Ladybugs to the Rescue

Plum and Cherry trees are producing succulent new growth now which aphids find irresistible. Keep a close eye on new foliage for signs of aphids. If you control them early, you will prevent significant damage.

ladybug4Aphids suck the juice from new spring leaves and the subsequent scarring can cause the leaves to warp and curl around the aphids, protecting them.

In addition to weakening the plant, aphids drop a messy, sugary residue on items below their work site and they are also prolific in their reproduction, making problems exponentially worse if left unchecked.

Ladybugs are handy critters to release into your garden in the spring, summer, and fall. They are beneficial in all stages of their life cycle. Each female can lay 10-50 eggs daily. Ladybug larvae, (pictured above to the left of the adult beetles) live for three weeks before pupating and eat up to 400 aphids at a rate of 50-60 aphids a day in later stages. After 2-5 days adults emerge and continue to feed. Each adult will consume over 5,000 aphids in their lifetime.

aphidcurlThese beneficial insects are an important addition to the toolkit of every Valley gardener. Alden Lane Nursery can provide them in useful quantities and advise you on where and how to use them most effectively.

bonideoilFor those wishing another organic, or natural method of controlling aphids, we suggest a one-two punch, first with Bonide All Seasons Horticultural Spray Oil followed up with a fresh release of Ladybugs a day or 2 later.

The spray oil simply sprays on at the end of a hose, no mixing. It smothers pests, rather than poisoning them. The Ladybugs mop up the leftovers and stand guard against local aphid uprisings.

Blooming Now

The nursery is alive with color, like a parade moving through town

wisteria on arbor
The Wisteria has popped into bloom over the greenhouse this week
Flowering Japanese Crabapple colors the landscape near our back deck.
California Lilac or Ceanothus bring true blue color into the garden
Loropetulum or Chinese Fringe Flower displays its colorful blooms in Spring and Fall
Snow Mound Spirea brings a bridal bouquet to the garden
Aloes are blooming with a spectacular display in our succulent garden
Emerald Carpet Manzanita is a popular native shrubby groundcover




Pet-Friendly Houseplants

Houseplants are not just a “pretty face”, but work hard on our behalf making indoor environments as toxic free of airborne chemicals as possible . . . and the more plants the merrier, especially pet-friendly houseplants.

The humidity that houseplants graciously shower us with helps keep our dust and allergens at bay (a benefit I adore in my own household!).  As responsible owners of both houseplants and pets, we want to ensure a harmonious environment for all.

Houseplant Happiness & your Four Legged Companions

Our four legged friends deserve our best and most conscientious of choices for their safety. We offer up a list of absolute beauties to grace your home or office for everyone to enjoy.

  • Ferns – I love the ease of Mother Ferns for their good looks and non-messy qualities, but others in the fern family such as button ferns, maidenhair, and the sculptural birds-nest ferns are great.
  • Spider Plant – This 70’s plant is making a comeback and is very easy to grow.
  • Peperomia – Compact and low water need, this makes a beautiful accent plant for mid to high light areas. Many types are colorful as well.
  • Fittonia – Darling, low growing, and bright hues make this low care and unusual plant a winner in all categories.
  • Palms – Not all palms are non-toxic, but here are my favorites for beautiful and SAFE. Neanthe Bella (Parlour Palms) are short and multi-trunked and only grow to 3-4 ft. Bamboo Palms are also multi-trunked, but grow a bit larger (up to 7 ft.) and upright, and the graceful Kentia Palm can reach heights of 12′ plus are quite dramatic given lots of light.
  • Prayer Plant – Lovely, cascading and colorful, this plant is one of my favorites for ease of care and beautiful ­striations in the leaf patterns
  • Goldfish Plants – Charming, glossy and produce sweet little “goldfish” blooms. Bright light, keep on the dry side.
  • Hoya – Very satisfying plant to have around! Usually hanging, with long tendrils of succulent type leaves that enjoys bright light and dry conditions. Given lots of light, it will produce long lasting “flower balls” of waxy, fragrant pink blooms. Lots of varieties available, all safe.

This is a short list, but always be aware and do some homework before introducing new plants into your home. Anything can have some toxicity to it if ingested in large amounts, so monitor your furry friends and have a harmonious household with beautiful and rewarding pet-friendly houseplants!

Ceanothus Displaying Color Now

California Wild Lilac (Ceanothus sp.) - spring blooms in shades of blue attract pollinators and provide homes for butterfly larvae
California Wild Lilac (Ceanothus sp.) – spring blooms in shades of blue attract pollinators and provide homes for butterfly larvae

Ceanothus, also known as California Lilac, is popular across the world for providing a dazzling burst of blue to the garden in spring.  Ceanothus has handsome. glossy leaves and comes in a variety of forms from shrubby rambling groundcovers to larger shrubs and small trees. While most Ceanothus varieties are native to California along the coast, there are varieties that grow inland naturally up into the Sierras and the Mojave Desert and will be most suitable for Tri-Valley gardens.

