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Articles by Alameda County Master Gardeners

Gardening in the Time of COVID-19

Peppers Basil Peas in Containers
What a difference two months make. Ten years ago, reeling from the economic downturn, people sought food security in edible gardens and livestock. In the decade since then, buoyed by economic prosperity, many people moved away from urban farming. Now, with the rug pulled out from under them, there are a lot of people once again looking to their gardens for food security. In order for an urban farm to be most useful, it should focus on nutrient dense foods or foods that are high in calories and include foods that store well or can be canned. These would include potatoes, winter squash, beans, brassicas such as kale and broccoli and tomatoes. Read more...(includes handy planting guide)

Keeping a Garden Journal

Garden Journal

While not as historically interesting as Samuel Pepy's diary or as deliciously literary as Anais Nin's dairy, my garden diary serves as a source of information, comfort and catharsis that cannot be provided in any other way. Sure, the books and websites and planting have all sorts of information, but it will not tell you about your own garden... read more.


Saving the Monarch butterfly by Creating Habitat


You can create a monarch habitat by planting the milkweed and nectar plants listed below.

- Asclepias eriocarpa(Woollypod/Indian Milkweed)**
- Asclepias fascicularis (Narrowleaf Milkweed)
- Asclepias speciosa (Showy Milkweed)
- Asclepias cordifolia (Heartleaf Milkweed)**
- Asclepias californica (California Milkweed)**
**Especially desirable early emerging species

Read more for tips to create your own butterfly garden.

Create_a_Monarch_Butterfly_Habitat_ rev2 BE, 5-26-19

Steps to Take to Save the Western Monarch Migration- April 2019

Many of us awoke this winter to the devastating news that only 28,429 monarchs were counted this winter in their overwintering colonies along the coast of California, down from approximately 4.5 million butterflies in the 1980s and a historic population of about 10 million. So here it is: extinction on our doorstep... we are not going down without a fight.

Steps to Take to Save the Wester Monarch Migration

Yacon - What is it?

Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) is a member of the Asteraceae family and is a relative of sunflowers, dahlias, Jerusalem artichokes and many other common edible and ornamental plants. Yacon is also known as Bolivian sun root, Peruvian ground apple and “yacon strawberry.”

Yacon_What is it

Citrus Gardening in Alameda County


Choosing best citrus for our area: Citrus is a subtropical plant – it has no chill requirement, but is frost sensitive and requires summer heat to produce sugar. Learn more with our quick citrus guide created for a talk at Lake Merritt Trials Garden. 

Get To Know Your Soil
soil triangle
Get to Know Your Soil

An important part of gardening is understanding your soil. Simple tests can be done that will reveal the type of soil in your landscape. Learn how to test and improve your soil!

Trees in Drought

We are in our fourth year of drought and everyone is trying to save water. It’s relatively easy to replace a lawn, a perennial, or a rose bush that has succumb to the drought.
But it can be very expensive in time and money to replace a mature tree. Trees should be a top priority as you make decisions about where to apply what little water you have for your landscape. Learn more about helping your trees through drought from our Alameda County Master Gardener Help Desk!

Cats in the Garden-What to Do
Cats In The Garden

The help desk frequently gets questions regarding cats in the vegetable garden. “My cat is using my vegetable garden as a litter box. Can I still eat the vegetables?” “How can I keep the neighborhood cats out of my garden?” Learn more about dealing with cats in the garden and food safety from our Alameda County Master Gardener Help Desk!

Considering Graywater
faucet drip

In the current drought all gardeners in California are trying to maximize water in their gardens. Are you considering graywater? Read on for some things to consider in your decision-making. What water sources are safe? What systems work? Learn more about using graywater from our Alameda County Master Gardener Help Desk!

Tips for Managing Oxalis
yellow oxalis

There are two types of yellow flowering oxalis that are common weeds in Bay Area gardens. The first is quite showy in the spring with bright lemon yellow flowers that grow on tall thin stems. It’s commonly known as Bermuda Buttercup or Sourgrass (Oxalis pes_caprae). The other, Creeping Woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata), grows low, hugging the ground, has small yellow flowers and is frequently a problem in lawns. Learn more about managing oxalis from our Alameda County Master Gardener Help Desk!

