California Naturalist
University of California
California Naturalist

ANR Green Blog

Take a short jaunt in Mariposa to see a treasure of California native plants

A path along Mariposa Creek where UC ANR Master Gardeners have planted native species.
A half-block from the highway that brings thousands of tourists to Yosemite National Park each year, the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) Master Gardeners landscaped a short and scenic hiking path that provides the perfect break on a long drive.

The quarter-mile-long Mariposa Creek Parkway runs parallel to State Route 140 (Main Street in downtown Mariposa) on Stroming Road between Eighth and Sixth streets. Along the path, the Master Gardeners created the California Native Plant Demonstration Garden, which includes dozens of beautiful, drought-tolerant plants labeled for easy identification.

The path, which follows a short stretch of Mariposa Creek, was designed to increase appreciation for native flora and encourage Californians to consider “going native” in their own landscapes, said Kris Randal, coordinator of the Master Gardener program for UC ANR Cooperative Extension in Mariposa and Merced counties. Water shortages associated with the ongoing California drought are also driving interest in landscaping with native plants.

“Many natives are drought-tolerant, adapted to local soils, and rarely need fertilizers or pesticide treatments,” Randal said. “With some care and irrigation to get them started, they create a beautiful natural setting that brings pollinators and wildlife into your backyard.”

Randal was an advocate for native plants even before joining UC ANR. As a community educator for the Resource Conservation District in Mariposa County, she coordinated the transformation of a weedy parking lot around the district's building on the Mariposa Fairgrounds into a beautiful display of plants and wildflowers that occur naturally in the surroundings.

UC ANR Master Gardener coordinator Kris Randal with the welcome sign on the Mariposa Creek Parkway.
She did the same thing in her own Mariposa yard, bringing in and nursing the plants that flourish in natural areas.

“After I planted native brush and wildflowers, it was a joy for me to watch diversity come into my yard. Plant it, and they will come,” Randal said.

Randal suggests growing California native plants, even over native plants from other parts of the world with Mediterranean climates – such as Australia, Chile and South Africa – which also are often recommended because of their low water needs.

The California natives, she said, support local wildlife and pollinators, have historical and cultural importance, and save time and expense while adding beauty and ecological health to the environment. Native plants attract native bees, butterflies and hummingbirds and provide seeds, nuts and fruits for other native birds and wildlife. Native plants promote soil health by supporting flora and fauna that flourish underground.

“There's all kinds of magic going on under the soil,” Randal said.

As a first step toward converting to native landscaping, Randal suggests finding a natural area close to home and visiting it every few weeks to see what is growing, and what is blooming. Take notes and consult a plant guide or the Internet to identify the plants.

“It sounds like a lot of work, but it's not,” Randal said. “It's fun.”

This task is particularly convenient for Mariposa County residents, where the UC ANR Master Gardeners planted a wide array of beautiful native plants in one place.

Bush lupin casts a shadow on a bolder along the Mariposa Creek Parkway.
Under the auspices of UC ANR Cooperative Extension, Master Gardeners are trained by UC ANR academics in research-based and sustainable gardening and landscaping practices. They become volunteer educators for non-commercial gardeners. In Mariposa County, a significant amount of volunteer time goes into tending the native plant garden.

In early spring, one of the first deciduous shrubs to leaf-out on the pathway is California buckeye. The leathery, pear-shaped fruits contain seeds that are easily sprouted, or they can be used in dried flower arrangements.

Along the trail, visitors will find California fuchsia, known by many as a natural hummingbird feeder. Blue elderberry, columbine and manzanita also attract hummingbirds to the demonstration garden.

Randal points out soap root, which looks like a grouping of long spindly leaves growing from the ground. Native Americans used pulp from the bulb to make a soapy lather, and they used the fibrous and hairy husks of the bulb to make small brushes to whisk out acorn shell debris from grinding holes.

One of Randal's favorite natives, she said, is a low creeping sage. The fragrant plant forms a low mat as big as 10 feet across with blue-violet flowers May to June. “This is great in a pine forest where it will get afternoon shade,” Randal said.

A lovely shrub known as Ceanothus blue jeans produces profuse powder-blue clustered flowers. The tall evergreen provides a colorful show of flowers with no care or irrigation. Western redbud explodes with magenta blossoms in the spring. Native Americans used the branches for basket weaving and made a red dye from the bark. Red Twig dogwood produces beautiful white blooms in early summer, and its bright red branches are a unique display in the winter.