Alden Lane carries several varieties of which there is certainly one to fit your nurturing needs from very little summer water to watering more frequently.

Following is a sample of varieties:

  • Centennial: a low spreading variety requiring some shade protection inland.
  • Concha: upright variety 6′-9′ tall and wide, it is longer lived if given a cooler location.
  • Emily Brown: 4‘ tall, 8′-10’ wide, a strong, garden tolerant variety.
  • Anchor Bay: 3′ tall, 6′ wide, away from the coast needs supplemental irrigation and some shade.
  • Joyce Coulter: 2′-3′ tall, up to 25′ wide, in interior gardens supplemental irrigation is required.
  • ‘Frosty Dawn and ‘Point Sierra’: flowers vary on these two varieties, 2′-3′ tall, 5′ wide, grown successfully in interior gardens with some shade.
  • Diamond Heights: 6″-12″ tall, 3′-5′ wide, discovered in the Diamond Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, has variegated leaves thus needing some shade from the hottest sun to prevent burning, useful in woodland gardens, it will grow through the leaf fall common in such gardens.
  • Point Sierra‘: 1-2′ high, 4’ wide makes this an excellent plant for the home garden. Beautiful against contrasting gray foliage.


Prepare Soil Now for a Great Summer Garden

Gardening is not just about taking care of plants, it is about taking care of soil. If your soil is amended for improved texture, if it contains a balanced supply of moisture, nutrients, and minerals and is teaming with microscopic life, your plants will probably thrive without much additional effort from you.

bumperOver the course of a year, nutrients are used up and soil organisms break down organic matter in the soil. This is a good time to add compost fortified with chicken manure. The organic matter and nutrients in the soil are restored while improving soil texture.
Three to four inches of Bumper Crop worked into the top 8″ of soil will yield a 9-12″ deep layer of suitable garden soil that drains well, nurtures life and produces a respectable garden harvest. Ongoing care of the soil will result in a garden that produces better and better as the years pass.

Good Garden Soil Starts Here!!

If you are preparing a vegetable or flower garden bed here’s a tried and true soil preparation recipe that works wonders. It lightens our heavy soil, nourishes it and buffers the pH to make it ‘just right’ for the success of your vegetable and flower seeds or transplants.

Good Soil Tips

The following is a do list that can help you nurture your soil:

  • Plant in a Raised Bed: Improves drainage, helps warm the soil.
  • Incorporate Organic Material: It acts as a wedge to hold clay soil open and allows water to drain more freely and permit air to occupy more of the space between soil particles.
  • Add Gypsum: Helps leach salts from the soil, adds calcium and relaxes the clay.
  • Add Mulch: Apply 3″ of bark or Bumper Crop to reduce weeds, save water and moderate soil temperatures.
  • Add Nutrients: Fertilize with a mild fertilizer which includes micro-nutrients (EB Stone Organics, Maxsea). Micronutrients are essential for healthy plant development and are sometimes missing from soils.
  • Water Appropriately: Water thoroughly but infrequently enough so that air is allowed back into the soil between waterings, usually only every 3-10 days.
  • Use an inexpensive Moisture Meter to judge soil moisture more accurately.




Easter Grass

We have wheat seed and annual rye grass seed, perfect for growing an instant Easter egg nest in pots, bowls, vases, and baskets.

Simply fill a container 2/3 full with soil, sprinkle with seed and press seeds firmly against the soil.

Water and watch it grow! Wheat seed germinates in 3-4 days, annual rye in 7-10 days . . . in time for Easter on April 16th and spring decorating.

Remineralize Your Soil

Azomite is flour-fine rock dust

California’s big Central Valley is the breadbasket of the nation. Its alluvial soils are rich and friable because centuries of seasonal flooding have deposited minerals from the eroding Sierras into the fertile lowlands.

Alluvial soils are perfect for growing crops partly because they are so full of minerals and nutrients.  Adding minerals to your own soil using rock dust is similar to centuries of valley flooding. Spread a 40 lb. bag of rock powder around your landscape 3 to 4 times a year. Gardeners doing so have achieved noticeable improvements, not only in leaf color and vigor but in fruit and vegetable flavor and production as well.

Where do you suppose vegetables get their nutrient content from… “the soil” Azomite replenishes and enhances the soil. Azomite® powdered rock is a naturally mined mineral product with 70 micro-nutrients rarely available in one place. It is odorless, won’t burn your plants and won’t restrict aeration or water penetration. Unlike some products, Azomite® powdered rock is not a manufactured, chemically prepared fertilizer. It is 100% natural with no additives, synthetics or fillers.

Azomite® has been shown to loosen hard soils, build healthy, more pest-resistant and drought-tolerant plants and promote lusher growth. Use Azomite® powdered rock to improve all your gardening and landscape areas from lawns and vegetable plots to compost piles and enjoy:

  • Increased fruit and flower production
  • Increased vitamin content in your fruits and vegetables
  • Better tasting fruits and vegetables
  • Increased pest and disease resistance and greater cold tolerance in all your plants
  • Lawns with better color while using less fertilizer

Best of all, Azomite® powdered rock is easy and economical to apply – one 40 pound bag can cover 1000 square feet. Azomite® powdered rock – gardens and landscapes have not had it this good since the last ice age.