Potatoes - A Great Winter Crop

Potatoes are a great winter-early spring crop and at this time of the year you will
find seed potatoes available in local garden centers and on-line. And there’s a
potato planting solution for any sized garden! They can be planted in the ground
in rows or in mounds, in containers, in potato bags, or in potato towers. Learn more about growing potatoes in your garden from our Alameda County Master Gardener Help Desk!

Answers to Common Citrus Problems
Citrus Interveinal Chlorosis

Does your home citrus tree suffer from....SOME sort of mysterious problem?  This article can help you diagnose and solve the problem so you can have a healthy, productive tree again. Check it out!

Using California Native Plants to Adapt to the Drought by Sam Foushee
Shrubby Monkeyflower at Lake Merritt

Are you having to let your lawn go brown and let your landscape plants suffer or die because of the water cutbacks encouraged or required of all of us? One strategy for using less water and maintaining some beauty in your landscape is to use more California native plants, especially those plants that are adapted to this region of dry summers. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 4/2014)

Winter Decorations by Shari Wentz
Rose Whisper and Redwood

The holiday season is here!  We, in California, are so lucky to be surrounded by evergreens and berries that are perfect to use in decorating for the holidays. Truly, if you can wait to decorate your home for the holidays until the last minute and want to save money as well, go outside! There in your yard is the answer to a beautiful holiday home. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 12/2013)

Putting Your Roses to Bed for the Winter by Jolene Adams
Rose Hips

Fall is definitely here: the hips are getting fat and turning color, the winds are starting to blow, and your roses have put out a spurt of fall flowers to greet the season. But soon it will be full winter and the roses need to go dormant. They need to slow down and rest before starting all over again in the spring. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 10/2013)

Mystery of the Disappearing Redbuds by Shari Wentz
Redbud in bloom

It all started with the following email from a neighbor: Can you please provide me with some Master Gardener's advice?  I've replaced the  Redbuds on the south side of my property twice.  The most recent tree I added seems to be stressed.  Shari went to one of the ANR publications, Pests of Landscape Trees and Shrubs (available to the public through their website) to search out the culprit. And there it was, that all-time nasty fungus, verticillium wilt! (Published in Oakland Tribune, 9/13/2013)

Garden of Grace by Bruce Campbell and Judy Matthew
Garden of Grace

It began modestly in July of 2010 as a project of the Asbury United Methodist Church. Named “The Garden of Grace,” an organic garden was built on sustainable agricultural techniques. Initially, various crops were tested--based on their yield, nutrition level, ease of growth, and value as ingredients in the local soup kitchen “Open Heart Kitchen” menu. A little over two years later the summer 2012 harvest figures for the Garden are impressive with a measured total of about 8,000 pounds of vegetables shared with the Open Heart Kitchen and other area food pantries. This total includes (in rounded numbers): 2,600 pounds of tomatoes, 2,400 pounds of squash, over 1,000 pounds of cucumbers, 700 lbs of peppers and 520 pounds of warm season cabbage, kale and collards.  (Published in Oakland Tribune, 2/14/2013)

Potatoes In Containers by Jolene Adams
Potato in container

One of the handiest garden tips I learned from Mom was to grow potatoes in a large pot (or two or three) on my back porch.  The idea was to have early spring potatoes for the Easter Holiday. Potatoes don't ask for much care - and they can be easily grown by anyone with a large pot, some potting soil, lots of shredded newspaper or straw for mulch, and some patience.  (Published in Oakland Tribune, 1/12/2013)

Houseplants by David Blood

I love picking a vine-ripened tomato from my garden for a luncheon salad. But I also love living indoors with greenery. A lovely philodendron hanging over the stove, a weeping fig of 20 plus years decorating the corner or a beautiful African violet brightening the bathroom helps make a house a home. Keeping these houseplants thriving does require special care. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 12/08/2012)

Succulent Care by Donna Dillon
Succulents in Container

Succulents are an amazing addition to a garden. Their shapes, colors, flowers and textures provide variety in a planting bed or containers. They are forgiving plants. However, even though they are durable and tough, they still need some attention once or twice a year.  They don’t come from deserts; they come from semi-arid regions with irregular rainfall—that’s what makes them great in Bay Area gardens and what to keep in mind as you maintain your plants. This article will teach you more about caring for succulents in your garden. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 11/10/2012)

