Category Archives: Gardening

Add Bare-Root Fruit Trees To Your Garden

Add Bare-Root Fruit Trees To Your Garden

We bought a home a couple years ago. It’s so nice to get away from renting and be able to do what we want with the property – especially the garden. The very first thing we added to the garden was bare-root fruit trees.

Bare-root fruit trees have a lot of advantages. They’re cheaper than potted fruit trees. They’re much easier to bring home from the nursery. Nurseries often carry a larger variety of bare-root fruit trees because they take up less room, so you have more varieties to choose from.

The disadvantages include that bare-root trees might be a little slower to start bearing fruit. They may need more time to get established. Nurseries don’t carry them all year long in most places, because you must plant a bare-root tree while it is dormant.

The house we bought had no fruit trees or vegetable garden – only grass and decorative plants. Completely not what we want, although pretty enough. If I water it, I want it to fulfill a purpose, beyond just looking good. Some things we plant for the bees, birds and butterflies, some things we plant for food. Fruit trees were an easy choice to start things out.

Add Trees Early To Your Garden

If you want to grow fruit trees in your garden, they should be added early on. They take time to get established, but once they’re established, you only have to maintain them. They’ll last for many years.

The wonderful part about fruit trees is that they’re relatively easy to get started. When you’re new to a property, planting fruit trees is much easier than getting an entirely new garden started.

We followed the advice on the Dave Wilson website when planting our trees. We did two groups of trees – one group of four, and one of three. Trees that need to cross pollinate were put near each other.

Some of our trees produced a little this year, their second in the ground. We limited their production because they’re still young trees. And as often happens, some branches had too much fruit and had to be thinned anyhow to keep the branches from breaking.

Pick The Right Trees

Make sure you consider the needs of each tree, as well as when they produce when selecting your fruit trees. Cross pollination is vital for many fruit tree varieties. If you neglect that aspect and some neighbor doesn’t happen to have a compatible tree, you won’t get fruit from it.

You also want to consider when fruit ripens for each tree. You don’t want all of your fruit ripening at the same time, most likely. It’s much better to have your fruit ripen over time.

Where you live matters too. Some fruit trees need a certain amount of time below certain temperatures, or they just won’t produce. Talk to your nursery if you aren’t certain about what grows well where you live.

Also consider the space you need. Many varieties can be pruned to a smaller size, so that they’re easier to care for and harvest. The Dave Wilson site has tips on high density planting, which allows you to grow more fruit trees in a smaller space. This can be nice even if you have a lot of room in your yard.

And of course, consider what you’d like to grow. It’s always nice to grow particular favorites on your own trees. Home grown fruit always tastes better than the stuff you get at the grocery store.

Be Patient

One important thing to understand about fruit trees is that they won’t produce right away. Some will make you wait for years until they are mature enough to bear fruit after you’ve transplanted them.

While many will get going 2-3 years after you plant them, some take up to seven years before they can produce. We’re looking at that possibility with our cherry trees, although that’s the high end of the wait. I hope it will be on the lower side.

If you’re concerned that your fruit trees aren’t producing, check this table from Stark Bro’s Nursery. It can be quite reassuring to see that the delay you’re seeing is normal for your tree.

Can Your Children Snack From Your Garden?

Can Your Children Snack From Your Garden?

Gardening is a great activity to do with kids, starting when they’re pretty young. Kids love to see things grow, whether you start from seeds or buy young plants at the garden center. But one of the best things about gardening with kids is growing foods that they can snack on.

Even kids who are reluctant to eat most vegetables at the table may find foods grown in their own garden interesting and tasty. Not always, but it’s always worth the try. Homegrown produce is generally much tastier than what you buy at the store, after all. Here are some basic tips to get things going.

Be Careful What You Use On Your Garden

Think about what you’re using as fertilizers or pesticides in your garden. You don’t want to worry about what residues your children may be eating, especially if they “forget” to wash something before eating it.

Set Eating Rules

Not everything grown in a garden is safe to eat, so the very first rule you need to discuss with your kids is what they can and cannot eat. For younger kids, make sure they ask for each thing, so that they don’t eat something unsafe by mistake. They’ll learn pretty quickly what they can eat, but young children are great for deciding to randomly try something they haven’t been told is okay.

Teach your kids to wash things before they eat them as necessary. At the very least, there’s probably dust on everything, not to mention microbes.