“Growing native plants help you appreciate your surroundings and feel more connected to the natural world,” Randal said. “It attracts more life and that's why many of us garden.”

An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Author: Jeannette Warnert

Posted on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 at 8:44 AM
Tags: Kris Randal (1), Mariposa (1), native plants (1)

Extension conference to help practitioners reach winegrape farmers

Heard it through the grapevine? Extension training ensures information accuracy.
A support network for California winegrape growers will gather in Lodi March 24-26 at the National Viticulture and Enology Extension Leadership Conference. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources plays a vital role in developing and extending research-based information to the California winegrape industry. UC ANR advisors and specialists work directly with farmers and with industry professionals who also help ensure that the latest knowledge on grapevine pest control, nutrition, pruning, irrigation and other practices make their way into the hands of the people growing grapes in the field.

The conference begins on March 24 with presentations on new research. On March 25, participants take a tour of Lodi-area vineyards and wineries. The “Innovations in Extension Symposium” will be March 26. (Full agenda.)

“At the symposium, we'll be focusing on extension strategy,” said Matthew Hoffman of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, the sponsoring organization.

The events involve nearly a dozen UC ANR academics, including three Cooperative Extension viticulture advisors who were hired during the past year: Lindsay Jordan of Madera, Merced and Mariposa counties, George Zhuang of Fresno County and Ashraf El-Kereamy of Kern County.

During the session on innovations in extension, UC ANR's Franz Niederholzer, an orchard systems advisor in Sutter and Yuba counties, will discuss an extension project underway in collaboration with scientists in Washington and Oregon. The project, funded by the USDA, will offer training in spray application technology to the farming community.

“Spray application technology is very important to integrated pest management and to farming in general,” Niederholzer said. “Mischief can happen if you don't spray properly. Growers have so many things to consider, we want to revisit the fundamentals of spraying with them.”

UC ANR specialist Mark Lubell will discuss the use of social networks in agricultural extension. Social networks and social media can help improve access to information, transmit knowledge efficiently and deliver information when and where it is needed. Lubell will share tools that can be used to conduct networked outreach and build extension efforts.

Other UC ANR presenters are Chris Greer, vice provost of Cooperative Extension, Matthew Fidelibus, viticulture specialist based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Ryan Murphy of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute, and Neil McRoberts, plant pathology professor at UC Davis.

For more information about National Viticulture and Enology Extension Leadership Conference, contact Matthew Hoffman at (209) 367-4727, matthew@lodiwine.com.

An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Monday, March 23, 2015 at 11:18 AM
Tags: winegrapes (1)

UC ANR and San Joaquin Valley cotton growers join forces to prevent sticky cotton in 2015

Cotton farmers will be carefully monitoring and treating for sweet potato whitefly during the 2015 growing season.
Last fall Kerman cotton farmer Paul Betancourt got a call from the gin manager where his crop was being processed and his heart dropped. The gin found sticky cotton.

“It's like having an embarrassing social disease,” Betancourt said. “We want to do better, and we need your help.”

Betancourt was appealing to UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and other experts who were gathered with him at the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association annual meeting in Visalia. UC ANR entomology specialist Larry Godfrey had begun the pest management session with a somber message. The whiteflies that cotton growers had been controlling reasonably well for more than 20 years was suddenly posing a tremendous challenge.

“I don't know what's up,” said Godfrey, who is housed in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at UC Davis. “It's a different critter.”

Betancourt attested to Godfrey's conclusions. He observed a few whiteflies in the field during the summer of 2013. It was a minor problem. In 2014, he decided to be more aggressive with monitoring and treating for the pest.

“I doubled down last year, but we had a bigger problem with whiteflies,” he said. “I thought, ‘This just can't happen!'”

Whiteflies feed on plant sap and then excrete honeydew. The sweet, sticky honeydew settles on open cotton bolls. If sticky cotton makes its way to spinning mills, it gums up the machinery. It's a scenario that mill managers won't soon forget.

Because of the San Joaquin Valley's long, dry growing season, cotton farmers have earned a reputation for high-quality, high value cotton, said Roger Isom, the CEO of the California Cotton Growers and Ginners Association. Sticky cotton is major concern.