Browns for Composting by Jolene Adams
Browns for Composting by Jolene Adams

Fall is a great time to get started making compost.  You can have the finished product ready for your spring garden. Compost is a wonderful lovely crumbly dark additive for your soil– no matter what condition your garden is in.  Got clay?  Add compost.  Got sand?  Add compost.  Does your garden need to be “pepped up”?  Add compost! The organic materials in compost add pore spaces to the soil that either retain water for a while or drain water from soggy soil.

Good compost piles are made in layers of “browns” which add carbon to your pile and “greens” which add nitrogen.  Stockpile the “brown” materials now while you can. Learn much more about composting in this article.  (Published in Oakland Tribune, 10/13/2012)

Livermore Drought Resistant Garden Trail by Shari Wentz

When Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association called requesting the services of a Master Gardener who would be willing to help local wineries in need of “curb appeal,” Shari Wentz was happy to help.  Inspired by what she had seen in New Zealand, Shari worked with Livermore’s wine makers and the Livermore Drought Resistant Garden Trail was conceptualized. Two years later the trail is ready for your visits.   (Published in Oakland Tribune, 9/2012)

Canning to Preserve the Harvest by Mark Brunell
Jars in boiling water canner

When the summer food garden is at its peak and the harvest is coming in fast and furious, it is difficult to use or give away all of this produce before it spoils, so many gardeners would like a way of preserving it.  Also, the gardener may want to eat home grown green beans in January or pickled beets in September.  Furthermore, the gardener may want to create unique, home-made gifts to give to friends and family.  All of these are reasons to try home canning. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 8/10/2012)

Vertical Gardening by Meredith Kaplan
Vertical Gardening Arbor

Vertical gardening, or trellising, has much to offer the garden designer: it can screen eyesores such as trash barrels, compost piles, or air conditioners; create garden rooms; or offer privacy screens. For the vegetable gardener, trellises save garden space, keep plants and their fruits off the ground, and improve vegetable production by exposing more flowers and fruits to the sun. There are many options for making or acquiring vertical supports for plants; the trick is building ones that meet the needs of your particular plants. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 7/7/2012)

Trouble with Tomatoes by Mark Brunell
Blossom end rot on tomato

With summer just around the corner, gardeners are either starting to set out plants in the garden, or already have small tomato plants in the ground. Tomato gardeners must prepare themselves for a litany of disorders and pests that could potentially afflict their plants. The problems can be either physiological disorders (not caused by pest organisms) or pest problems (caused by viruses, fungi, insects, etc.). In this article, we discuss common physiological disorders. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 5/26/2012)

New Perennials are Worth a Look by Donna Dillon
Penstemon Red Riding Hood by Pacific Plug and Liner

Spring has arrived, some rain has come and it is time to think about our gardens. Gardeners today are looking at plants differently and so are today’s plant breeders. Most everyone loves color; many gardeners want to use plants that attract birds and butterflies and bees. Plants that met those requirements in the past often were too large or too picky to be in our flower beds. Today new plants are available that are not only better behaved than their parents; they can take more heat, they become drought tolerant when established, and they fit into our smaller gardens or even a container.  (Published in Oakland Tribune, 4/14/2012) Photo: Penstemon 'Red Riding Hood' courtesy Pacific Plug and Liner


Seeds for Summer by Mark Brunell
Tomato seedlings

It might be hard to believe, but it is time to plan your summer vegetable garden, and even do some planting.  In fact, if you have space to grow plants indoors, you could have started a few weeks ago.  (Published in Oakland Tribune, 3/10/2012)

Snails and Slugs and Earwigs by Meredith Kaplan
Snail on citrus

Just as Dorothy faced the fear of lions, tigers, and bears on her trip to Oz, we often face our gardens with fear that we might encounter earwigs, snails, and slugs. While the earwig is an insect, with prominent, fierce-looking tail-end pincers, snails and slugs are mollusks that travel along on a slimy “foot.” Although they are different creatures, not at all similar in appearance, the damage these three pests do and the methods of control for them are similar. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 2/11/2012)

