Califonia Bountiful

Gardening Q&A

Sept./Oct. 2013 California Bountiful magazine

Pistacia chinensis

I live in Northern California along Interstate 80, and I see a lot of brilliant red trees along the freeway. What are they?

Anyone who has driven along Interstate 80 between Sacramento and Auburn in autumn can't miss the scarlet foliage planted along many of the on and off ramps. The color is screaming red. On a cloudy day, it's positively luminous. It's the Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis), and while it is related to the pistachio, it doesn't produce nuts. The tree grows to 25 or 30 feet tall.

It's very adaptable and settles just as happily in a yard with regular water and decent soil as it does in places where it gets no care at all. The female Chinese pistache trees bear small green and red berries. They can reseed, but I've never found them to be invasive. Choose pistache trees in the fall so you can see their beautiful colors.

I want to save tomato seeds this year. How do I do it?

The heirloom tomatoes in my garden are perfect for saving seed. Tomatoes are self-pollinating, so I don't have to worry about them being pollinated from the neighbor's tomatoes.

There are two schools of thought for saving tomato seeds:  

  • Traditionally, you wait until the tomato is really ripe, past its prime for eating—soft, squishy and splitting. Scoop out the seeds and put them in a container for a few days to ferment. They'll get a frothy, scummy covering on the top. Next step is to rinse that off, getting the seeds clean, and spread them on a paper towel to dry. Once dry, package them, label them and store them in a cool, dark place until next year.
  • Then there are the tomato-seed savers who simply scoop out the ripe seeds, clean them, spread them on a paper towel and write down the variety, let it dry, put it in a plastic bag and that's it.

Both sides say their method works well, allowing you to grow your own starts next year. If you try it, please let me know how it goes!

See how Pat answered your questions earlier this year.

About Pat Rubin, California Bountiful's gardening expert

Pat Rubin

For Pat Rubin, gardening is more than just dirt and plants. "It's about history, romance, adventure and people," she says. "And it should be fun."

California Bountiful's gardening columnist has lived and chronicled this fun, hands-in-the-dirt approach for years—and for additional publications including Fine Gardening, Pacific Horticulture, Christian Science Monitor, Family Circle and The Sacramento Bee. Pat has also volunteered as a Master Gardener, speaks to garden clubs and appears regularly on gardening radio shows.

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