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Seeing Hot Pokers with New Eyes

I have long been a fan of Hot Poker, Kniphofia uvaria.  I love their tall, dramatic structural presence in the garden.  They are low maintenance, as well, which is a huge plus.

Because of their height, three to six feet tall, they are generally planted towards the back of the garden bed.  Recently, some new hybrids are coming in at about 2 feet which allows a little more flexibility.  Hybridization has also increased the color choices beyond the standard orangey-red.   Now you can choose from yellow, or salmon, or peach colors.

Hot Pokers require sun and well-drained soil.  They are hardy from USDA Zones 5-9.  The experts disagree about their water needs; some stating regular water and others saying they are drought tolerant.  I've grown mine with a mini-sprinkler 10 minutes three times a week. And they made it through the drought years.  They attract hummingbirds and are deer resistant.  They can be propagated by division or seed.

I was surprised to see their names pop up recently on a list of plants that did better with dead-heading (cutting off fading blossoms to spur further flowering).  Somehow that had never occurred to me.  Okay, I could do that.  Next, I saw them on a list of plants that were good for cut flowers.  What?  So, I went out and cut some and put them in a vase.  Up close, I could appreciate the delicate beauty of each tubular flower and watch as the bloom spike opened from the bottom up over a few days. Enchanting!

photo by Karen Metz
photo by Karen Metz

Posted on Wednesday, June 19, 2019 at 9:49 AM

A Case of Survival of the Flittest

Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, nectaring on verbena in the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden, Sonoma Cornerstone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

If you visit the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden at Sonoma Cornerstone--and you should, especially during National Pollinator Week--you'll see honey...

Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, nectaring on verbena in the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden, Sonoma Cornerstone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, nectaring on verbena in the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden, Sonoma Cornerstone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, nectaring on verbena in the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden, Sonoma Cornerstone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, heads for more nectar in the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden, Sonoma Cornerstone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, heads for more nectar in the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden, Sonoma Cornerstone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, heads for more nectar in the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden, Sonoma Cornerstone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Caught in flight: a Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, in the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden, Sonoma Cornerstone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Caught in flight: a Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, in the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden, Sonoma Cornerstone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Caught in flight: a Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, in the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden, Sonoma Cornerstone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Yucky White Mold on Yummy Red Tomatoes

I can't help it. I get hungry (and impatient) for the sweet taste of fresh tomatoes — especially after the last one is plucked from my backyard garden in the fall. So, I did it again. Several weeks ago, while in the produce section of the local market, I picked up a “vine-ripened” cluster of five from the pile. They smelled so good.
 
While cautiously scanning the aisles for anyone I knew who was a Master Gardener, I quickly plopped the five yummy red tomatoes into a plastic bag. For sure, I didn't want to deal with gardener's guilt that I couldn't wait until summer. However, what I should have scanned at the time was the body of each tomato in that bag. But who carries a magnifying glass in their pocket or drags a microscope into the grocery store? When tomatoes are marketed as vine-ripened, greenhouse grown, doesn't that mean they're comparable to what I grow in my veggie patch? Not quite.
 
Only one day after my purchase the evidence was clear. Those yummy red tomatoes were contaminated. And I started my search to learn exactly what I was looking at and why.
 
My investigation led me to several informative websites that are worth perusing.
 
(1) Mississippi State University's article on “Common Diseases of Tomatoes” discusses tomato diseases that occur commercially in the field and in enclosed structures leading me to conclude that where a tomato is grown is as important as how. Example: Water molds (oomycetes) are problematic concerns in Mississippi.
 
http://extension.msstate.edu/publications/common-diseases-tomatoes 

(2) Cornell University offered a cursory overview of pathogens affecting tomatoes with photographs entitled “Tomato Disease Identification Key By Affected Plant Part: Stem and Whole Plant Symptoms.”
 
 
(3) UCANR Pest Management Guidelines on “White Mold, Pathogen: Sclerotinia sclerotiorum” indicates this mold is airborne and soilborne, with attempts at crop resistant varieties unsuccessful to date. 

http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/r783101411.html 

(4) Purdue University provides access to an article in PDF format, “Tomato Disease Management in Greenhouses,” addressing common diseases of greenhouse tomatoes, the importance of using a cloth ground covering between rows for easy sanitation, greenhouse ventilation with photographs of these issues.
 
 
 
Needless to say, with very limited research, my eyes opened wider to the realization that not all greenhouses are the same. As indicated in the Purdue University article, diseases that affect field tomatoes (early blight, Septoria leaf blight, bacterial spot, and bacterial canker) are less common in the greenhouse-grown crops.  But those yummy red “vine-ripened greenhouse grown” tomatoes I casually purchased are not contaminant free as I certainly once thought — but come with other diseases and issues.
 
As for me, as a consumer, I returned my cluster of fruit to the market for them to deal with their supplier. But the topic remains an area of interest to further investigate.

photos by Launa Herrmann
photos by Launa Herrmann

White mold 2
White mold 2

Posted on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at 9:48 AM

In Praise of Bumble Bees

A yellow-faced bumble bee,Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on a tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii, in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

When was the last time you sighted a bumble bee? Photographed it? It's National Pollinator Week and one of our favorite bumble bees is the...

A yellow-faced bumble bee,Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on a tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii, in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A yellow-faced bumble bee,Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on a tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii, in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A yellow-faced bumble bee,Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on a tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii, in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, leaving a foxglove in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, leaving a foxglove in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, leaving a foxglove in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Garden of Poisonous Plants

I am a frequent flier at UC Davis.  My husband and I have walked our dogs the entire length of the arboretum once or twice weekly for over twenty years.  It wasn't until about 5 years ago, on a break from a UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) pet appointment, that we discovered the Toxic Plant Garden.  It is on the north side of the anatomy building very close to the VMTH.  The garden has over 60 plants known to be poisonous to pets and livestock and some to people, as well. 

The original garden was designed by Murray Fowler DVM (1928 - 2014), a name some may recognize as the former Sacramento Zoo veterinarian.  He was also the first to author a zoological medicine text used to train zoo animal medicine.  He designed the Toxic Plant Garden in 1970 in a different location near the VMTH, and he and some of his students maintained it.  In 2006, Dr. John Pasco relocated the garden to its present location.  Mick Mount, Clinical Toxicologist worked together with Dr. Fowler (who was retired by this time) to select the plants from a long list to plant in the new garden.  A walk through the current garden can be eye-opening.  Plants you never thought would be toxic ARE to our pets and livestock (lemon verbena, aloe!)

While the plants are identified in the garden, a list of them can be found at this address: https://ccah.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/sites/g/files/dgvnsk4586/files/local_resources/pdfs/toxic_plants_common%20name_Auug2011.pdf

It is not the complete list of every toxic plant you can buy.  There is no such list that I am aware of.  I check numerous sites before I bring a plant home and still have unwittingly planted something that I later find out is potentially poisonous. I will have found it on one list and not on another.  Fortunately, my husband and I adopt older dogs now, who seem to have the sense or have gained the wisdom before we got them, to not eat everything in sight.

Some sites I have used to check for plant toxicity are ASPCA, HSUS, Cornell University, and the Sunset Western Garden Book which has an icon to identify a poisonous plant.  Of course, if there is any concern, after ingestion, contact your veterinarian immediately or the Poison Pet Helpline at (800) 213-6680 or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.  Each of the phone hotlines has a fee attached. 

Lemon verbena. photo by Michelle Davis
Lemon verbena. photo by Michelle Davis

Posted on Monday, June 17, 2019 at 10:34 AM

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