Gardening is a lifelong learning experience

Most of us find gardening a challenge.

So many plants to know and choose from, so many configurations of plants possible and so many things to consider — sun exposure or shade, plant textures, flower colors and advancing verses receding colors.

What type and amount of hardscape and paths to include and styles of gardens and themes, such as pollinator gardens or native plant gardens or Japanese gardens. Landscapes that are bio-diverse are the best because they help minimize some pests and pest damage as well as being aesthetically pleasing.

Having downsized in this past year to a smaller home and garden, I have a new garden to work in and to learn new ways to garden. Fortunately, the previous owners did a wonderful job of landscaping with a mostly native plant garden in the front and in the back are roses, flowers for pollinators and an area for composting and vegetable growing in raised beds. I added three more raised beds, making nine in total. I like to grow a variety of musk melons, which takes up nearly two raised beds. Corn and pole beans take up a lot of room, so I gave up the pole beans and the corn in favor of melons and, of course, dahlias, which you can’t buy at the local market.

Gardening is a lifelong activity that requires continued learning and exploration. It can be a challenge for our brains to keep us young in spirit as we age. Recently, I judged 4-H entries in the youth floriculture show at the Stanislaus County Fair in Turlock. I enjoy my flower judging activity and it can be a learning experience for me as well as for the kids entering their flowers. I score them less than first place for flowers entered past prime, deformed, ungroomed or so short-stemmed that they barely peep out of their containers. However, most of the entries get a first place and, hopefully, those getting second place will improve their showmanship next time.

At this show, I was treated to two flowers that I had never seen before. I suspect that more than one 4-H kid came from a family growing these flowers as there were four entries each of these unusual flowers — a white cactus flower that was awesome, and a Mexican Bird of Paradise, which I later discovered is a drought tolerant shrub native to the Mojave Desert. The exact white cactus flower that I saw was not easily identified in Google images as there seem to be several so named. There also were lots of zinnias, dahlias, marigolds, lilies and crepe myrtles, which kept me busy for two hours scoring them all. It is inspiring to see such interest in flowers by youngsters.

We also need to learn to better use our landscape watering. In our Mediterranean California climate where water supply is getting scanter, water conservation in our landscapes is very important. Water use per person per day for Californians in July 2016 was about 113 gallons. Traditionally, about 53 percent of household water use is on the landscape. It likely has improved since then with reductions in lawns and water needy plants.

Recently, at midafternoon and with temperature exceeding 100 degrees, I drove by a yard in my neighborhood where lawn sprinklers were running. When humidity is low and temperatures high, evaporation also is high. Perhaps 30 percent of the water being applied in the heat of the day is evaporating and not reaching or helping the lawn. To be smart at minimizing evaporation and maximizing efficient use of irrigation water, it is best to water between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. Watering in the evening is more apt to promote water borne diseases than watering in the early morning and watering in the heat of the day definitely wastes water.

With irrigation controllers it is not hard to be consistently correct with watering times. Also, if you are watering a steeply sloping bank or have heavy clay soils, it is possible with a controller to water for short periods interspersed with no watering periods so that the water has a chance to infiltrate rather than run off. For more tips on water conserving landscape plants see: Here is to both life-long garden learning and water conservation in your landscape.

If you have a gardening related question, you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at (209) 953-6112. More information can be found at

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