Califonia Bountiful

Gardening Q&A

May/June 2014 California Bountiful magazine

As a California Bountiful reader, you have the opportunity to get your seasonal gardening questions answered by gardening expert Pat Rubin. Here are a few questions from other readers.

Hi Pat,

I have a 6-year-old dwarf tangerine tree. It produced more than 200 delicious tangerines this winter. However, the leaves are now turning yellow and many are dropping. This has not happened before. I did have a problem with a tunneling animal for the last two months. Is there a connection or is it just a lack of nutrients? I have never fertilized the tree.


Hi Dennis,

Based on what you've said, I'd put the blame squarely on the tunneling critters. Since nothing else has changed as far as the care of the tree, that seems the most likely culprit. Gophers and moles are tough to control. The gophers eat plant roots while the moles are looking for grubs. However, the moles disturb plant roots along the way.

I would give the plant a light dose of fertilizer, and by light I mean half of what the box recommends, every few weeks to at least give it a boost while dealing with this problem. Also try patting the soil back down if it is the gopher hills you are seeing on top of the ground. If it's moles, you'll see the ridges on top of the ground left by the tunneling.

I would also go the UC Cooperative Extension website and see what they say about gophers and moles. Here are a few to look at:

Good luck,

What is an easy thing for me to do to make sure my plants can survive on little water this summer?
The easiest, fastest and probably most effective measure to protect plants from summer heat—whether during a drought or a normal summer—is mulch. Add a 3- or 4-inch layer of chipped bark or leaves to all your flowerbeds, and I guarantee your plants will use less water. The reason is the mulch protects the soil, keeps it from baking and hardening in the sun, and keeps more moisture in the ground. Mulch also gives the garden a tidy appearance and prevents weeds from sprouting since they're denied sun.

My cannas bloom beautifully, but the flowers don't last a long time, and after they're done the plants look a little messy. Can I cut them back or do I have to wait until the fall?
I used to think I had to leave the cannas stems alone until it was time to cut them back each fall, but learned that if I cut the stem that is done flowering to the ground, the roots will send up others and I'll get another flush of bloom. This works especially well if you have a big clump of cannas because you'll always have plenty of mature stems and ones about to bloom.

I'm having a debate with a friend who says my lawn will need less water if I let it stay taller. I like to keep it cut short. Who is right?
Your friend is correct. Raising the blade on the lawnmower at or near its highest setting is best for water conservation. The blades of grass act as a living mulch to shade the soil and each other, so a lawn allowed to grow taller requires less water.

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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