Potential for frost
Sudden rain and shorter days
Just as natural cycles cause plants, animals, and insects to draw closer to home, move around or grow less, and to retain resources, we can copy those behaviors to the benefit of our garden and landscape. While there is still time to plant onions, poppies, spring blooming bulbs, winter crops mentioned in the October notes, and cover crops, November is an excellent time to clean up and prepare for the holidays and colder weather.
As trees drop their leaves, think before you rake. Fallen leaves make excellent compost or mulch but they will interfere with your lawn, if you still have one. Leaves should be removed from lawns and concrete (due to staining), but there is no reason that I know of for removing leaves from anywhere else. From my point of view, fallen leaves are plant foods and soil amendments that have been around a lot longer than us. The only exception might be leaves that are exposed to a lot of car exhaust. You might not want to add those amendments to your soil. Also, really thick layers of leaves, more than a couple of inches, can interfere with soil respiration. If you have that many leaves, it is a good idea to chip them, or chop them with your lawnmower to speed decomposition up a little bit.
Cooler temperatures may reduce the number of pests in your garden and landscape, but imported cabbageworms, brown marmorated stink bugs, and Harlequin bugs, along with ever-present aphids, will be doing their very best to wreck your cole crops. Cabbages, cauliflower, and broccoli leaves should be checked frequently for imported cabbageworm butterfly eggs (tiny clear-ish white flecks on the underside of leaves), small (and some not-so small!) green cabbageworms, and clusters of drum-shaped Harlequin bug eggs. These eggs can simply be extermigated (brushed off) and the hatched larva will generally be unable to find their way back to the host plant. You can also use row covers, once you are absolutely certain that you have removed all the eggs. [Check every few days anyway, just in case.]
Fall clean up
If you haven’t already, this is a good time to discard any plants that are not thriving. Annuals and other garden plants that have completed their life cycle are best removed by cutting at ground level, rather than pulling. Pulling plants up by the roots disrupts microbe populations, which interferes with soil health. Also, by cutting plants off at root level, you may get a surprise next spring when that annual turns out to be more tenacious than you thought!
Fires can be devastating. Dried brush, dead weeds, and stacked firewood can speed a fire closer to your home than anyone wants, and can provide shelter for rats. Well-watered plants are less likely to catch fire. It is all too easy to think it won’t happen to you, but it can. Change the batteries in your smoke detector, have your chimney and/or furnace inspected, and look at your landscape with an eye for fire safe gardening.
It may be difficult to imagine frost in California, but Santa Clara Valley's first frost date is November 15th. Frost dates are statistical averages over time. They are not written in stone. I can tell you, speaking from experience, it is far easier and more comfortable for you to prepare your plants' frost protection against winter sunscald and frost cracks before it is needed. Old bedsheets, row covers, and even umbrellas can provide all the protection that's needed, just be sure to make it so that the fabric does not actually touch the plant, or you defeat the purpose.
Some California winters are wet and others are not. Until regular rains occurs, your plants will still need to be watered, though not nearly as often or as much as during the peak of summer. An inexpensive moisture meter can help you see which plants need more water and which do not.
You can stabilize soil temperatures, reduce weeds, and slowly add nutrients to your soil with mulch. You can buy different sizes, colors, and materials, or you can contact local tree trimming companies for free mulch. Wherever it comes from, be sure that it is disease-free and that it won't float away when the rains comes.
Sooty mold fungus
Remember those aphids, mealybugs, whitefly and scale bugs that tormented your garden all summer? Well, they left behind copious amounts of honeydew that create the perfect growth medium for mold. Sooty mold is common in San Jose, California, and is easy to recognize as black smudges on leaves and fruit. While the mold can be washed off food and eaten safely, it can be devastating to host plants. The mold actually blocks sunlight from entering the leaves, slowing or even halting photosynthesis. Ants carry the disease, so slowing ant traffic can be a big help. The easiest way to block ants is to wrap tape around the trunks of trees and apply sticky barriers to the tape. Also, trim branches away from buildings, fences and other plants, and use ant bait. While you are at it, November is also the perfect time to caulk your home against winter invaders.
