Califonia Bountiful

Gardening Q&A

Nov./Dec. 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.

Can I use sawdust to help build up the soil in the vegetable garden?
Sort of. If you mix sawdust into the soil, it will use all the nitrogen it can find to break down so that it can provide nutrients to plants. But during that process, there will be no nitrogen for the plants to use. So it's best to compost the sawdust before you add it to the soil, or plan on not being able to grow much of anything while the sawdust is decomposing in the dirt.

I love ornamental grasses in late fall and winter when they turn beautiful colors. What are the best ones to plant?
Ornamental grasses are certainly beautiful all summer and add movement to the garden, but I agree they really come into their own in the winter when they are actually dying back. The greens turn to a beautiful gold. My favorites are Calamagrostis acutiflora, Stipa gigantea and any miscanthus you can find. If you look in nurseries at this time of year for grasses, they will look messy because they don't like growing in pots, but don't be afraid to buy them. I leave their dormant, dying foliage until January when it starts falling apart. Truly, there are many plants that look as beautiful when they die back as they do at their peak.

Why does the nursery staff always suggest I buy an odd number of a plant?
Unless you are looking for a very formal, symmetrical look, it's always better to plant in odd numbers. I try to buy three or five of a single plant because it gives you more bang for the buck and looks more like Mother Nature had a hand in the design. Buy in odd numbers, but vary the groups—don't always buy three because that will end up looking as spotty as if you only bought one of something.

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.

Need gardening advice? Ask the expert!

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