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"Anyone who thinks fallen leaves are dead has never watched
them dancing on a windy day." — Shira Tamir

Fall is about planting, pruning, cleanup, winding down, celebrating our harvests, and enjoying the abundance of changing colors all around us. So, let’s all pause for a moment to reflect, dream, and plan ahead so we can give Mother Nature back what she needs: sustainability. The choices you make today, however small, will have an impact on the well-being of our children, grandchildren, and future generations.

In this fall issue, we talk about planting and caring for CA native shrubs and trees, which also includes tool care, a chore that is often put off a bit too long. To be better prepared, we also reflect on the growing challenges we experienced earlier this year due to erratic weather patterns and provide important advice on watering, preventing diseases, and protecting wildlife.

Enjoy reading while taking in the profusion of gorgeous colors under a beautiful tree in your yard, park, or somewhere in the forest.

Hedwig Van Den Broeck and Robin Mitchell, editors

Fall 2023
  • Plant Native Shrubs Now for Winter and Spring Bloom
    Plant Native Shrubs Now for Winter and Spring Bloom

    by Laurinda Ochoa

    Fall is the ideal time to plant California natives and other Mediterranean plants that grow with our winter rains and bloom in late winter and spring. Planting now gives the roots of these plants time to grow into the soil and become established before the high temperatures and dry climate of our summers.

    Shrubs are multi-branched plants that are smaller than trees and larger than bushes. Shrubs are long-lived perennial woody plants that can be either evergreen or deciduous (lose their leaves). Although not as long-lived as multi-century-old trees, most native shrubs can live for decades both in nature and in our gardens, compared to commercial, hybridized, and non-native shrubs, which generally need to be replaced more frequently than native shrubs.

  • Pruning to Control Growth
    Pruning to Control Growth

    by Anne Sutherland

    Pruning during dormancy invigorates trees. Pruning when a tree is leafed out in summer and fall will reduce the next season’s growth and is the best way to reduce its size. Removing leaves decreases the energy the tree receives from the sun, energy that the tree uses to manufacture fruit and for its own nourishment. Therefore, summer pruning is best done after fruit harvest or after flowering if it’s a landscape tree or shrub. Summer pruning refines the structure you build during dormancy.

  • Aesthetic Pruning: Taking pruning a step further
    Aesthetic Pruning: Taking pruning a step further

    by Hedwig Van Den Broeck

    There is something magical about strolling through nature, where fauna and flora thrive without human interference. Our California natives - whether groundcovers, shrubs, or trees - just appear to be having a great time doing what they do best: growing effortlessly.

    Even though I’ve always been more interested in natural gardening, it wasn’t until a beautiful young Madrone tree, Arbutus menziesii, in my garden was hit by a huge Oak limb that fell and ‘topped’ the Madrone that I became interested in aesthetic pruning. Not only was the damaged tree a hideous sight, but it also seemed unlikely that this beautiful tree would recuperate. I was, however, determined to find a solution.

  • A Season in Review
    A Season in Review

    by Janet Miller

    The end of the main growing season is approaching, and what a season it has been, both at the Walnut Creek demonstrating garden, ‘Our Garden’ ) and in our own gardens. In comparison with other winters in our part of the country, this winter was particularly long, wet, and, cold. Here in the Bay Area, we saw record-breaking amounts of rainfall, heavy winds, overcast skies, and unusually cold weather that lasted at least a month longer than usual. All of which spelled trouble for farmers and backyard growers alike. The cold spell meant the soil didn’t warm as quickly as it should have and overcast skies minimized photosynthesis, keeping seedlings small and, in some cases, permanently stunted.

  • Try These Strategies to Use Less and Store More Water
    Try These Strategies to Use Less and Store More Water

    by Lori Palmquist

    It’s September, and the leaves are turning color, detaching, and floating to the Earth to form a mantle that feeds and shelters the soil and the resident soil organisms.

    It’s Best to Ramp Back Watering August-December

    Nature is signaling to us that it’s time to ramp back on our irrigation schedules. Although we may be experiencing 100 degree days, the amount of water the plants require is diminishing day by day. As we edge further away from the summer solstice and creep toward the winter one, the days are shorter and shorter. So, how does this relate to ramping back on our schedules?

