Printed from THE DAILY JOURNAL, dtd. 07/28/2011

Dig In!
July 28, 2011, 03:48 AM

Hello, novice, experienced and potential gardeners! I am delighted to introduce this local gardening column.  

This is a place for home gardeners from South San Francisco to Menlo Park and over on the coast to learn, get encouragement and build community. You will get practical advice and inspiration for creating and sustaining the type of garden that matters most to you, whether that is a garden lush with ornamentals,  packed with edibles, or filled with a mix of the two.

I want to help you become more confident and knowledgeable about gardening in the delightful but sometimes challenging climate and conditions we face gardening on the Peninsula and along the coast.

We all share a Mediterranean climate of dry summers and wet but mild winters, but across the region there are microclimates. That is why growing tomatoes along the coast is a lot more difficult than growing them in Redwood City.

Conditions also can vary in a city, and even in our yards. In my San Mateo neighborhood, summertime winds whip in from the coast through the State Route 92 pass, and compel me to put on a jacket. On those days my brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet), a flowering tropical, probably would appreciate a sweater, too. At the same time, in other San Mateo neighborhoods, the air is calm and the temperature is toasty.

And who am I?

I am a University of California Cooperation Extension Master Gardener who belongs to the San Mateo and San Francisco Counties Master Gardener program.

Master Gardeners are volunteers found nationwide, providing gardening information to home gardeners. In California, the Master Gardeners program is administered by the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE). Master Gardeners have completed training from UC, participate in continuing education, and volunteer in the community. We staff a gardening helpline at 650-726-9059 ext. 107, so give us a call. Please also visit our website at, to learn more about gardening and what we are up to in the community.

The information and advice in this column will largely reflect the  research and expertise of  UCCE. However, sometimes I may share information that does not have a UCCE seal of approval but is of interest. I always will make it clear when my Master Gardener hat is on or off.     

Because of my training as a Master Gardener, and by inclination, I also have personal opinions about gardening, which you will note in the column. Here a few of the most important:  

• Healthy soil is the foundation. Compost is a thing of beauty;

• Water wisely.  Use as little water as possible and water correctly. Choose plants that are happy in our summer-dry climate. Mulch, mulch, mulch;

• Back away from the spray.  You want a garden humming with life, not sanitized within an inch of its life.  Choose low to no chemical use for dealing with pests;

• Don't fight nature. She will win.  Choose plants that are known to do well in our climate, and are likely to do well under the conditions in your particular patch of soil and sun; and   

• Think turtle over hare. Choose organic fertilizers over chemical, which means slow and steady growth over fast and hyper.

Until next time, happy digging!

Joan Tharp is a University of California Cooperation Extension Master Gardener. She lives in San Mateo. She can be reached at