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Blog - Alameda County Over The Fence

Over the Fence: A Help Desk Blog for Alameda County
Planning your Spring Garden Now Will Pay Dividends Later

Veggie Seedlings
A good way to lift the spirits and put you in a spring mood is to start planning your spring garden. Not only is it good for your state of mind, but will pay many dividends on creating a successful spring and summer growing season, Read more...

Peach Leaf Curl - Red Blistered, Twisted Leaves … A Common and Very Treatable Disease

Peachleaf curl- more detail

By Jim Farr

Every spring and summer Peach Leaf Curl with its highly curled, reddened leaves causes great concern with gardeners. However, some straightforward steps can be taken to control the disease. Read more...

Seed Starting

Seed starting 1© Birgitt Evans
For Alameda County, California gardeners, January through March is the time to start seeds indoors for summer vegetables - peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash. Learn seed-starting tips...

Perennial Veggies - Winter Planting

Master Gardener Images
 Some of my favorite foods are perennials. When used to refer to food plants, perennial means that the plant lives from year to year and does not die after flowering once. While many perennial food plants are fruit trees and bushes, there are also perennial vegetables.  

Why plant perennial veggies, and are there drawbacks?

How to Tell What’s Digging and Eating in Your Garden

Adult pocket gopher, Thomomys sp. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark. Adult mole, Scapanus sp. Photo by Jerry P. Clark. Western gray squirrel, Sciurus griseus
Adult pocket gopher, Thomomys sp. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark. Adult mole, Scapanus sp. Photo by Jerry P. Clark. Western gray squirrel, Sciurus griseus

I recall years ago when we put in a new lawn, the next morning about 20 percent of the sod was neatly rolled up again!  I rolled it back out.  This pattern repeated again for many days! Who was playing a joke on us?  As it turned out… raccoons, looking for insect snacks!  

Fast forward several years, we wondered what happened to our lettuce plants, which were dying and lifted ever so easily from the raised bed, with shriveled roots!  (Moles that time).

And which culprit was taking one bite of our ripe Santa Rosa plums and cherry tomatoes and unceremoniously tossing the otherwise good fruit? (Tree squirrels).

Learn how to identify home garden damage done by squirrels, gophers, moles and raccoons, and the various methods to control them. Read more...

DIY Plant Doctoring

Summer Pests

DIY Plant-doctoring in your own garden can be an interesting and addictive activity or it can be one where you think you might need a “lifeline” to solve your plant pest problem. The Master Gardeners can be that lifeline. Learn more here

Using Recycled Water – What You Should Know

reclaimed water sign
The use of recycled water extends across most of the counties in the Bay Area and includes Alameda County. Some consumers have noticed certain plants in their yard turning brown and dying after using recycled water. This is an issue that consumers should be aware of and understanding what is happening will give consumers strategies to avoid this problem in the future. Read more...

Thirsty Plants in Time of Drought

Residential water restrictions during drought times require gardeners to know how to keep their plants alive. Learn more through examples from one Albany, Ca-based gardener... read more

Soldiers in Our Garden

Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey - https://ucanr.edu/sites/gardenweb/?blogtag=soldier%20beetles&blogasset=42184
Question to the Help Desk: “What are these flying insects? I am hoping you can identify them and let us know how to get rid of them?” WAIT ONE SECOND, you don't want to get rid of all insects in your garden! There are "good guys" and "bad guys" - learn to identify, manage and attract beneficial insects to your garden. Read more...

Spring at Last, But Those WEEDS

Dandelion Seed Head

It’s wonderful to see spring bulbs and flowers beginning to emerge.  But whether you have a garden in pots or in the ground, you may also be wondering how to get rid of the weeds coming up at the same time!  Read more...

Mistakes Were Made

(Master gardeners have success and failures in their gardens too. See what one East Bay MG has to share.)  Some years ago, I moved from a foggy microclimate into the "Banana Belt" of the East Bay. This gave me the chance to grow a varied vegetable garden, as well as put in a mini-orchard. However. Mistakes Were Made... Read more...

Selecting, Planting, and Caring for Street Trees

© Arbor Day Foundations Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.
© Arbor Day Foundations Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.
Do you have space for a tree in the parking strip, that no-man’s land between the sidewalk and the street? If you do, there are many advantages to having trees grow in that space. Learn more about selecting, planting and caring for street trees...

Why Are Mushrooms Popping Up in My Yard?