Before the rains get started, this is a good time to look through stacks of materials to see what needs cleaning, repairing, sharpening, or discarding. Plant saucers and pots should always be scrubbed clean and then soaked in a household cleaner, such as Lysol, for ten minutes to prevent the spread of disease. They should also be stored upside down or on their edge to prevent water collection and mosquito breeding. I used the staves from a half barrel that fell apart to create a simple storage system for planter saucers. I just drilled screws in from above. It makes them easy to see and they do not collect water.
Foggy mornings pale
Seared from sight by blazing sun
Nectarine juice drips
Aside from watering, August may seem like the perfect time to take a break form the heat, but there are still plenty of things going on in your garden!
While ants do help aerate the soil, they can also damage crops and spread disease. Fruit trees can be protected with sticky barriers. Boric acid bait traps can be an effective control method, just be sure the baits are placed where children and pets cannot reach them.
Now is the time to be on the lookout for codling moth larva. From the outside, an apple will have a small, scabby spot. If you cut (or bite) into the apple, you will see that this spot leads to a trail that heads toward the core. You can interrupt the codling moth lifecycle by collecting and removing any fallen fruit that would provide an overwintering haven. Unaffected apples can also be protected by bagging them or dusting them with kaolin clay.
This is the time of year when Japanese beetles, dried fruit beetles, and June beetles are the easiest to see (and eliminate). Japanese beetles will skeletonize many plants. These pests tend to cling to their favorite foods and are easy to knock into cans of soapy water. [When I lived in Virginia, I used to pay the neighborhood children a nickel for every June bug they eliminated - it was very effective and the kids had fun and earned some money!] June bugs are clumsy fliers and easy to slap down with a net. Most beetles can be fed to chickens. Dried fruit beetles and June bugs do not bite or sting and dogs can be trained to chase and kill them before they lay eggs in the soil. These eggs will later hatch and the larval grubs will devour lawn, ornamental, and other plant roots.
Just as in April and June, oranges and other mature citrus trees should be fed one-half pound of nitrogen in August. Blood meal is an excellent source of nitrogen, without all the fillers. Ammonium sulfate is another good source of nitrogen.
This is the time of year when all that hard work and patience really pay off. Keep plants healthy and enjoy the fruits of your labor by harvesting frequently. This reduces the number of places where pests and diseases can hide. This also prevents many plants from going to seed and ending fruit production. When harvesting tree fruit, be sure to keep a look out for mummified fruit. Remove mummies and dispose of them in the trash, not the compost pile.
This drought tolerant shrub is a great way to attract pollinators. After it has bloomed, cut lavender plants back, close to the ground. This will prevent plants from becoming too leggy and it stimulates more flower development.
If you have a lawn and it has not turned completely brown, allow it to grow longer than you would in cooler months. Taller grass protects and shades the soil and helps retain moisture. You can even let it go to seed and save money on lawn seed in the autumn! Be on the lookout for masked chafers and southern chinch bugs.
This has been a particularly bad year for mites in my garden. Mite infestations often look like nothing more than light webbing around leaves and stems. This webbing is followed by leaf stippling, chlorosis, and leaf drop. Water-stressed plants are more susceptible, as are dusty plants. Mites are related to spiders. Adults have eight legs, but the young only have six. Spraying pesticides often backfires because mite predators, such as lacewings and pirate bugs, are killed. Often, you can use a soft-bristled brush to dislodge these pests.
Moles and voles
Underground ridges in your lawn often mean you have moles. Moles eat insects and worms, but their tunneling can damage roots and redirect irrigation water away from your plants. Voles will devour root systems. In both cases, trapping is your best control method.
By August, most rain barrels have run dry, making this the perfect time to clean out any debris in the remaining grey water, along with any mosquito larvae. West Nile Virus, Zika Virus, and many other diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes, so it is important to regularly eliminate any standing water. Mosquito dunks should be added to any standing water every 30 days.
Green or brown shield-shaped stink bugs eat seeds, grain, fruit, vegetables, ornamental plants, legumes, weeds and tree leaves. They can also transmit tomato bacterial spot with piercing mouthparts. There are hundreds of different stink bug species, the most commonly seen in California are bagrada bugs, brown marmorated stink bugs, rough stink bugs, harlequin bugs, and uhler’s stink bugs. You may see white or yellow eggs on tomatoes, or tight rows of tiny grayish eggs on netting. Unfortunately, insecticides are ineffective against stink bugs. Frequent inspections and hand picking are your best control methods. If put in place early enough, row covers can prevent stink bugs from reaching your crops.
