterranean region.  As we have a Mediterranean climate here in the Rogue Valley, they are a perfect choice for our gardens and kitchens.  Why spend good money on four sprigs of sage packaged in a plastic clamshell at the supermarket, when you can easily grow it in your yard?

The woody perennials herbs include: sage (Salvia officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), rosemary (Rosmarius officinalis), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), and oregano (Oregano vulgaris).  They are easy to grow and tend to thrive on neglect. A word of warning about oregano: it is now listed on the Oregon Invasive species list, as it escapes easily from gardens.  I recommend an alternative, Oreganum syriaca, which has a similar flavor profile, and is used in the middle eastern spice Za’atar.  And for those who like a licorice flavor profile, French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is well worth growing.  It must be grown from cuttings, as the seeds are sterile.  Other perennial herbs that are very easy to grow are chives (Allium schoenoprasum) and garlic chives (Allium tuberosum).  Both are vigorous clumping bulbs with edible leaves and flowers.  They spread readily by clumping and reseeding.  Many kinds of mint (Mentha) can also be grown, but be sure to grow them in containers, as they will spread aggressively around the yard.  They need more water than most other herbs.

Annual herbs I recommend for companion planting in your summer vegetable garden include basil (Ocimum basilicum), dill (Anethum graveolens), and coriander (Coriandrum sativum).  Coriander seeds are ground for the spice coriander, while the leaves are what we know as cilantro. Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida), which is actually a marigold, is used as a replacement herb for French tarragon.

Biennials you should plant are parsley and fennel.  As with oregano, fennel needs a warning.  It is also on the invasive species list, so if you are growing it for seed, please encase those in a paper bag to dry for harvest, so they do not enter the environment.  The stems and leaves of fennel may be harvested before the flowers develop. Both the biennials and the annuals have the added value of attracting pollinators and tiny beneficial predatory and parasitic wasps, which will protect your vegetables from pest insects.  In fact, all the herbs mentioned here are terrific nectar plants for butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects.  What is not to love?

All of these herbs can be found at local garden centers, and most will be available for sale in the JCMGA greenhouses at the Spring Garden Fair at the Extension on May 6th, this spring.  Try growing some in your garden this year, and GARDEN FOR LIFE!

Keystone Native Trees Promote Biodiversity

By Beet 2023 02 February

By now, most gardeners understand the importance of native plants in performing our critical ecosystem services. These services are carbon sequestration, soil restoration, food web value, wildlife habitat, watershed value, pollinator habitat, and weather moderation. While the exotic plants we grow in our gardens may perform some of these functions, they do not contribute to the food web in any sustainable way. Native plants, adapted to our area, are truly the workhorses of biodiversity and ecosystem stability.

That said, not all native plants contribute at the same level. In fact, about 5% of plants support around 75% of insects. These are called KEYSTONE plants, because of their critical function and contribution to ecosystems.   And as insects are the food of most vertebrate species, we must support and increase their numbers as much as possible. We can have a positive and quite efficient effect in our yards by choosing and planting local keystone native plants.

Begin with trees, which are the food web powerhouses, both for pollinators (yes, the bees are in the trees!) and for insect bird food. Rogue Valley trees listed in this article will be linked to the Oregon Flora where you can read a description of each. If you have a small suburban yard, some of these trees may not be appropriate. Here are our top keystone trees:

Native Willows (Salix): In the western United States, willow trees host the highest number of moths and butterflies (312 species of Lepidoptera), which are the primary source of food for our songbird nestlings and fledglings. These are NOT the weeping willow planted in yards and parks, which comes from Asia. Oregon willows are widespread and varied.  Several occur in Jackson County. They prefer wet sites and should not be planted on small lots or near drain or sewer lines, as they will invade pipes. But if you have property with a creek, or low wet area, by all means get some established.

Native Cherry (Prunus):  Most of us are familiar with Prunus avium, the sweet cherry introduced from Europe that is now naturalized throughout much of the Willamette Valley and coastal mountains. Birds have carried these seeds to wild areas where they establish. Please plant one of our three native cherries, Bitter Cherry (Prunus emarginata), Klamath Plum (Prunus subcordata) and Chokecherry  (Prunus virginiana). All three are small trees which can be grown in smaller lots as specimen trees or added to a hedgerow along a fenceline to provide screening, cover, food and nesting sites for birds. Native cherries host 240 species of Lepidoptera.

Native Oaks (Quercus): Our local native oaks are Canyon Live Oak (Quercus chrysolepis), Garry or Oregon White Oak (Quercus garryana), California Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii), and a quite nice shrubby chaparral species, Huckleberry Oak (Quercus vacciniifolia). This last is not a huckleberry, but a true oak, with acorns and leaves that resemble Vaccinium. Hence the name. Western oaks host over 200 species of moth and butterflies and tasty caterpillars for baby birds.

There are many other keystone trees you could explore: birches, alders, aspen, poplars, Douglas Fir and maples. Choose trees that are appropriate to your soil and water conditions.

Some of these plants and many more are for sale in our JCMGA nursery, on the SOREC Extension campus, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. The nursery is open for sales on Wednesdays from 10 am to noon, April through October, and by appointment. Contact Lynn at kunlynn52@gmail.com to schedule an appointment. We also have seasonal pop-up sales, so be on the lookout for those.

Garden for Life!