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Jan 13

In the News

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin on January 13, 2017 at 2:58 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

 Misty checks out a nature-made rain garden
Lately not a day goes by without weather warnings notifying me of blasting blizzard conditions, flash flood warnings, ice on the roads and recommendations to stay indoors. The warnings, however, are not exclusive to us here in Lassen County. While watching the Bay Area news this week, I saw highway and road closures throughout Marin, evacuation and flooding in San Anselmo, and Corte Madera Creek rising to flood stage. I even saw videos of people surfing and boogie-boarding down rain-swollen Mill Creek.

These news warnings are a reminder that we need to be extremely careful when landscaping to keep our homes safe. Standing water or flooding can be an indicator of drainage design flaws. Sometimes these flaws do not reveal themselves until we experience what is known as the 100-year-storm scenario. A mild or modest rainfall may have no ill-effects on our property, but then an unusually big storm exposes the problem. An example of this occurs when water can no longer percolate down into the soil before running off. If the runoff exceeds the drain capacity on the property, or if the grading was crowned or sloped toward the house, excess water can end up under the house—or in the house if the home is on a slab. A good drainage design calculates for the worst historical rain conditions to draw water away from the house.

There are steps we can take to correct design flaws and help stormwater "slow down, spread out and soak in." If you live on a hillside, you can create multiple bioswales, such as bark-filled troughs, along the width of the hillside. Stormwater collects and slowly percolates into in each swale before continuing to the one below, thus eliminating the rush of unrestrained water flowing off the hillside. 

dry creek bed
Functional dry creekbed
Trenches designed as functional dry creekbeds can divert water away from the house and into a rain garden—a simple, shallow, pond-like area where the water can safely collect. Landscape your rain garden with plants able to withstand a lot of water in winter and minimal irrigation in the summer. Many iris, Monarda, asters and even the monarch-butterfly-attracting Asclepias are great for sunny rain gardens. Or choose ferns, blue-eyed grasses and Mimulus for shade. For more plant ideas, visit:

If you live in a flood zone, be prepared to evacuate if instructed to do so. In addition, plan ahead by stocking cupboards with extra food and water in case you are told to "shelter in place," lose power or are unable to get to a store. Keep extra warm clothing and shoes in your autos and do not attempt to drive through flood waters.

Be safe and have a great weekend.
Dec 16

Much Ado

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin on December 16, 2016 at 10:50 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

December tends to be the month of misconceptions and frustrations regarding how to care for all the decorative plants coming into the house. Some of the stories overheard are surprising, while others can only make you laugh.

One humorous story came to light a few weeks ago when the subject came up regarding the hydration of cut Christmas trees. A friend shared that when her son was much younger, he was told by someone of "great knowledge" to pour antifreeze into the container used for watering their Christmas tree. It was his intent to surprise his parents with his newfound wisdom. The next day as the family entered the living room to view their newly decorated tree, they found no needles attached to the branches. The needles lay scattered around the base of the tree, leaving the limbs looking much like persimmon trees at the moment—the ornaments like persimmon fruit clinging to bare branches!

Apparently, people experiment with all types of additives in their Christmas tree water. Friends have called asking about ants invading the house after adding sugar to the water. Others have questions regarding complicated recipes containing chili powder, molasses, vermouth and anything else found in their cupboards. The truth is that a cut tree will take up water as long as the xylem (tiny tubes within the trunk) are kept open and do not sap over. In due time, bacteria will form and clog those tiny tubes that draw water up through the tree. In short, give your tree a fresh cut before placing it in the water stand, then supply fresh water—that is all that is needed. Keep the tree away from all heat sources and understand that cut trees are meant to last only two to three weeks before potentially drying out.

Poinsettia yellow flower buds
 Poinsettia yellow flower buds
Poinsettias are another plant that tends to get a bad rap during the holiday season. Oft times they are purchased past their prime. People tend to focus on the beauty of their bracts, not the tiny yellow flowers that should be held tight for longevity. These flowers can be found in the center of the bracts. The stores often add decorative foil to the containers of these colorful plants. Yet while poinsettias need water, they do not like to have their roots exposed to wet conditions. It is common to see these beautiful plants wilt and drop their bracts prematurely due to overwatering. The fix for this problem is easy. If you like the foil, poke holes in the bottom of it and place the plant in a saucer to allow excess water to be removed after the plant has been watered. Keep the plant in a well lit location and enjoy its beauty.

Many plants we bring into the house during this season are considered poisonous. Mistletoe, holly, narcissus, lilies and amaryllis all have varying degrees of toxicity if ingested. Be wise in exploring these plants before decorating your home, and note the behavior of those children or pets who will have access to the plants. For example, my two kittens have never taken a nip at houseplants, but they love to climb trees. Knowing this, I opted for a table-top tree to avoid potential catastrophe! If you are in a quandary, opt for silk flowers that can mimic the beauty of live plants to avoid a recipe for disaster.

Dec 14

Getting Started with California Natives

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin on December 14, 2016 at 8:59 AM by Ann Vallee

by Keith Bancroft, Water Conservation Specialist Supervisor

In addition to their natural beauty, incorporating native plants into your own garden offers many benefits for both you and our environment—they provide water-conserving, drought-tolerant and sustainable garden design choices.
- California Native Plant Society

Now may seem like an odd time to think about working in the garden—it’s cold, it’s raining, it gets dark at, what, noon? It seems like a better time to huddle up inside on the couch and binge watch your way through the last two seasons of Veep.

However, now is the perfect time of year to get off the couch, get outside, and plant California natives in your landscape. Why? Because most natives do their active growing in the cooler fall and winter months, and planting now allows the plants to grow with the seasonal rains and establish a robust root system before the onset of the hot dry summer months.

If you’ve been thinking about using natives in your landscape but aren’t sure how to get started, the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) offers the perfect resource on their “Native Plant Gardening: Getting Started” web page. 

CNPS advises to choose natives that are “as local as possible” and that are suited to the area where you want to plant them: “Note that for successful native plant landscaping and nature restoration, it’s important to grow plants that are native to your location AND placed in spots with the right soil, sun and water conditions. Before you finalize which native plants to grow and exactly where to place them, please review the Calscape plant descriptions to make sure you place them in spots with the conditions they require.”

California fuchsia
California fuchsia in Harvey’s Garden, Tiburon
An excellent place to view a local garden full of California natives is Harvey’s Garden at Blackie’s Pasture, Tiburon. Amazingly, the garden has over 2,500 native plants as well as plant ID tags throughout so you know just what it is you’re looking at. Drop by for a visit and some inspiration for your own garden!