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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Oct 21


Posted on October 21, 2016 at 1:54 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Many years ago, Harve Presnell sang a song, "They Call the Wind Maria," from the movie and hit Broadway musical Paint Your Wagon. Lines in the song spoke of loss and of hearing the wind "wail and whinin'."

Wind can be so destructive. As an arborist, I know the damage that can be done by falling trees and broken limbs to everything in their wake. For many years I have recommended pruning evergreen trees to prevent them from forming sails and being ripped apart by the wind. During those years I had not considered the possibility of a deciduous tree falling into that niche. Last week's storm, however, told a different story.

Yellowwood remains
 Remains of yellowwood tree showing signs of heart rot
The gale winds we experienced in Lassen did their wailing and whining relentlessly during the night. In the morning, I assessed the property for damage. The greenhouse door was askew but fixable. The view to the chicken house, however, exposed itself in a way never seen before. The American yellowwood tree, Cladrastis kentukea, that stood proudly between the house and chicken coop had mysteriously disappeared. In its stead was a 3-foot piece of wood—what was left of the tree trunk. I found the rest of the tree 30 feet away. 

A conk, or mushroom growing on a tree, is an indicator of wood decay.
The tree had yet to turn its brilliant yellow before shedding its leaves for winter. Instead, the thick foliage created that deadly sail used by the wind to fell it. The remaining portion of the tree told another story, too. Though the tree was relatively young, the broken trunk revealed signs of a fungal disease known as heart rot. The disease had not yet progressed far enough to disclose telltale signs of conks (mushrooms growing on the wood). Unbeknownst to me, the tree trunk was weakened. Eventually the fungus would have taken the tree.

Winter is rapidly approaching, and with oncoming storms we need to be cognizant of trees in our gardens and outlying areas that can be affected by winter conditions. Marin has many native and non-native trees that are naturally weak-wooded. Eucalyptus, pine, cypress, fir and bay trees can have difficulties withstanding the high winds experienced in Marin. Before branches are compromised, or roots fail to hold up these magnificent trees, consult with a good arborist to ensure Maria doesn't play havoc as she did with the yellowwood tree in my garden. The time and expense now will be well worth it in the near future.

Oct 14

Irrigation Components

Posted on October 14, 2016 at 10:44 AM by Emma Detwiler

By Charlene Burgi

A friend came over to the ranch in Lassen this morning to help me winterize the outdoor plumbing and install various heaters to prevent water from freezing in the troughs for the horses and donkeys.

The process seemed simple enough, until a 3/4 inch plug was requested and the hunt was on. If you have ever walked through an irrigation supply business, or just sauntered down the irrigation aisle at a hardware store you understand what I faced.

Within the business existed buckets of various irrigation components in sizes ranging from 3/4 inch to 4 inch diameters. PVC tees were mixed with street ells, couplers, 90's, caps and slip fixes - to name a few. Other buckets contained drip components too numerous to mention. It would take a long time to find what we needed and I recognized it would be faster to drive somewhere to buy a new plug than spend hours trying to locate one in the dozens of buckets filled with PVC parts. Mentally I put those buckets on my bucket list to organize - a worthy winter project.
Sample of irrigation parts
You might ask why the need for all those parts and pieces? Irrigation systems require having spare parts in case there is a break. Typically people only need a slip fix or compression coupler for a broken pipe equal to the size of pipe they have in the ground. On occasion, a riser will break that holds up a sprinkler. Even a few nozzles held in supply are good insurance in the event of breakage. Drip systems frequently throw off a drip emitter, pop an end cap or find a split in the tubing. Spare parts are needed.

The key to being prepared for these water wasting leaks is knowing what you have and matching the component to your irrigation system. For example, if your sprinklers are spraying out 15 feet, you would want to have the same brand nozzle that also sprays 15 feet at the ready if replacement is needed.

