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Gail's Gardens - October 2015

Gail's Gardens -  October 2015

by Gail Fanning

Now is the time to prune those long streamers off your wisteria, before it becomes a jungle!  Cut all of the streamers back to 5 or 6 leaves: this encourages more bloom in the spring, and prevents the plant from overrunning your house.  I also like to prune my climbing roses now before they get too out of hand: I’ll need to do it again in January, but it won’t be such a chore.

Don’t miss the Russian River Gardens Festival on Oct. 17 & 18: Russian Tea and Fragrance is the title and the emphasis is on all things Russian: tea, dancing and music.  They will also be debuting their new fragrance: “Rose Embrace”.  Enjoy a glorious day in their awesome gardens. 

This fall you can learn how to remove your lawn at Bringing Back the Natives Garden workshops that will be held in Oakland and Pleasant Hill: see details at

If you would like to reduce your water bill—and if you have better things to do on your week-ends than to mow, weed, spray pesticides, or water your lawn—this is the workshop for you!  Lawn removal workshops are offered Oct. 10 and 24. In other workshops, you can learn how to install a water-conserving drip irrigation system, and how to garden sustainably by growing your own fruit, raising chickens, or storing rainwater.  Register early: these $35 workshops fill quickly. 

Fall is a good time to visit nurseries for great prices as they try to reduce stock for the winter.  Just remember to take your Sunset book (or app) with you and research the plants before you buy: a great bargain is not a so great if the plant will not thrive in your garden.  Also, it’s easy to buy a plant that you think you know, only to find you have purchased a variety that is very different than what you expected.  Check carefully on the tag: the variety or cultivar name is listed in single quotes, i.e. Nandina domestica ‘Sienna Sunrise’.  Nandina domestica (often referred to as species nandina) is the tallish  nandina (heavenly bamboo) you will  find planted around many older homes: it tends to get bare trunks at the bottom, with its leaves held about 5 to 6 feet high.  However, Nandina domestica ‘Sienna Sunrise’, a cultivar,  grows only 3 to 4 feet tall, and has better fall leaf color than the species.  Nandina domestica ‘ Harbor Dwarf’, another different cultivar, grows only 18 inches high!  There are at least 11 different cultivars of Nandina, and they all have different growth habits, so never buy without carefully checking the complete name of the plant! 

Also take a careful look at a plant’s condition before buying: some may be very pot-bound and dried out if they have been sitting all summer in the nursery.  When you get your bargains home, remember to put them in a protected corner and water daily until the ground is wet enough to plant them out.  Pot-bound specimens may benefit from being transplanted into a larger pot immediately, and planted out later in March or April.

Time to start thinking about the coming rains: it’s always best to allow as much of the rain as possible to sink into the ground where it falls: this refills our ground water reserves for the next dry season.  The Sonoma Resource Conservation District has a new downloadable pdf titled “ Slow it. Spread it. Sink it. Store it!” (available at  It contains a wealth of information about the best practices for managing your storm water: whether it is run off from the roof, the driveway, or creeks.  Included are instructions for building swales and rain gardens: both slow the flow of water and allow it to sink into the ground.  Take a few minutes to think about these simple ways to improve the water situation for all of us!  I have been happy to notice a few new commercial parking lots being built with vegetated swales to absorb the run off from all that asphalt: the new Sutter hospital and medical buildings use this technique and it’s quite attractive.

 Need help with your garden plans?  One hour consultations are still only $50!  Contact Gail at 707-829-2455, and get your gardening year off to a great start.