How to Start a Vegetable Garden by Birgitt Evans
Birgitts Garden by Lori Eanes

There has been an increasing interest in growing food in recent years as incomes shrink, food prices go up and concern grows over healthy eating. For the novice gardener it can be hard to know where to begin. Fellow master gardener and president of the Emeryville Community Organic Garden, Sam Foushee recommends that you "start small and get the basics down before you invest a lot of time, effort and money.” (Published in Oakland Tribune, 1/2012)

Seeding the Spring Garden by Mark Brunell
Lettuce seedling

December is a great time to plan and plant your spring vegetable garden.  Most home vegetable gardeners grow only warm-season crops like tomatoes and squash, and the thought of gardening in the winter might seem unusual; however, it is rewarding, nutritious, and economical. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 10/7/2011)

Plant Bulbs for Spring by Jolene Adams
daffodil bulbs

Fall is the best time to plant bulbs for spring flowering.  Bulbs need time underground in the cool winter so they can develop and push out the roots that will bring stability to the newly developing stems and leaves of the plant. Choosing and planting bulbs is easy - read more to find out how to get bulbs started in your garden! (Published in Oakland Tribune, 10/7/2011)

Cover Crops in Vegetable Gardening by Mark Brunell
Rye cover crop in home garden

As the end of the warm season approaches, vegetable gardeners are busy finishing the harvest and perhaps thinking about what new varieties to try for the next crop.  Many will attempt a cool-season garden; however it is probably correct to say that most gardeners will allow their vegetable beds to sit dormant over the winter.  Such beds could benefit from a cool-season cover crop. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 9/10/2011)

Cucumber Beetles
Cucumber beetle spotted

These days, many of us have noticed in our gardens a greenish yellow beetle with twelve black spots on its back. Some may also have noticed damage to vegetable leaves, scaring on fruits, or girdling of stems of plants. You are probably seeing the western spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata), a common pest in vegetable gardens. Although there is a western striped cucumber beetle (Acalymma trivittata), it is not prevalent in our area. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 8/13/2011)

Demonstration Garden Comes to Fremont

Weedy Quarry Lakes land turning environmentally sustainable.
Although the garden was originally conceived to introduce the community to the use of plants that tolerate our dry summers with little or no additional water, our approach necessarily broadened to creating an environmentally sustainable garden. This includes soil building and composting, planting to attract beneficial insects, planting for wildlife, demonstrating the beauty of many non-thirsty plants, as well as saving water. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 7/23/2011)

Water Wisely

We have the luxury of irrigating our gardens during our dry California summers, and in turn we have the responsibility to use this water carefully according to the needs of our plants rather than the date on the calendar.  Before the hot weather finally arrives, take some time now to think about when and how you use water in your garden. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 6/27/2011)

Know Your Sweet Corn by Mark Brunell
Corn photo

Sweet corn is a popular summer garden staple for many home gardeners - learn more about corn and how to grow it in your garden.  (Published in Oakland Tribune, 5/14/2011)

Aphids Are On The Way by Jolene Adams

You will see aphids start appearing as the spring weather causes faster growth in succulent stems and leaves.  They can often be found in thick groups clustered at the tips of the soft new growth.  They do not move quickly and are very easy to wash off with a strong jet of water from the garden hose. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 4/09/2011)

Master Gardeners in their Communities by Sue Lesica
MGs In Their Communities photo

Master Gardeners volunteer to take an active part their communities. This volunteer work takes many forms, including garden assistance at the GROW program of a San Leandro juvenile detention camp. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 3/25/2011)

February is a Busy Month in the Garden by David Blood and Mark Brunell

In most areas of the country, February is a time to read seed catalogs and plan a dream vegetable garden for the coming year. Not so in our Mediterranean climate. Despite what many people think, February is a busy month in the food garden. If a fall crop was planted, vegetables like bok choy, chard, collards, fava beans, garlic, kale, lettuce, peas, shallots, and spinach are now undergoing active growth and require routine pest management and fertilization. Much of the fall crop can now be harvested. In colder, inland areas, or in any area that received a lot of chilling in the last few weeks, there is a risk of bolting (flowering) in several of these cool-season vegetables. If there are indications that the plants are starting to elongate and form flower buds then harvest the plants quickly as the quality of the product will diminish upon bolting... (Published in Oakland Tribune, 2/12/2011)

