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Ann Wright: Summer garden surprises

Every time I venture out into the vegetable garden or the rock garden in the back yard, it is amazing what surprises lurk amidst the plants and grasses. On a morning’s stroll as the sun peeked up over some Sierra clouds, an abundance of ripening blackberries was a nice welcome to the day. Checking on the tomatoes, some black, rice-size droppings were noticed on one of the tomato leaves, right below a place where leaves were chomped to the stem. Experience and observation indicate that this is likely due to a tomato hornworm, so the whole tomato was inspected carefully – but no hornworm was in sight! I am hopeful the birds that are happily feeding in my garden had a very horn-wormy treat! It was a surprise not to find the hornworm(s) so daily inspections will follow, including night time looks with a flashlight. Hornworms can be very voracious eaters, so diligence is required to pick them off when spotted.

Other garden surprises can come when least expected – especially if a garden space has been inherited from previous property owners – such as the mysterious, surprising clump of little red onions found in my cousin’s garden. Looking much like the “scape” of garlic, the clumping onions appear to be reddish in color. After further research, it was discovered that the small clumps of onions branching off the leaves are actually Egyptian walking onions, or “walking onions” (Allium proliferum). Walking onions are so surprising easy to grow and the whole plant is edible. These perennial onions grow well in zones 3-9, which means they will grow well here in our area. The plants grow from the little mini bulbs, or bulbils, that develop on the end of the two- to three -foot leaves. The weight of the bulbils causes the stems to bend all the way over so that the bulbils take root in the soil, thus, “walking” to their new place to start the growth process again. The bulbils can be used in many ways much like shallots or pearl onions.

Another element of wonder in the garden is the abundance of weeds. No surprise — a hallmark of gardening tasks is weeding. But with added thick mulch, weeding is much easier. A general, simple definition of a weed is any plant that grows where you don’t want it to grow. So, now the sprouting of small bronze fennel plants along my garden path is a surprise. These are a little tougher to pull out than first thought. Another surprising plant which may be considered a weed is dove’s foot, or crane’s bill geranium (Geranium molle) which is a non-native herb that produces pretty pink blossoms — but has taken over part of the landscape in my garden. Other plants that reseed readily, such as Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus rubra) and the native California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) may need control to keep them in check. But, are they really “weeds”? Typically, weeds are plants with undesirable characteristics that outweigh the good qualities of the plant.



Weeds — good or bad? How do they fit into our landscape and soil health? Weeds are often the first to bloom in the spring, offering valuable nectar to bees and other pollinators, and offer forage for birds and other creatures. Weeds may also be of considerable benefit for culinary and medicinal uses.

Weeds follow human habitation. Sometimes unsightly, sometimes daunting, weeds crowd out desirable plants and cause considerable frustration for gardeners and farmers. While they can be difficult to eradicate, there are safe ways to control your weeds. Despite the bad and the ugly, weeds may also fit into our landscapes as beneficial additions to gardeners, wildlife and soil health.



To learn more about the wonder of weeds, join Master Gardeners of Nevada County for a workshop today, from 9 to 10 a.m.. “Weeds: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” will be presented virtually, and recorded, via Zoom. – details to sign in are on the website at http://ncmg.ucanr.org.

Although a plan is in place for Master Gardeners to return to in-person workshops at the Demonstration Garden on the NID complex in Grass Valley, the remaining July workshops will be presented via Zoom. On July 24 at 9 a.m., join us for “Garden Makeover: Lawn to Landscape” and on July 31, also at 9 a.m. “Softwood Propagation” will be the topic for the online workshop. (The links to the workshops are on our website.) In August, we will be at the Nevada County Fair – come visit us in person at our booth. And, we will continue our Saturday Master Gardeners and Friends broadcasts on KNCO radio from 10 a.m. to noon at 830 on the AM dial.

We are also at The Market on Saturdays (8 a.m. to noon)– in Grass Valley off McKnight. So, while you are shopping for beautiful produce and other items at the market, bring your home gardening questions to the Master Gardeners!

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener

Egyptian walking onion — a garden surprise.
Photo by Susie Horowitz

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