January Tips & Events for Santa Clara County
"Gardening begins in January with the dream." ~Josephine Neuse
Monthly Tips
Stylar End Breakdown on a Bearss Lime - by Laura Monczynski
Limes are easy to grow in our area and make a pretty addition to the landscape. They don’t take up as much space as some other citrus and can grow well in our native soil with plenty of sun. They need some fertilizing and occasional protection from the cold. Bearss Lime is a popular variety that has fruit ripening now. Other favorites include Mexican Lime, Australian Finger Lime, and a Limequat hybrid. Most limes are yellow when fully ripe and have a higher juice content at this stage; most limes in stores are green because they have a longer post-harvest life or shelf life. A tan, leathery sunken area at the end of the fruit is called blossom end rot in citrus. It can come from insufficient water, preventing calcium from getting all the way to the ends of the fruit (similar to blossom end rot in tomatoes.) You can freeze the fruits whole for year-round margaritas or whatever it is you do with your limes. Freezing weakens the cell walls, which makes it even easier to juice the limes after thawing.

Photo: Blossom End Rot on a Bearss Lime, by Laura Monczynski
Poisonous Death Cap Mushroom - by Keith Possee
Sometimes it seems like there are mushrooms all over: mushrooms in the lawn; mushrooms on the trees; mushrooms in fertilizer; mushrooms in the woods; there is even mushroom compost available. How do you know which mushrooms are desirable and which are not? This can be a life or death determination, both for you and for your plants. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies we see of fungi which can be widespread and hidden underground or inside plants. Fungi play a beneficial role in decomposition and in providing nutrients to garden plants. Mushrooms in the lawn can be a sign of overwatering, so check the irrigation and drainage. You don't need to remove the mushrooms except to protect young children and pets from eating them. If cultivating or harvesting mushrooms to eat, be sure that you know it is not a poisonous variety.     

Photo: Poisonous Death Cap Mushroom, by Keith Possee
Armillaria Root Rot
Clusters of Armillaria mushrooms - by Jack Kelly Clark
Mushrooms at the base of a tree could signal a problem with the tree. Armillaria is a fungus that can live in the soil for many years. It can rot the roots and cause leaves and branches to die and can eventually kill a plant. Another common term is Oak Root Fungus, although it affects many different species of trees and even some herbaceous plants. Often by the time the fruiting bodies (mushrooms) are visible, much damage has already been done. It feeds on both live and decaying wood. Cutting back a small section of bark can reveal white fan-shaped or black stringy fungus which aids in diagnosis. Keeping the plant healthy provides some defense. Fungi thrive in moist conditions, so do not overwater the area. Also, keep mulch and other plants away from the trunks of trees so as not to hold moisture against the crown (base). The best defense against this disease is to plant resistant varieties.

Photo: Clusters of Armillaria mushrooms, by Jack Kelly Clark
Characteristic crescent-shaped mound and plugged burrow opening of a pocket gopher - by Jack Kelly Clark
Have you ever watched a plant wiggle and then disappear underground right before your very eyes? That’s the work of a gopher. You don’t often see them because they spend most of their time in underground tunnels, but you see the damage they do by chewing on plant roots. One way to distinguish them from other soil-dwelling vertebrate pests is by the crescent-shaped mounds of dirt they make when they dive back down. Fresh mounds of moist soil are an indication of recent activity. They do not hibernate, so they are busy year-round. They can be eliminated through trapping and dispatching. Gophinator, Macabee, and Cinch traps specifically designed for gophers are the most commonly used. You can plant trees and shrubs in gopher baskets in the ground to protect their roots. You can also line the bottom of raised beds with hardware cloth to keep the gophers from burrowing up into the beds.

Photo: Characteristic crescent-shaped mound and plugged burrow opening of a pocket gopher
Recycling and Repurposing
Straw bale demonstration garden by Marin County UC Master Gardeners (Courtesy UCANR)
During these times when shopping carries health risks, you can look for things you already have that you can use as garden supplies. After pruning your trees, you can save the branches to use as stakes, trellises, or supports for row covers. Old bedsheets can be used to cover frost-sensitive plants on cold nights. Decorative autumn hay bales can be pulled apart and used as mulch or left intact and used as planting containers. Milk cartons and yogurt containers can be used for starting seeds. Grass clippings and coffee grounds can be used as mulch around shrubs and trees. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn (grasscycling) will cut down on the need to buy fertilizer. Composting food and garden scraps will help with planting mediums and plant nutrients. Hard plastic packaging can be cut up to make plant labels. Tie up vines with old stockings. Cardboard and newspaper make good weed barriers and eventually break down and amend the soil. Save seeds from plants and produce and store them in old jars or bill envelopes. Look around and let your imagination be your guide. Recycling and repurposing are good for the environment!  

Photo: Straw bale demonstration garden by Marin County UC Master Gardeners (Courtesy UCANR)
Upcoming Events
Plant Clinic, Saturday, January 9, 10 am–noon, Online

Winter Rose Care & Pruning, Thursday, January 14, 5–6 pm, Online

Success with Succulents, Tuesday, January 19, 7–8:30 pm, Online

Getting Fruit Trees Off to a Good Start, Thursday, January 21, 7–8:30 pm, Online
Check our calendar for the latest schedule of events. Videos of many past presentations are also available.

Photo: Rows of winter greens, by Karen Schaffer
Rows of winter greens - by Karen Schaffer
La Mesa Verde Opportunity
Our community partner La Mesa Verde helps urban gardeners grow healthy food in San Jose. They're looking for people interested in volunteering as mentors starting in January. If you're interested in helping people learn about organic gardening, they'd love to hear from you. Learn more at the La Mesa Verde website or read their recruiting brochure.
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About Us
University of California Master Gardener volunteers promote sustainable gardening practices and provide research-based horticultural information to home gardeners. Visit our website for more information including:

Have a gardening question? Contact our Help Desk (for Santa Clara County residents). Start by reviewing our plant problem diagnosis tips and then:
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