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by Andrea Williams

This is installment three of a twelve-part series on grasses. Read the previous installment here.

Last month I talked about California’s state grass, purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra, formerly Nassella pulchra). This month, California’s state rock, serpentinite (although we usually just call it serpentine since it’s made up of serpentine minerals), takes center stage. California was actually the first state to designate an official rock, but serpentine is special and, like our Mediterranean climate, helped give rise to plants found nowhere else in the world.

barbed goat grass

The spikelets of barbed goatgrass look a little like goat heads, although that’s not where the name comes from.

Because of the makeup of serpentine rock, and its slow weathering, serpentine soils are thin, poor, and high in heavy metals. The mineral balance is quite different from what most plants can tolerate, so many plants found on serpentine are endemics: they’re only found on this soil type. Others can grow on serpentine and non-serpentine soils, but may be stunted or appear different when living in the strange soil.

Many weeds take advantage of disturbance and can quickly use resources, outcompeting other plants. But serpentine’s qualities make it naturally resistant to invasion, with a few notable exceptions. That brings us to this month’s grass: barbed goatgrass (Aegilops triuncialis). Originally from serpentine soils in the Mediterranean region and Eastern Europe/Western Asia, barbed goatgrass can thrive in our soils and climate. Not only does it do well on serpentine, the high silica content of the litter it produces is difficult to break down, further altering the soil and making it even harder for other plants to grow! Goatgrass also has a built-in seed stashing strategy: Each spikelet generally has two seeds—one germinates the first year, and the other lays dormant for a year—so even if you get all the plants in a year, the seedbank of this annual has a surprise waiting for you the next.

habitat restoration site

On May 17, help pull invasive barbed goatgrass in this beautiful spot.

Nearly half of our rare plants are found on serpentine soils, which makes these areas so important to protect. You have an opportunity on May 17 to help remove invasive barbed goatgrass from serpentine soils on Mt. Tamalpais, in the Azalea Hill/Pine Mountain area. We’ve been pulling goatgrass from this site for many years, and stemming the tide of invasion. Nine different rare plants call this spot home, and jackrabbits and kites are often seen as well—not to mention our state flower, state bird, and state rock!

 

Garden Ideas

by Charlene Burgi

I woke up this morning to the calls of sandhill cranes flying up and down the creek and dominating the sweet chirps of various other birds in the area. As loud as these magnificent birds are, their calls seem to chant the arrival of spring. And true to form, they showed up just as temperatures worked their way up the thermostat.

It seems my energy level is also matching the rise in temperature. The outdoors beckons me to get moving on starting seeds, transplanting and potting up perennials and bareroot stock. Instead of talking about the weather, conversations with friends now revolve around new garden ideas, what we plan to do differently this year, and what lessons we learned from past failures.

This thread of conversation worked its way into an email with an old grammar school friend who moved to Washington years ago. Her mother was an avid gardener, and it was always a delight to see her new flowers catching the attention of people passing by. It is no wonder my friend fell into the same path of gardening, nor is it any surprise that our conversation would turn toward what was happening in our gardens right now!

how to make toilet paper seed strips

1. Seed tape ingredients 2. Cutting the toilet paper 3. Tiny seed placement 4. Seeds secured in the folds 5. Seed strip ready for light covering of amended soil

Charlene (yes, we share the same name) told me of something new she is trying for the first time. It is such a great idea that I asked if I could share it with you! The seed and plant catalogs tout expensive seed strips for managing the chore of planting seeds. The seeds are often so tiny that we end up with clusters of germinated seed and have to pluck the majority out of the bed to maximize the growth of stronger seedlings.

Charlene came up with a brilliant solution. She tore off a three-foot strip of toilet paper and cut the paper down the center leaving her with two three-foot sections. She applied a light mist of water to the strip of paper and carefully set the seeds down the center with the proper spacing. Once the seeds were in place, she folded the edges over the seeds and moistened with another light mist of water. The seed strips could then be moved onto the prepared ground and lightly covered with soil.

I love this idea and can’t wait to try it! Plus, it goes hand in hand with my tip to use empty toilet paper rolls for starting seedlings indoors. Once transplanted outdoors, these cardboard containers biodegrade in the ground as the plant grows. It almost makes me want to secure stock in toilet paper if this trend catches on!

A word of caution with the good weather: Before you set your controller to begin irrigating on a regular basis, please push back the bark and dig down three or four inches. My guess is the soil is still very wet and the plants may not need your assistance right now. If your mulch is getting thin, apply a new layer. It will not only freshen up the garden, but curtail evaporation as well as delay the need to irrigate.

Do you have a clever gardening tip? Are you willing to share with others? Please let us know so we can all capitalize upon your learning process and successes.

April Showers

by Charlene Burgi

Isn’t it wonderful! April showers continue to fill our reservoirs and replenish our groundwater. These rains work their way from the saturated earth into the creeks and drainages that comprise our watersheds. The runoff tumbles over anything in its path to reach the reservoirs that sustain all of us, our gardens, and a wealth of wildlife, too.

April is a great month! It is a time to see fruit trees blooming or watch the transformation from blossom to fruit beginning. Spring bulbs continue to dazzle us with their show of pastel colors, and the green signs of summer bulbs are slowly poking their way through the waterlogged mulch. Wildflowers are springing up all over the hills as if to say they, too, are celebrating the good earth.

What a time to celebrate this great planet. Spring is a rebirth after a long winter. Everything is anew! It is the time to appreciate our surroundings, a time to raise our awareness about how we can contribute to the health of our environment. We live in a beautiful place and we are often too busy to stop and observe the glory found right outside our doors.