Leaf cover is a plant’s equivalent to sunscreen. Insufficient leave cover and/or irrigation can make plants susceptible to sunburn, or, more technically, sunscald. Tomatoes and peppers are especially vulnerable to sunscald. Rather than turning red and peeling, the way we do, the side of fruit exposed to too much sun will look bleached and brown and leathery. Insufficient nitrogen is a common cause for too few leaves, but you can provide shade cloth in extreme situations. Just make sure the plants still get the sunlight they need to grow and thrive.
Hot weather means trees need more water. Trees planted in a lawn that is being watered regularly will still need a deep watering 2 or 3 times during the summer, or more, depending on the weather. Solitary mature fruit and nut trees will need a deep watering every 3 - 4 weeks, while younger trees will need to be watered every 2 weeks. Ideally, there is an irrigation ring around each tree at the drip line. This is also a good time to check the sticky barriers and whitewashing on fruit and nut trees, feed citrus trees, and prune apricot and cherry trees. Unlike other trees, which are pruned when they are dormant, apricot and cherry trees are best pruned in summer. This is because they are susceptible to a fungus called Eutypa dieback, which can infect trees if rain reaches fresh pruning cuts.
August is an excellent time to start seeds for California's winter crops. Spinach, beets, lettuce, arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cilantro, bush beans, fava beans, leeks, radishes, and peas can all be started in small containers for transplanting after summer crops are done. This gives you a head start on the cooler growing season, just be sure to keep the soil moist. A thin layer of vermiculite can help retain moisture in those pots.
Remember that your plants are not the only things that need extra hydration and sun protection in summer! You do, too! Be sure to drink lots of water, slather on the sunscreen, and wear that hat!
Longer days of sun
Burst forth fruits and leaves
June is a busy month in the garden. Rising temperatures and strong growth increase the need for irrigation. Sowbugs and other pests seem to be everywhere. Fruits, flowers, and mulch are the name of the game when it comes to June garden chores.
Bees are everywhere you look, collecting pollen and nectar for their families (and pollinating nearly all of our garden crops). If you see a swarm, don’t panic. Swarming bees are surprisingly docile. Their bellies are full of honey and they are simply looking for a new home. Contact your local Bee Guild or Master Gardeners for information on swarm collection. Under no circumstances should honey bee swarms be sprayed with insecticides.
QUARANTINE WARNING: MOST OF SANTA CLARA COUNTY IS UNDER QUARANTINE FOR CITRUS, DUE TO THE ASIAN CITRUS PSYLLID. CHECK THIS MAP TO SEE IF YOU ARE AFFECTED.
June usually provides an abundance of fruit. If damaged fruit is seen, take a closer look. If the fruit looks chewed on, it’s probably rats or squirrels. Personally, I use Bobbex-R to deter these destructive, disease-carrying pests. My dogs enjoy helping out, too! I also use traps to kill rats. It’s a bit disgusting, but it works.
Fruit drop and fruit thinning
Don't be concerned if your fruit trees suddenly drop a majority of their blossoms or immature fruits. This normal behavior, called June drop or blossom drop, prevents trees from producing more fruit than they can support. To help your trees create the highest quality and best sized fruit, this is the time to thin fruits.
If you haven’t already, June is a good time to check irrigation systems for leaks. Drip systems should be flushed and emitters checked for clogs. This is also a good time to test to see where, exactly, sprinklers are spraying and where they are not. There’s no sense in wasting precious water in urban drool and the spray should never hit tree trunks.
Mulching is one of the best things you can do in the garden, especially in June. Mulching stabilizes soil temperatures, reduces weeds, and helps the soil retain moisture. Aged compost, placed on top of the soil, is mulch. Tree trimmings make excellent mulch and they can be acquired for free from tree trimming companies! As mulch breaks down, it adds valuable nutrients to the soil and improves soil structure. Just make sure that mulch is kept away from tree trunks and that it isn’t too thick. Generally speaking, a layer of 3 inches is just right. Too much mulch can interfere with gas exchanges.
If you haven't started already, June is an excellent time to plant those heat-loving cucumbers, peppers, squashes, tomatoes, eggplants, and melons. Also, you can create an ongoing harvest by succession planting radishes, beans, and other determinant crops.
Be sure to put on your sunscreen, wear a hat, and keep those tools clean and sharp as you enjoy the garden in June!