  • Winter Gardens for the Birds!
    Winter Gardens for the Birds!

    by Lorraine Frey

    Believe it or not, summer will soon be coming to an end. It’s therefore time to think about the fall garden and the birds we want to see and protect through the winter First, we need to re-think fall "Cleanup".

    In the garden, tolerance and aesthetic preferences vary from person to person. So, if you aren't quite ready to go 100% “au naturel” this fall, then start with just a few of the following ecosystem-boosting recommendations—you'll be surprised just how beautiful a "messy" lawn and garden can be.

  • Small Spaces Gardening: Growing Succulents in Containers
    Small Spaces Gardening: Growing Succulents in Containers

    by David George

    Succulents are popular patio container or indoor plants in Contra Costa County. Many are easy to grow in shady or dry conditions, which often challenge other container plants. Over 10,000 plant species in the world are considered succulents, and thrive in diverse climates such as humid coastal zones, hot deserts, and cold Alpine regions. They comprise about 3% of the world’s flowering plants and boast unusual leaf shapes and colors. And they are lovely when grouped together as accents on your patio or deck. Are you ready to grow your own succulent container garden? Let’s get started!

  • Be Kind to Your Tools to Be Kind to Your Plants
    Be Kind to Your Tools to Be Kind to Your Plants

    by Cynthia Engers

    It’s easy to take our trusted garden tools for granted, but sometimes they, too, need care and attention. And that care entails cleaning, sharpening, and disinfecting.

    Ideally, cleaning—removing dirt and wiping or scrubbing off plant residue—is a regular task during the planting and pruning season. Water and/or household cleaners, along with an abrasive helper, such as steel wool or a wire brush, should do the trick.

Summer 2023
  • The annual 2023 Great Tomato Plant Sale (GTPS) was very successful!
    The annual 2023 Great Tomato Plant Sale (GTPS) was very successful!

    Since Covid, this year's GTPS was our first 'in-person-only' event and extending it to three days worked out well. Many shoppers opted to avoid the long lines of opening day and made the decision to shop on Sunday or Monday. 

    Thank you, Contra Costa County residents.
    We are very grateful for your support!

  • California Natives: A Smart Choice
    California Natives: A Smart Choice

    by Kate Verhoef
    UC Master Gardener volunteers often provide advice on reducing water use in home gardens. You can do this by selecting drought-resistant California native plants. Drought tolerance is not the only positive feature of many California natives. Here are more reasons to choose California native plants, and a list of recommended plants for a more drought-tolerant, fire-resistant landscape.

  • Remember the Pollinators
    Remember the Pollinators

    by Cynthia Engers

    The third week of June is National Pollinator Week, an international celebration of the importance and vulnerability of pollinators. It was designated as such by the U.S. Senate in 2007 to raise awareness of the declining population of pollinators. Following the global focus on this topic, we are providing links to some of our in-depth coverage from past issues, as well as looking at the opportunity to support pollinators from a new angle: Edibles.

  • Small Spaces: Growing Berries in Containers
    Small Spaces: Growing Berries in Containers

    by David George

    Berries, such as the plump, juicy ‘olallie’ blackberries, sweet red raspberries, or delicious blueberries, are among the most well-liked and nutritious container-grown foods. The majority of berry cultivars ripen between late April and early July, although some also yield a second, lesser crop on young canes in the fall. Because of their high concentration of antioxidants, necessary vitamins, fiber, and trace minerals, berries have been dubbed a "superfood".


  • Climate Change: Improve your garden’s ability to handle too much rain!
    Climate Change: Improve your garden’s ability to handle too much rain!

    by Robin Mitchell

    This past winter, California had record precipitation in the form of both rain (in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as other places) and snow in the mountains. And the previous years we experienced drought.

    Many homeowners experienced flooding and erosion in their gardens, which were not designed for such large amounts of rain. Is it possible to make your garden more resilient when the weather delivers that much water?