Matching brands is important since each company produces nozzles that may emit the same amount of water but they are constructed to produce a different amount of gallons per minute if it is an overhead spray system. By mixing and matching brands, your irrigation system will cause an uneven spray pattern. Equal water sprayed for each valve is known as distribution uniformity. You will find your garden thriving, running efficiently and effectively as if it was raining outside by matching nozzles to what exists on the system, matching the spray pattern and the distance the water sprays.

Sizes and manufactures matter
Have you checked your irrigation system lately? Do you have any leaks or breaks? Do you have the necessary irrigation components to make repairs or are you also facing vast quantities of mixed and matched parts? Worse still - perhaps there are no parts that exist to fix the problem.

Have a great weekend, and don't forget, the California Native Plant sale is this Saturday!
Oct 06

Fall Color with Low-Water and California Native Plants

Posted on October 6, 2016 at 10:10 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

It's October and fall is in the air. Cool nights and shortened daylight hours remind us of this change in season, as do all the leaves revealing their true colors. Reds, yellows and oranges are appearing on trees, shrubs and even some perennials to accentuate the season. 

Chemung mine color pattern of rabbitbrush
Yellow-flowering rabbitbrush draws the eye through the landscape at abandoned Chemung Mine in the Eastern Sierras (visited on a recent trip). Aim for a similar effect in your garden.
Despite these leafy hues, this is a time in the garden when we often lack the colorful flower displays we find in spring and summer. But this does not need to be, as native and low-water-use plants can help cheer us with their color on drab fall days. The trick is knowing which plants to couple together for that autumn punch of vibrancy. As you think about placement, follow the tips in last week's blog. One of the keys to good design is to carry a color, texture or shape throughout the garden so the eye travels easily across the landscape. 

Of course it also helps to know which low-water and native plants can provide fall interest. Some of my favorite fall-flowering perennials are in the genus Salvia--the sages. Sage comes in a host of colors. Spring often finds the blue and purple sages most intense, but fall welcomes the red sages. Salvia greggii, commonly known as autumn sage, comes into bloom toward the end of summer and continues through the fall months. This sage grows about 3 feet tall and spreads to 4 feet, sporting bright red flowers. Some cultivars of S. greggii come in white ('Alba'), red ('Furman's Red'), salmon ('Salmon') and hot pink ('Sierra Linda'). Salvia leucantha is another heavy fall bloomer; however, it bears purple calyces and white flowers. The attraction with this salvia is the handsome, white fuzzy underside of the olive-colored leaves. I would be remiss if I did not include 'Hot Lips,' a red and white fall-blooming Salvia microphylla that grows to the same size as the Salvia greggii and wears those flowers well into autumn.

Sticky monkeyflower
Sticky monkeyflower in bloom at San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge
How could I not discuss Mimulus, or sticky monkeyflower to many gardeners? There are over 180 varieties of this perennial, including many indigenous to California. This small plant blooms at a time when the rest of the garden is ready for dormancy. It does not like its feet wet, and it gratefully accepts a good pruning to keep its shape when its bloom season is complete.

Some of my Agastache (hummingbird mint) is blooming up a storm right now and providing nectar to the few brave little late hummers migrating through. The hummingbirds also enjoy feasting on Epilobium canum, otherwise known as California fuchsia. Epilobium 'Everett's Choice' makes an excellent groundcover, growing a mere 3-4 inches tall and highlighting the garden with its orange-red flowers. The fuchsia-like flowers are a treat for the eye, and this plant does not like water. 

These fall flower colors can be carried through the landscape and even up into the trees. For example, the red flowers I've focused on could be good complements for a western redbud. Cercis occidentalis leaves are a magnificent scarlet burst dotting the hills in the wild right now. This small-scale tree is perfect for that tight spot in the garden that needs color both spring and fall.

With so many plants to choose from, fall color can be yours. The plants listed above are all low- to very-low-water users during the time of year when the reservoirs are still waiting to be replenished with rain. The folks at the California Native Plant Society can help you find the right plants for the right places to carry the autumn theme through your garden. Check out their annual fall sale on October 15.