© Master Gardeners of Alameda County - Submitted to the help desk and taken by volunteers.
© Master Gardeners of Alameda County - Submitted to the help desk and taken by volunteers.

This winter, there seems to be no avoidance in spotting a multitude of mushrooms growing in yards, park trails, and occasionally in houseplants.  Are we being invaded by UFOs (unidentified fungal objects) more than last year?  It seems like it.  Why?  Are these mushrooms harmful to people and pets?  Should I get rid of them and how can I dispose of them in a safe manner? Read more...

Planting California Natives

Natives Blog Promotion

Plants that are native to California are becoming more and more popular, as part of existing garden beds or to replace a lawn.  Here’s a rundown on why and how to plant them, together with resources to dig deeper.  Read more...

Enchanting Plants or Garden Thugs?

Question to the Help Desk: Please help me identify this “invasive” vine. It has killed two apple trees. What can I do? It is a vine with tiny round leathery leaves, It attaches to other plants, completely covering and eventually killing the other plant underneath. It sends out roots like ivy and is very hard to cut the vines. Read more about garden thugs, and how to protect your garden if you find them lurking around a local garden center....

Beneficial Garden Creatures Aglow at Lake Merritt Festival of Lights 2021

all creatures
The Master Gardeners of Alameda County are proud to be active participants in the Gardens at Lake Merritt in Oakland. An annual October event, the Autumn Lights Festival, is held at the Gardens as a fundraiser for upkeep, improvements, and additions to all the gardens. For the event, Bay Area artists are invited to create lighted structures throughout the park to dazzle the thousands of paying visitors during the three nights of the festival. It's a good thing Alameda County Master Gardener volunteers are artists and community members.  Read more about our display at the Lake Merritt Festival of Lights 2021.

8 Water Wise Tips That You Can Start Today!

Irrigation Timer in Raiser Planter Bed
There are 8 easy steps you can take to save landscaping water right now that will have a significant impact and don’t take much time or cost. Read more...

San Francisco Bay Area Cool Weather Gardening

Leafy greens grown at City Slicker Farms in Oakland, CA
One of the benefits of our mild Mediterranean Bay Area climate is that we can successfully grow vegetables all year round. Plant in late summer or early fall to be rewarded with later harvests in time for winter and spring eating! Read more...

“Citizen Scientists” Can Help Monarchs Survive at the Lake Merritt Trials Garden

MG Sally keeping track of which bees are visiting the Native Bee Garden
MG Sally keeping track of which bees are visiting the Native Bee Garden
Whatever your reaction to the small surprises that nature has in store for us, your attentiveness to the birds and butterflies is an excellent first step to becoming a “citizen scientist.” The next step could be a visit to the Lake Merritt Trial Gardens (LTMG), a project of the Master Gardeners of Alameda County. The LMTG offers three pollinator gardens: a monarch butterfly habitat, a native bee habitat, and a new pollinator habitat. Master Gardeners who volunteer at the LMTG can help you develop your skill at observing and documenting the wildlife that visits the habitats we’ve created....read more

Citrus Leafminer

Citrus leafminer damage on leaf including curling of leaves
Citrus leafminer damage on leaf including curling of leaves
One of the most common questions we get at the Help Desk concerns the Citrus Leafminer. You probably have seen it if you have a citrus tree, new growth shows unusual, white squiggly lines like the doodles on paper. Read more...

Your Food Garden During Drought


When facing a serious drought, we can be water-wise and successful in growing a food garden. Here are some things to consider when planning a food garden during a drought and some suggestions for optimizing water usage. Read more...


Growing Vegetables in Small Space - 6 Tips You can Use Today

Lovely small garden space - photo credit Jim Farr
Lovely small garden space - photo credit Jim Farr
Small spaces are bigger than you think. A small plot or containers on a deck or balcony can grow a remarkable amount of food. Just like bigger plots, small spaces need to provide fertile soil, good sun, and appropriate watering. Read more

The Artist’s Color Palette in the Garden

Red urn accents in the garden palette
Transform a mundane yard into an oasis by using an artist’s color palette. Read more...

A Shady or Foggy Garden? – You Can Grow Tomatoes!

By Diane Allen


If you have a shady or foggy yard, there are tomato varieties that will grow well! The key to growing tomatoes in cooler climates is to grow varieties that have a relatively short number of days to maturity or that produce a harvest in cooler temperatures. Fortunately, there are now a number of these tomato varieties, and with some experimentation, you will likely find one that works for you. For best results, plant your tomatoes in the area of your yard that received the most hours of sun. This may be an area in your yard or even in containers on your patio... read more

Worms, Worms, Worms

Worms, Worms, Worms...