The Australians by Birgitt Evans
Banksia grossa
Banksia grossa

Plants from Australia’s Mediterranean regions, located in Western Australia  around Perth and South Australia around Adelaide, are well suited for California gardens. They have been making their way here for more than 40 years. The first wave in the 1960s included bottlebrush (Callistemon spp.) and the next wave in the late 1980s brought us Grevilleas and the ubiquitous kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos spp.). We are in the midst of the third wave of introductions and nurserymen are bringing us a panoply of new plants such as Correas, Westringias and Lomandras. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 1/22/2011)

Oxalis by Mark Brunell

It is probably safe to say that all gardeners in the bay area will at some point be confronted with the weed known as oxalis. There are two species of oxalis that are common weeds in the Bay Area: Oxalis pes-caprae (Bermuda Buttercup) and Oxalis corniculata (Creeping Woodsorrel). Both species are naturalized nonnative species that are very difficult to control. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 12/11/2010)

Planting a Young Fruit Tree by Mark Brunell

Fall has arrived and many gardeners will soon be thinking about planting shrubs and trees. Fall is a great time to consider planting a young fruit tree. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 10/22/2010)

Putting Up the Harvest by Birgitt Evans
Too many tomatoes this year? Try making and canning tomato sauce. You may have h

Our gardens can be quite bountiful, providing so much that we can't eat all of the fruits and vegetables fresh picked.  How do we preserve this food for later enjoyment? (Published in Oakland Tribune, 9/24/2010)

Oils for Insect Control by Emma Connery

Horticultural oils can be used to safely prevent or stop outbreaks of some insects. Learn how and why they work. This clear, helpful article is shared with permission of the author, Emma Connery, one of our Master Gardener colleagues in Contra Costa County. (Published in Contra Costa Times, 8/1/2010)

Music In The Gardens by David Blood

Music In The Gardens Event at Lake Merritt including Alameda County Master Gardener Demonstration Garden and activities. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 5/28/2010)

Visit a Drought Resistant Garden in its Glory by Shari Wentz

A Master Gardener describes the history and beauty of the Earth Friendly Demonstration Garden in Livermore, open to the public to enjoy and ask gardening questions. (Published in Contra Costa Times, 4/23/2010)

Master Gardeners Help School Garden by Kathleen Cotta and Nikki Justino

 Master Gardeners assist with an irrigation project at the Sorensdale Recreation Center. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 2/10/2010)

Growing Vegetables From Seed by Birgitt Evans

Teaching community members about gardening, in this case starting their own vegetables from seed, is an important job of the Alameda County Master Gardeners. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 1/22/2010)

Lake Merritt Trials Garden by Alameda Master Gardeners Oakland Tribune Correspondents

At the Lake Merritt Trials garden, we test different varieties of vegetables and more to learn which perform well in our climate. (Published in Oakland Tribune, 11/20/2009)

Archived Articles by Season


 It's Spring - Visit Our Garden!, by Sharon Wentz

Great Herbs, by Jacqueline Bruhn

Success with Containers, by Eleanor Brown

I Love Trees, by Jacqueline Bruhn

Less Toxic Lawn Care, Laura Bryon-DiDonato

Help! I Have Bugs or Something in my Garden!, BJ May


Attracting Bees to your Garden, Diane Dovholuk

Snails in the Garden, B.J. May


School Gardens, by Laura Bryon DiDonato

Green Manure Cover Crops, by David Blood

How to Prepare a Planting Site, by Joyce Bringhurst

Planting the Right Plant in the Right Place, by Joyce Bringhurst


Brr it's Cold - Frost Damage, Jacqueline Bruhn

Pruning Roses, Jolene Adams

Tomatoes from Seeds, David Blood

 Decorating with Holiday Greens, by Sharon Wentz

Putting Your Roses to Bed, by Jolene Adams

Holiday Cactus, by B.J. May

Container Gardening, by Eleanor Brown