    There are a few ways to improve your garden’s ability to handle too much rain.


  • Climate Change: Too little water in fire prone California
    Climate Change: Too little water in fire prone California

    by Hedwig Van Den Broeck

    For many years it was the severe drought, dwindling reservoirs, and devastating wildfires that captured the headlines; this winter it was the atmospheric rivers causing disaster. Historically, both drought and flooding have contributed to California's water issues. Unfortunately, due to climate change, these swings between wet and dry have grown more extreme.

    Here are some ideas to help you create and maintain a drought-tolerant garden that will protect you better again wildfires and at the same time beautify your landscape and property as well.


  • Family Harvest Farm: New East County Demonstration Garden Coming Soon!
    Family Harvest Farm: New East County Demonstration Garden Coming Soon!

    by David George

    A new East Contra Costa County Master Gardener demonstration garden is in the works! Funding approval was gained in February and work is now in progress for the garden on a portion of the Family Harvest Farm (FHF) grounds on Power Avenue in Pittsburg. The area is owned by PG&E as an easement for overhead power distribution lines, but 3.5 acres were leased from PG&E in 2016 by the John Muir Land Trust (JMLT) to develop an urban garden. The trust hired 3 staff members to manage the FHF development, to recruit and train apprentices, and to coordinate with the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County (UCMGCCC) for their new 2,000 square foot demonstration garden.


  • Summer Tasks in the Garden
    Summer Tasks in the Garden

    Let's not forget to take care of our gardens this summer in addition to all the fun activities we have planned, especially when temperatures are rising and our priceless landscape begins to get thirsty.

Spring 2023
  • The Annual Great Tomato Plant Sale
    The Annual Great Tomato Plant Sale

    This year marks the 13th anniversary of the Contra Costa Master Gardeners Great Tomato Plant Sale and we’re very pleased to announce that we’re back to an in-person sale at two locations! With such a vast assortment of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash and more, we’re sure you’ll have plenty of great choices for your summer gardens.

    Details at a glance:

    • Our Garden: April 1st, 2nd and 3rd from 10:00am to 3:00pm each day.
      Located at N. Wiget and Shadelands Dr. in Walnut Creek
    • Richmond Civic Center Library: April 29th from 10:00am to 3:00pm.
      Located at 325 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond 
    • All plants are $4. CASH OR CHECK ONLY, checks preferred.
      Don’t forget to bring boxes to carry your new plants home!

    Please visit our website for complete details, including plant descriptions, shopping lists and helpful articles. 

    We hope to see you there!

  • Native Plant Gardening in the Spring
    Native Plant Gardening in the Spring

    by Laurinda Ochoa

    For those of us who didn’t get around to casting those wildflower seeds or starting seedlings in pots, can we plant natives during the spring months?

    Yes! Although March and April are too late to start a spring-blooming native wildflower garden, there is still time to plant summer and fall blooming California native perennials. Here are three native plants that bring color and pollinators to our yards during the summer and fall – penstemons, asters, and salvias.

  • Mulch: It's Got You Covered
    Mulch: It's Got You Covered

    by Anne Sutherland

    It’s hard not to get excited about mulch. Mulch is one of the best things you can do for your plants and you can get it for free. Free sources include your own yard waste such as grass clippings, or wood chips from a reliable tree service. UC Master Gardeners prefer organic mulches because they are part of the carbon cycle and have benefits that rock, weed barriers, and plastic lack.

  • Keeping your Hill in Place: Erosion control on hillsides
    Keeping your Hill in Place: Erosion control on hillsides

    by Hedwig Van den Broeck

    Many of our California hillsides have become unstable due to previous atmospheric river events, and some have even started to slide. Erosion is harmful because it puts local bodies of water and storm water management systems in danger, as well as your property and that of your neighbors.

    To prevent soil erosion and the loss of priceless topsoil, it is crucial to control erosion on hillsides. Many of us hurried to get sandbags or other temporary solutions this winter. It is preferable however to implement longer-term fixes that can maintain the stability of your hillside.