Edible Gardens Give Back – By Nancy McNeish

Jujube – date-like fruit with sweet apple flavor; grows well in hot areas

I had a neighbor once who said, “if I’m going to use water in my yard, I want something back from it!” Turns out, many of us want to live in a yard that feeds us and feeds our need for beautiful surroundings. And yep, it can be thrifty on water, as well.

As we welcome spring and its new planting season, let’s think outside of the box, or, well, just think outside.

As with any design endeavor, the “bones” come first. Consider those plants, the trees and shrubs, which form the structure of your yard.

In addition to beauty and utility, we want them to be easy to care for, and, best of all, edible! We have many fruit, berry or nut producers for your landscape.

When planning a new or rejuvenated landscape, here are some less well known but delicious varieties to consider. And when planted as part of a well thought out design, they are definitely front yard worthy.

Edible trees that are stand-ins for Shade or Ornamental trees:

  • Jujube – date-like fruit with sweet apple flavor; grows well in hot areas
  • Mulberry – easy to grow trees or bushes produce large red, purple or white berries
  • Olive – press the oil or pickle the fruit of these stunning Mediterranean trees. ‘Arbequina’ and ‘Arboasana’ are smaller
    Sweet Bay – dark green leaves are dried for flavorings from this handsome evergreen
  • Pineapple Guava – silvery evergreen foliage with pretty flowers and sweet-fleshed fruits in a compact tree
  • Elderberry – easy care trees or bushes with bluish berries that can be made into jams, wine and more
  • Asian Pears – sometimes called apple pears, they are crisp like an apple and sweet
  • Pistachio – healthful green nuts love hot weather and are drought resistant. Two trees required.
  • Pomegranate – beautifully ornamental and very easy to grow. Choose from mild to dark, sweet-tart varieties

Edible shrubs in lieu of strictly ornamental:

  • Rosemary – no landscape is complete without this flavorful shrub that sips water
  • Lavender – fragrant, beautiful purple flowers on sun-loving shrubs. Try silvery ‘Goodwin Creek’
  • Blueberries & Huckleberries – delicious berries for moist, afternoon shade areas. Blueberries have great fall color
  • Gooseberries – prickly stems produce plump berries
  • Currants – beautiful clusters of spring flowers give way to red berries in afternoon shade areas
  • Tea Camellias – yes, you really can grow your own tea leaves to dry and brew
  • Grapes – choose red, green or purple grapes to grace an arbor or trellis and remind us of our wine country heritageA healthy plant is a beautiful plant!

Spring Pruning – Just Ahead of a Growth Spurt

Get Ready For Spring!

spring pruning examplesA magical date on the calendar cycles around each year and arrives again in a few short weeks. It’s a date that varies by region, but in the East Bay, the first of March marks the time the winter garden tasks need to be done and spring is ready to… well “spring forth” in glory.

There are a number of key tasks best accomplished in the garden right now, just before spring wakes up. Careful timing of pruning and fertilizing by March 1st for many plants means a floriferous start for a successful new year.

Though most winter pruning is already finished, pruning can be done on a number of evergreen plants mid-February to about March 1st that cannot be done as successfully at any other time of the year.

Two plants, in particular, come to mind that can get a little overgrown and out of bounds; African Iris (Morea or Dietes) and New Zealand Flax. These can be successfully refreshed by pruning to the ground this month and allowed to re-grow a whole outfit of luscious new foliage through the warm months of spring. Pruning back now means new growth will be beautiful and graceful, and your plant will be kept smaller! This process works on similar strap-leaved plants that send out new leaves in spring such as liriope and society garlic.

Frost tender plants with a tropical quality such as citrus need to be pruned later, as temperatures warm or risk further frost burn, but boxwood and similar evergreen hedge-type plants pruned now will quickly grow to cover pruning cuts.

Feeding plants at pruning time with an all-purpose fertilizer, such as Master Nursery Formula 49 will help the plants push out a beautiful, deep green set of leaves in the weeks following their pruning.



Morning Glory

Start annual morning glories from seed this month and establish them in the garden or a pot by summer! Morning glories are one of the most stunning of the old-fashioned garden flowers. Flowers are huge – three to five inches across – and bright, colorful blue, purple or pink. Best of all, morning glories are easy!

Start indoors to transplant later, or directly sow in the landscape now.  Improve the soil by mixing a couple of inches of Gold Rush soil conditioner into the garden soil. Plant seeds a half inch deep. Water to get them started.

Morning glories from seed are typically annuals, dying completely in winter, though they will most likely reseed to sprout next year.

Try planting morning glory among sunflowers.  The sunflowers will grow quickly, providing a natural trellis for the Morning Glory to climb.  Sunflowers also may be started from seed outdoors now or in the coming weeks.