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It's been a tough year for gardeners, but don't despair

LA Times columnist Sandy Banks reached the conclusion that gardening is not for dilettantes.
When Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks shared her disappointment with her summer garden, she got words of encouragement straight from Missy Gable, the director of the UC's Statewide Master Gardener Program. Gable commiserated with Banks, saying her own homegrown tomatoes wound up with blossom end rot because of irrigation difficulties this year.

"I had the same experience that most people did," Gable said.

Banks began the 2014 summer gardening season like most home gardeners, full of hope and enthusiasm. But as fall approached she found herself with "a few spindly stalks of okra, a tangle of barren melon vines and a pepper plant loaded with misshapen pods."

Gable and another UC Cooperative Extension advisor, Janet Hartin, chalked up this year's garden frustrations in part to the state of California's water woes.

"A lot of people are calling and want to rip out their whole garden and just put in native plants," Hartin told the columnist.

But she and Gable assured the writer that vegetables are well worth the water it takes to grow them.

"... By growing fruits and vegetables, you're decreasing your carbon footprint," Gable said. "You're not using pesticides, not making trips to the grocery store.... The environmental and health benefits of home gardens are lasting and important."

Gable offered some suggestions to improve the chances for success:

  • Add compost to the soil to provide nutrients and increase water-holding capacity
  • Switch to water-conserving drip irrigation
  • Insulate the soil surface with a thick layer of mulch
  • Make careful planting decisions

"(Gable) steered me to a bevy of experts who take questions by email and phone through the University of California's Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program. I've bookmarked local planting guides and advice online at," Banks wrote.

Posted on Tuesday, September 23, 2014 at 9:20 AM

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