“It happened in Arizona and almost destroyed the state's cotton industry,” Isom said. “Sticky cotton brings mills to a standstill. If they start getting sticky cotton, they'll decide to stop buying from the area where it came from. And once you have the stigma, it's extremely hard to overcome.”

Godfrey said the new biotype of sweet potato whitefly was first found in the San Joaquin Valley in July 1992. Certain areas required careful management, such as those closer to cities where it is warmer and the pest can spend the winter on ornamental plants. Farmers were able to deal with it.

“Then, in 2013 and 2014, populations of whitefly developed in other parts of the San Joaquin Valley, not only adjacent to cities. We don't know why or exactly what is going on,” Godfrey said.

Initially, pest control advisers suspected the whitefly was developing pesticide resistance. UC ANR research trials at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points and the Shafter Research Station in Kern County showed that insecticides used at label rates were still able to knock down the pest.

“What we did notice was we had a lot more whitefly and we started seeing them earlier than normal,” Godfrey said. “It certainly makes it more expensive to grow cotton and, if not controlled, makes sticky cotton.”

What's worse, the reputation of cotton in a whole area is tarnished if one or two farmers mismanage the pest and their cotton gets into commercial channels.

“In my area, we have a problem right now and it's not just my problem,” Betancourt said. “Everybody who has whiteflies has to deal with them. We have a reputation to uphold.”

All the growers who send cotton to the same gin as Betancourt will be invited to meet with UC ANR scientists Godfrey and Pete Goodell, integrated pest management advisor, to strategize about whitefly control for 2015.

Godfrey said they will emphasize the importance of early management and treatment, sharing lessons learned in Arizona.

“The scientists there did a lot of really good work on quantifying an infestation and determining when to treat,” Godfrey said. “We are taking their recommendations and studying where we might need to make changes due to California growing conditions.”

Goodell said it is critically important for growers to take the threat of sticky cotton seriously.

“We can't reiterate enough, once you develop a poor reputation for sticky cotton, it sticks with you,” Goodell said.

An initiative to manage endemic and invasive pests and diseases is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Additional resources:

Goodell webinar on Preventing Sticky Cotton.

Godfrey research report PDF attached below:

Posted on Monday, March 23, 2015 at 9:24 AM

Five-foot zone free of plants can help rural homes’ fire survival

A foothill dwelling landscaped with a five-foot non-combustible zone. The building is also equipped with an extra large rain barrell that collects water during storms for irrigating plants.
California law requires homeowners in wildfire-prone areas to create 100 feet of defensible space around their dwellings. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) experts suggest going a bit farther by creating a five-foot buffer immediately surrounding the home completely devoid of plants and anything that can burn.

Few people think about creating the non-combustible zone, said UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor Yana Valachovic, because they are so accustomed to foundation plantings. “Plants are used to anchor the house visually on the landscape. Without them, a house can look naked,” Valachovic said.

But the non-combustible space adjoining the house may be the difference between losing it and all the contents to a wildfire versus returning to the property with the home unscathed. This extra precaution can be important, Valachovic explains, because, “embers from a distant wildfire can land on or adjacent to your house and ignite combustible items.”

In the five-foot non-combustible zone, even such common items as firewood, deck furniture, a wooden ladder, brooms and other wooden tools should be absent during the fire season.

Rock mulch, decorative stone “hardscape,” and concrete paths can be aesthetically pleasing alternatives.

“We have to simplify our landscapes and accept less vegetation to improve fire safety,” Valachovic said.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources is involved in fire research and education statewide, helping enhance understanding of fire's role in human communities and natural areas. A range of UC ANR publications and online tools address wildfire risk, fuels impacts of forest diseases and home wildfire mitigation. UC ANR is part of the California Fire Science Consortium, a network of fire science researchers, managers, and outreach specialists tasked with improving the availability and understanding of fire science and management knowledge.

Valachovic, the UC ANR forestry advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, recently hosted a webinar (recording available online) for homeowners in areas at wildfire risk, during which she said a five-foot non-combustible zone around the home increases the likelihood of home fire survival and provides several additional benefits to rural homeowners.