  • Patio Techniques for Peas and Beans
    Patio Techniques for Peas and Beans

    by David George

    Many patio gardeners have successfully grown tomatoes in containers. But have you tried peas or green beans? Peas and beans can also be quite productive and fun to grow in limited spaces. And if you are blessed with a sunny location, the ripe pickings will be sweet and packed with more nutrition than supermarket produce.

    When should you plant seedlings? Right now (April-May) are the best months for summer pea and bean seedling planting. Ripe veggies can be harvested from your plants as early as June and can last through August, depending on the variety.

  • Synthetic Turf: a UC Master Gardeners Perspective
    Synthetic Turf: a UC Master Gardeners Perspective

    by Laurinda Ochoa

    At our Ask A Master Gardener, UC Master Gardeners regularly hear questions about synthetic turf lawns. With costs for water, fertilizers and garden maintenance rising, many people wonder if it is a good idea to take out their lawns and put in an artificial turf product. From a UC Master Gardeners perspective, the answer is no. Synthetic turf is not a good substitute for our lawns. 

  • Spring Tasks: Is your Garden ready for Spring?
    Spring Tasks: Is your Garden ready for Spring?

    Frost damage! Numerous atmospheric rivers! Weeds trying to take over! Our local weather this winter might have set us back a bit. The UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County as well as the Statewide blog can help you catch up.

Winter 2023
  • Editorial Notes
    Editorial Notes

    “The Earth does not belong to us; we belong to the Earth.”
    — Chief Seattle

    What is certain however is that each and every effort in fighting climate change counts and the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County are here to help you achieve positive results using more sustainable garden practices.

  • Now Is the Time to Plant Natives in Your Garden!
    Now Is the Time to Plant Natives in Your Garden!

    With the start of the rains in the Bay Area (thank goodness), this is a good time to incorporate native plants into your garden. 

    There are so many possibilities between California native annuals and perennials. Here are some ideas about how to get started!

  • The Benefits of Urban Trees and Why the Best Time to Plant One is Today
    The Benefits of Urban Trees and Why the Best Time to Plant One is Today

    Don’t you feel like something is missing when you stroll or drive through a city street without trees? And when you do take a tree-lined street, doesn’t your journey seem much shorter and more enjoyable? When trees are around, we are much more likely to go outside. And even if we are unable to go outside, just looking out onto a green, tree-lined street makes us feel good. It makes us happier and healthier.

  • Smart Controllers for the Win! Choose Which One is Best for You
    Smart Controllers for the Win! Choose Which One is Best for You

    Smart irrigation controllers are the intelligent choice for our gardens. They automatically adjust the irrigation schedule daily, based on changes in the weather. They’re like a thermostat for your landscape. And how great is it that our water providers are literally paying us to use them?

  • Growing Citrus in Pots
    Growing Citrus in Pots

    Are you shocked at the prices of oranges and lemons at the grocery store? Do you know that you can grow your own oranges and lemons in a patio container for just the cost of water, fertilizer, and time? Citrus trees are an attractive and rewarding addition to any patio garden. Most dwarf varieties grow well in containers and produce great quality fruit in winter months when other fruit sources are dormant. And the brightly colored orbs hang like holiday ornaments on a leafy green backdrop.

  • Are You Safe in your Garden?
    Are You Safe in your Garden?

    Safe practices in the garden have always been a key focus of the UC Master Gardener Program. Preventing serious injuries to our volunteers involves many hours of training, tool sharpening, and using equipment properly.
    No one in our program knows more about safety issues than experienced Master Gardener, Joie Spinelli.

  • Winter Tasks. Time to Bundle Up!
    Winter Tasks. Time to Bundle Up!

    There are plenty of winter tasks This Season in the Garden and our Helpdesk regularly writes very timely blog posts which you can also access via our website.

    Just in! from UCANR Statewide: How to Care for Flood and Water-Damaged Plants.

    While sheltering from severe weather, check out our YouTube Channel ! It is a treasure trove of 36 great presentations we’ve given over the past couple of years, just waiting for you to enjoy!

Fall 2022
Summer 2022
Spring 2022
Winter 2021-22


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