Judy Matthew, Class of 2010

My compost pile attracts many worms which come up from the ground and climb into the compost. The worms improve both the physical and chemical composition of the compost. The worm castings (worm waste) add beneficial bacteria to the compost which when spread around the garden, stimulates plant growth and can help protect plants against some diseases. The worm castings also help the compost-amended soil retain water. Earthworms play a major role in decomposition, while also serving as a valuable food source for birds and other earthworm-eating organisms. Read more (including a worm care tip sheet and a great kid-friendly video)...

What's In Your Soil? When, Why, and How to Test Your Soil

by Judy Quan

Why soil test?

Healthy soil is essential to thriving gardens. If you are just getting your garden started, or you have an established garden that isn’t thriving, soil testing can provide an understanding of the “ingredients” of your soil, so you can use the right recipe to amend, improve and treat for what your soil and plants need.

Test your soil knowledge!
Test your soil knowledge!

Soil tests can:

  • Help us find out why plants are not growing well.
  • Tell us about nutrient levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus as well as the soil’s pH level which measures whether the soil is neutral, acidic, or alkaline.
  • Alert us to the presence of heavy metals including lead; so we can take appropriate precautions.
  • Commercial testing can also test for organic matter or other micro nutrients.
Where to start to get your soil tested?
Protecting Seedlings and Seeds from Wildlife

by Elaine Richards

Animals have a lot of time on their little hands and paws and wings. They don't have much to do all day, except figuring out how to find things to eat, how to avoid being eaten, and how to make more little animals who will, in turn, look for things to eat. Because of that, our gardens are often a welcome source of sustenance to local wildlife.

My own garden plays host to a family of four enormous raccoons, at least one pungent skunk, an unknown and mysterious number of possums, and enough squirrels to make a conga line to the moon. Over the years, I've tried a variety of methods to thwart the animals and a lot of them do not work. For example, read more...

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

By Kate Cummings, class of 2020

Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Purple sprouting broccoli (PSB) is a welcome reward for the late winter gardener. Deep purple PSB florets bring much-needed color and contrast to the winter garden. Florets turn green when cooked and bring a delicate almost sweet flavor to the winter dinner plate.

And, those rewards keep coming. Cutting the central stalk stimulates side shoots to sprout. Harvesting the mature side shoots stimulates yet more sprouting. Voila - the more you harvest, the more you get.

So what’s required?

Lucky Carrots

By Kate Cummings, class of 2020


Need a lucky start to your 2021 garden? Certain foods symbolize luck and prosperity.  Carrots, said to resemble lucky pennies when sliced, are on the list and a Bay Area garden favorite.

Sweet, fine-grained ‘Scarlett Nantes’ heirloom carrots are small to medium-sized and cylindrical in shape - so they’ll do well in containers and in less-than-perfect soil.  They originally hail from Nantes France, a coastal city with a mild Mediterranean climate similar to our own.  And ‘Nantes’ are not usually grown commercially, so they’re a good choice for the home garden.


Purslane, Weed It or Eat It

By Sandy Wood 2014 

Common purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is a weedy plant in the purslane family (Portulacaceae) with a wide distribution. Likely native to North Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent, it had reached North America by pre-Columbian times and was in Europe by the late 16th century. It has been grown for more than 4,000 years as a food and medicinal plant and is still cultivated in many places today. 

It is considered quite nutritious because it is unusually high in omega-3 fatty acids and contains significant amounts of vitamins A and C, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium and antioxidants. Read More

Squirrel Resistant Beans?

guyLong Beans2
When I became involved in starting the Garden of Blessing Community Garden, here in Fremont in the beginning of 2020, I knew it would be probably a year before the garden actually opened. Rather than just let the land sit unused, for the summer of 2020 I put it to use to get a feel for the soil and to see what kind of pests our future gardeners would be facing.  Additionally, always when gardening, one of my goals is utilizing available space to its maximum, and to that end, I do a lot of vertical gardening.  In my mind, I saw a lot of beans growing along the 100-foot length of fence that I had available to use.  It was simple enough to... Read More.

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

by Elaine Richards

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.


How to Create a Monarch Butterfly Habitat

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.


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

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 Brgitt Evans

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.” 

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