Avoid Dangerous Plants

Especially when your kids are little, try to avoid growing things you know aren’t safe to eat. It’s a big help if one of the kids decides to try something while you aren’t watching. has a list of common poisonous and nonpoisonous plants you may have around. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s a place to start.

Let Your Kids Have Their Own Garden

Give each child their own little space where they decide what to grow. You will probably need to help them decide what to grow, but give them some freedom too. Have them plant the seeds or young plants, and make them responsible for watering. Help them learn when things are ready to harvest. Let them get dirty.

Draw Up Plans

Especially as kids get older, take some time to draw up your garden plans with them. This can help them learn about planning as well as how maps are made. You can talk about how parts of the garden may change later in the season, as some things grow better in spring or summer, and others do better in the fall.


It can be a lot of fun to grow herbs for your kitchen, and your kids may learn to enjoy snacking on them. You will need to be very strict about snacking on these for two reasons. The first is that if your child loves a particular herb, they’re likely to kill it by eating too much of it. My kids are great for this one with basil and fennel. Mint is popular as well, but be aware that it may spread quickly.

The second reason is that eating herbs can make kids too comfortable with eating leaves, and they may mistake a leaf of something else for an herb, and eat something they shouldn’t. Teach them to ask before they take a leaf off any plant.


Berries of various sorts are a lot of fun to grow, but make sure you know how invasive a plant is before you put it in the ground. Some are really better to grow in pots so that you can keep them from spreading too far.

Make sure your kids know to only eat approved berries – you probably wouldn’t deliberately grow an unsafe one at home, but you don’t want them thinking all berries are safe to eat anywhere.

Strawberries can do well in pots, and that can be a good way to keep pests away from them. Bugs can be even faster than children to eat them, unfortunately! If you grow them in the ground, make sure you have enough plants that there’s a chance for some strawberries to be found by your kids before the bugs get them. We have a strawberry patch that pretty much just volunteered itself that does well.

Fruit Trees

We had a wonderful plum tree when I was growing up. It’s gone now, but it was so nice having its fruit available for so much of the summer.

Go for a variety of fruit trees if you have the space, and make sure they aren’t all producing at the same time. It’s much easier to deal with the quantity of fruit a tree can produce if you don’t have others producing heavily at the same time.

Teach your kids how to tell when the fruit is ripe and set rules about climbing in your fruit trees. Kids love to climb trees, but you don’t want them damaging a productive tree.


If you have the space for the vines, kids love watermelons, cantaloupe and such. These aren’t as easy for them to snack directly on, but once sliced up by a parent make for a nice, healthy treat. Melon vines need some room to grow, and aren’t really well suited to a very small garden, however. Some varieties can be grown on a trellis.


There are lots of vegetables that are easy to grow in a snacking garden, tomatoes, carrots, snap peas, green beans and bell peppers, for example. You can also take a look at vegetables that you can regrow from scraps, such as celery or lettuce.

It’s a lot of fun finding vegetables that your kids love to snack on. When mine were little, they’d beg for green beans from the garden as though it was candy. It was great. Admittedly, all my kids have an unusual fondness for vegetables that has made my life much easier, but it’s still fun to see.

You may need to plan your vegetables for snacking and kitchen use, especially with tomatoes. Grow some cherry tomato varieties for snacks, and larger ones for the kitchen.

How to Gopher Proof Your Raised Garden Beds

How to Gopher Proof Your Raised Garden Beds

We have a real gopher problem in our backyard. We get their mounds all over the yard, and of course if we plant directly into the soil, we know we risk losing that entire plant to the gophers. Building a raised garden bed, however, can make it much simpler to avoid damage from gophers.

This solution is very simple. Build your raised garden bed, and put a good quality hardware cloth on the bottom, so that gophers cannot get through. Attach this to the bottom of your raised garden bed with staples and overlap enough that gophers cannot get through.

It’s that simple to keep them out. They may still get any roots that grow past the hardware cloth, but most of the roots of your plants will be completely safe.

Of course, you’ll probably want to deal with the gophers for the sake of the rest of your yard. I prefer natural methods, and much miss the neighbor cat who used to handle my gopher problems for us, and was a total sweetheart besides. My landlord says we can only have an outdoor only cat, and with the coyote pack living nearby, there’s no way I would do that. I would have to bring the cat in at night.

Sometimes you’ll be fortunate enough to have an owl or snake help you out. We caught a very young gopher snake in our yard once, but we’ve never seen it since – pity. It was beautiful. We didn’t have much of a gopher problem at that time, so it probably didn’t stick around.