“If you have five feet of non-combustible area immediately next to the house, you don't have to cut back plants for siding maintenance and there's ample space for placement of a ladder to clean the gutters,” she said. “The open space also provides access for cleaning up any accumulation of pine needles and leaf litter, also a significant fire risk.”

Ten years ago, California extended the defensible space rule from 30 feet to 100. The area within 30 feet of the home should be maintained in a way authorities call “lean, green and clean.” Dry grass, leaves, brush and dead wood should be cleared. Open areas should be left between islands of vegetation in the 30-foot-zone to disrupt the path of a fire to the home. Trees within six feet of the house should be cut back or removed entirely.

Beyond 30 feet, in the extended 100-foot reduced fuel zone, fire officials ask that landowners remove dead wood, debris and low tree branches. Small trees and plants growing under trees should be removed, as they act as ladders giving ground fires access to tree crowns.

Valachovic said “fire resistant” plants can be characterized as having low growth, open structures, not holding on to dead leaves and having leaves with high moisture content. But she said no vegetation is truly fire safe.

“Landscape maintenance is essential,” Valachovic said. “All plants can burn under the right conditions.”

An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Wednesday, March 18, 2015 at 6:53 AM
Tags: wildfire (18), Yana Valachovic (3)

UC to study the fate of street trees grown in increasingly popular bioswales

A V-cut in the curb allows water from the gutter to flow into the bioswale.
To keep pollution out of the ocean and natural creeks, California city planners are looking for creative ways to manage the large amount of water that falls during rain storms. More and more, they are building bioswales, shallow roadside basins designed to hold water as it slowly percolates into the soil or can be delivered to waste water treatment plants.

In many areas, the bioswales – sometimes called “rain gardens” or “stormwater planters” – are being beautifully designed and landscaped so that, in addition to addressing flood management, they provide an artful green oasis in the largely asphalt and concrete urban jungle. Ornamental trees are a common feature.

Street trees have shaded and beautified urban areas for centuries, but because the construction of bioswales is relatively new, little is known about managing trees in areas that are periodically flooded. Public works, flood control and transportation professionals have turned to a University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) urban forestry expert for guidance.

“At this time, there is no information available about the fate of trees in bioswales,” said Igor Laćan, UC ANR Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture advisor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Laćan is a native of Croatia who immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager, then completed bachelor's and master's degrees in ecology, and a doctorate degree in urban forestry at UC Berkeley before joining UC ANR in 2013.

“The lack of information has raised concerns about the potential damage to the trees growing in bioswales and the potential damage to facilities from repeated removal and replanting of dead trees,” Laćan said.

The UC ANR California Institute for Water Resources this month announced a $25,000 grant to fund Laćan's study of the performance of ornamental trees – their survival, growth and health – planted in urban bioswales. Laćan plans to compare bioswales in the city of Portland, Ore., which has more than 10 years experience with this form of stormwater management, to projects in three California Cities – San Francisco, San José and El Cerrito. The project will include the development of a monitoring protocol so that commensurate information can be collected about trees in bioswales, and collection of the information in a database for city planners to access when they are making future bioswale planting decisions.

Laćan said he will also compare trees planted in stormwater facilities with trees of the same species and age planted as street trees. Tree size, condition and presence of insect pests or diseases will be noted and soil samples will be analyzed in a laboratory.

The partner cities are volunteering their involvement in the project.

“They recognize the important role trees play in their environments and the lack of information we now have on tree performance,” Laćan said. “I believe we'll sign up more partner cities as our work continues. San Francisco, San José and El Cerrito are pioneers.”

Data collection for the project begins in April 2015.

An initiative to improve California water quality, quantity and security is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Author: Jeannette Warnert

A street corner where two uses of the parkstrip can be seen: a classic lawn-and-trees arrangement on the right, and a bioswale on the left. The bioswale incorporates trees, but their performance (growth and lifespan) in such habitats remains unknown.
A street corner where two uses of the parkstrip can be seen: a classic lawn-and-trees arrangement on the right, and a bioswale on the left. The bioswale incorporates trees, but their performance (growth and lifespan) in such habitats remains unknown.

Posted on Monday, March 16, 2015 at 9:00 AM
Tags: Igor Lacan (1), water (9)

Next 5 stories | Last story

Webmaster Email: canaturalist@ucanr.edu