40th anniversary logo for 2020
July Tips & Events for Santa Clara County
It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.
~Lewis Grizzard
by Laura Monczynski
With another dry winter, we must be careful about the fire season. Choosing plants carefully and maintaining them well can help to reduce the risk, especially for homes closer to the hills or actually in the hills. Two relevant landscaping principles are fuel reduction and fire path interruption. With fuel reduction, choosing succulents or other water retaining plants will slow a fire down. On the other hand, plants that are dry or have high oil content, such as eucalyptus, juniper, and pine, give the fire fuel to burn hotter and faster. Interrupting the fire path involves spacing plants to avoid a line along which a fire can easily travel. Minimize plantings close to the house. East Bay Municipal Utility District offers a free firescaping booklet that you can download from their website .

More Information: Firescaping Zones

Photo: Water-retaining  Opuntia , prickly pear cactus, by Laura Monczynski
Squash flowers UCANR
Do not grow zucchini baseball bats, unless you're using them for specific recipes or as a treat for chickens. Summer squashes are meant to be picked and eaten when they are small and tender. These include zucchini, crookneck, chayote, patty pan, and papaya pear squash. Winter squash is grown at the same time as summer squash. What makes it different is that it develops a harder rind that allows it to be stored long term to be used throughout the winter. It can also remain on the vine longer before harvesting. Some examples are butternut squash, pumpkins, and Tahitian squash. Squash plants should be in the ground by now and may already be producing fruit. Continue to water and fertilize them throughout the season and control weeds to ensure maximum production. If squash grows a few inches and starts to wither, it is probably not getting pollinated; you can manually transfer pollen from the male flowers (on stalks) to the female flowers (on developing fruit). An overabundance can be prepared for freezing or shared, or plants can be pulled out early to make room for the next season’s planting. 

More Information: Summer Squash , Winter Squash

Photo: Male and female squash flowers, and an unpollinated baby squash, by Karen Schaffer
Thymus pseudolanuginosus wooly thyme Photo by North Carolina State Extension
Thyme is much more than an herb to season food. In ancient times it was brewed by Egyptians for mummification, bathed in by Greek soldiers for courage in battle, and used by the Sumerians as an antiseptic and antifungal. And if you want a real surprise, check out the active ingredient list on a bottle of Listerine mouthwash. In your own garden it can be used for culinary purposes or as a purely ornamental landscape feature. It grows best in well-drained soil and sunshine, although it will tolerate some shade. It is quite drought tolerant once established. Common/garden thyme ( Thymus vulgaris ) is an excellent all-purpose thyme, growing to a foot tall and up to two feet wide. Lemon thyme ( Thymus citriodorus ), with its lemon scent, makes a nice evergreen border. Creeping thyme ( Thymus serpyllum ) stays short and can be used as a ground cover or between stepping stones. Thyme is attractive to butterflies and bees. 

More Information: Growing and Using Thyme

Photo: Thymus pseudolanuginosus , wooly thyme, by North Carolina State Extension
Photo by Katie Hetrick
Pet Safety in the Garden
Poisonous plants are just one consideration if you have outdoor pets. There are several more serious threats to dogs, cats, chickens, and other family pets. At the top of the list are other critters; curious pets are often stung on the face by wasps and bees. Fertilizer is one of the many substances that can poison a pet; it can be ingested while still in the bag or after being freshly applied to the garden. Weed killers (herbicides), which are also included in some fertilizers, can cause acute or chronic symptoms ranging from lethargy or vomiting to cancer and death. Rat poisons (rodenticides) usually take a few days to take effect and in the meantime the sickened rodents can be eaten by cats or owls and other natural predators which could otherwise help control the population. All pesticides are designed to kill; it’s just a matter of dosage. The toxic chemical could be the active ingredient or it could be a filler, and the latter are not required to be listed on the label. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center phone number is (888) 426-4435.

More Information: Pets and Toxic Plants

Photo: Fragrant catmint is wildly popular among cats and is generally considered safe, by Katie Hetrick, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden
Harlequin bugs mating on the underside of a collard leaf Photo by Laura Monczynski
Bug Patrol
It’s never helpful to have critters competing with you for your food. Damage can be done by squirrels, raccoons, rats, birds, and caterpillars, yet it is the tiniest creatures that can be the hardest to detect. That’s why it’s helpful to do a regular inspection, as often as once or twice a day if possible. Knowing what it is will help you figure out what to do to maximize the productivity of your garden. Some pests are out during the day and others do their damage at night, so you may want to take a flashlight out at non-peak gardening hours. Holding a piece of white paper under a plant and shaking the plant can make insects fall off for identification. The most common place to find pests is on the undersides of leaves so make sure to closely inspect those parts. A magnifying glass of some sort is a useful tool. You can also take a picture with your cell phone and then zoom in for a closer view. It’s important to be able to recognize the eggs, the larval and nymph stages, and the adult form, and to be able to differentiate between beneficial insects and harmful pests. Don’t indiscriminately squish everything that moves! Once you have done your detective work, you can go to the University of California IPM website for identification and management tips, or contact the Master Gardener Help Desk for guidance.

More Information: Beneficial Predators – These are the ones you want!

 Photo: Harlequin bugs mating on the underside of a collard leaf, by Laura Monczynski
View at library presentation by Tuan Hoang
Upcoming Events
Since we don’t know when we’ll be able to resume in-person activities, we’re offering online events. Keep an eye on our events page for the latest schedule.

Tue, Jul 07, 4:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m., ONLINE Irrigation in the Home Garden.

Thu, Jul 09, 6:00 p.m.–7:30 p.m.,  ONLINE Introduction to Vegetable Gardening .

Mon, Jul 13, 5:00 p.m.–6:00 p.m., ONLINE Troubleshooting in the Vegetable Garden.

Sat, Jul 18, 1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m., ONLINE Summer Fruit Tree Pruning.

Thu, Jul 23, 7:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m.,  ONLINE Ask a UC Master Gardener about Vegetable Gardening.

Wed, Jul 29, 4:00 p.m.–5:30 p.m.,  ONLINE Growing Herbs for Beauty and Flavor .
Visit the UC Master Gardener Program website  for additional information including an up-to-date list of events and classes .

Have a gardening question? Contact our Help Desk (for Santa Clara County residents). Start by reviewing our plant  problem diagnosis tips .
  • Mon-Fri 9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m., 408-282-3105
  • Fri ONLY 1:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m., 650-329-1356 (Closed Dec. & Jan.)
  • Or send us your question online

The University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Santa Clara County Master Gardener Program volunteers are trained under the auspices of the UCCE. Our mission is to promote sustainable gardening practices by providing up-to-date, research-based horticultural information to home gardeners.

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