Some also say used coffee grounds work as a gopher repellent. My husband tried this once, and it seems to work pretty well. Unfortunately, we aren’t coffee drinkers, so getting coffee grounds takes some actual effort; it’s not something we just have around the house. Some plants love the acid in coffee grounds, so you may even benefit your garden by using them.

You can also trap gophers. You can follow this link for some advice on the U.C. Davis website, and you can check with your local hardware store or garden center, as well as for traps. I’m not a fan of poisoning gophers – too much can go wrong for other animals.

There’s really only so much you can do about gophers coming back – they’re persistent critters, and these steps won’t protect against other pests. The best you can do is take steps to keep them away from your most vulnerable plants, and learn to handle it when they do come around.

Should You Install Rain Barrels In Your Yard?

Should You Install Rain Barrels In Your Yard?

I’ll admit that this is something I haven’t done myself. We rent, and rain barrels just aren’t the kind of modification I’d try on a rental. But for the someday when we own, I keep looking at what it will take to install a rain barrel, especially with California’s rather desperate drought situation just now. A rain barrel can be a good way to collect rainwater and decrease your water bill, although probably not by much. Rainwater running off your roof can be collected for later use. But is it the right choice for you? Here are some factors to consider.

Laws and Regulations

The laws and regulations on rainwater collection vary quite a bit from state to state, and may change based on the part of the state you live in. Check with your state’s water resource agency before you start any rain barrel project to ensure that you can comply with the rules for your area.

How Much Do You Need It?

Given the size limitations of most rain barrels, it’s probably not going to make a big difference in your water bill. That doesn’t make rain barrels a bad idea, however. Most can hold anywhere from 20 to 150 gallons of water, depending on the size you choose, so if you really want to make a dent in your water bill, it will take more barrels. There are larger sizes available, but the costs and space required may or may not be worth it, depending on your situation.

When Will You Need to Disconnect It?

There will be times when it will make sense to disconnect your rain barrels. If you’re in a place where you get enough rain during fall, winter or spring that you don’t need to capture the rain, odds are you won’t want your rain barrels out at those times, even when they handle the overflow well. Make sure it’s not too hard to switch back to a regular roof gutter drain at such times.

Also, if it tends to freeze in your area, ice can damage your rain barrels. It’s best to put them away before cold weather starts.

Keep the Water Covered

Do not allow your rain barrel to become a breeding ground for mosquitos. It should be well covered, with a screen where the water goes in to keep insects and debris out. This will also help keep unwelcome critters such as mice or rats from using it as a water source.

Do Not Drink From Your Rain Barrel

Odds are very, very good, that the water from your rain barrel isn’t safe to drink. Rain water is lovely stuff, but what your barrel catches came down along your roof, through the roof gutters, and into the barrels. That means it has taken along any dirt, moss and so forth from your roof into the barrel, which itself is probably not all that clean. Keeping some of the debris out as mentioned above is good for your barrels, but it’s not enough to make it safe to drink.

Choose Which Plants to Water

You may or may not want to use rain barrel water to water edible plants. It really depends on the contaminants that get into your system. You can test the water to decide if it’s safe for your food garden, but when in doubt, let the decorative plants or lawn have it.

For More Information

If you want to learn more about installing rain barrels safely, here are some good resources:

Snacking Garden – Day 13 of 30 Days of Healthy Homemade Summer Treats

30 Days of Healthy Homemade Summer Treats

A snacking garden takes some time to prepare, and it may not last all summer. You see, this is a part of your garden you set up for the kids to enjoy.

Plant foods that will be easy for your kids to pick and enjoy. Cherry tomatoes, string beans, snap peas, grapes… whatever they might enjoy. Fruit trees are another good choice.

The key here is communication about which plants they can freely snack from. If you want to reserve some areas for your kitchen, let the kids know. My kids love to snack on basil, for example. I love my fresh basil, but if I left it to my kids, I wouldn’t have any available for use with meals. They’d pick the leaves much too fast for the plants to cope. It’s one of the plants we talk about how much they’re allowed to take from it.

I also love the snacking garden for how it teaches the kids about the plants in the garden. They’re quick to learn what each is, and especially that some plants are absolutely not edible. They get a nice connection with some of their food. They also learn how to keep an eye on the health of the garden. By the way, weeding is a great kid chore that can go along with having a snacking garden.

Snacking Garden - Day 13 of 30 Days of Healthy Homemade Summer Treats