It is not surprising that this is the month that we celebrate the Earth! Can I challenge you? What can you do to celebrate Earth Day? Is this the time that you can feed the soil with amendments? Start a compost pile? Farm red wiggly worms to turn kitchen scraps into amazing fertilizer? Can you find other means of killing unwanted weeds in the garden without resorting to harsh chemicals? Sheet mulch? How about planning a walk up to the reservoirs to view wildflowers or wildlife?

Earth Day Marin 2014For a more major celebration, drop in at the annual Earth Day Marin Festival this Sunday, April 6, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Redwood High School in Larkspur to see some amazing programs and international entertainment. Enjoy music, speakers, storytellers, puppet shows, authors, film screenings, organic food, and so much more. MMWD will have lots of information, hands-on activities, and giveaways to help you save water and learn more about where your water comes from. And be sure to join MMWD for a fun and inspiring “water rally” at 2 p.m. at the main stage. For complete details about the festival, check out the website: earthdaymarin.org. There is something for everyone!

Speaking of websites, I confess to holding out on the vegetable gardener reading this blog. It goes without saying that long, cold winter days in Lassen find hours of my retired life on the computer seeking out the newest coneflower, the latest method for eradicating gophers, or the tastiest tomato to grow this season. It was during such perusing that I discovered a website that costs nothing to join and contains oodles of information, planners, journals, and interactive design pages for your vegetable garden. The site provides a weekly “to-do” list so you’ll know exactly when to plant indoors, move seedlings outdoors, etc. You can find this treasured website at smartgardener.com. Try it and let me know what you think!

In closing, a friend sent an email with beautiful pictures accompanied by quotes. I couldn’t help but laugh at this quote as it tied in perfectly with this week’s blog: “Living on Earth is expensive, but it does include a free trip around the sun every year!” How can we beat that!

Have a great weekend and let me know your experience at the Earth Day Marin Festival!

MMWD's drinking water on request table tent

MMWD’s free “drinking water upon request” table tent

MMWD is offering free table tents to local restaurants to help them spread the word to their customers about conserving water.

Under the district’s water conservation code, restaurants may serve drinking water only upon request. In response to the drought, we are reaching out to restaurants to remind them about the requirement, which was adopted by MMWD’s Board of Directors in December 2009. The table tents are designed to make it easy for restaurants to educate their customers about the requirement and to save water and money.

When you think of the number of people who dine out in Marin, the number of water glasses that go untouched, and the water needed to wash all those glasses, the savings really add up.

So far this year, MMWD has given away about 2,000 table tents to local restaurants. The table tents are available free of charge to businesses within the district while supplies last. To order, email MMWD’s Water Conservation Department or call 945-1520.

MMWD also has launched a new social media campaign to thank local restaurants who are saving water by serving drinking water upon request. Does your favorite restaurant serve drinking water on request? Show us! Send a photo to MMWD’s Public Information Department. We will add it to our photo album, credit you, share the photo on Facebook and Twitter, and “tag” the restaurant to let them know their conservation efforts are making a difference.

Phoenix Lake

Phoenix Lake

While the 2014 drought continues, MMWD is in far better condition than earlier this year, thanks to recent rains and reduced water consumption. This means mandatory water use reductions will not be required this year. However, the district’s request for a 25% voluntary reduction in water use is still in effect.

Rainfall in both February and March significantly improved MMWD’s reservoir levels and water consumption has been lower this year than last for each of the last eight weeks.

Here are the current water statistics:

Reservoir Levels: As of March 26, reservoir storage is 61,782 acre-feet,* or 78% of capacity. The average for this date is 73,083 acre-feet, or 92% of capacity. Total capacity is 79,566 acre-feet.

Rainfall: Rainfall this fiscal year to date (July 1-March 26) is 27.06 inches. Average for the same period is 45.48 inches.

Water Use: Water use for the week of March 17-23 averaged 18.2 million gallons per day, compared to 20.4 million gallons per day for the same week last year.

Creek Releases: During the month of February 2014 MMWD released 367 million gallons, or a total of 1,126 acre-feet, into Lagunitas and Walker creeks in west Marin. We release water throughout the year to maintain adequate flows for the fishery per our agreements with the State of California.

Water use and reservoir figures can be found on the Water Watch page of our website. See also our Drought Information page.

*One acre-foot is 325,851 gallons

Choices

by Charlene Burgi

Choosing low-water-use perennials can be overwhelming since there are so many species to consider, not to mention the number of varieties within each species. It also doesn’t help that every spring catalog and garden website is touting countless beautiful low-water-using perennials that are “must haves” in the garden this year. Poring over each page of color, I search for tolerance factors such as deer and rabbit resistance, sun exposure, cold hardiness, etc.

There are three plants in the investigation that deserve mentioning. One is penstemon, also known as beardtongue. Several penstemon species are native to the west and require very little water after the first year in the ground. They seem to tolerate extremely harsh conditions, with the exception of poor-draining soil. The blossoms come in a wide range of colors, and given there are over 250 species, plants grow to various heights from groundcovers up to four feet tall. An added bonus is their blossoms attract hummingbirds and are supposed to be resistant to deer browsing. A word of caution here: More than once I have seen deer sample the goods on this plant.

Salvia May Night

Salvia ‘May Night’

Another one of my favorite low-water-using, sun-loving perennials is salvia, otherwise called sage. In the book The Country Diary of Garden Lore, by Julia Jones and Barbara Deer, I laughed as I read, “when sage grows vigorously in the garden, the wife rules the house”! On a serious note, the plant offers multitudes of ailment remedies in addition to the flower’s spectacular long-blooming season. Sage comes in a variety of sizes, colors, shapes, and tolerances. There are over 900 species in this mint family and the list of known species grows larger each year. Birds and bees appreciate their presence in the garden; however, some varieties are more susceptible to aphids and white fly, so make certain they are planted with adequate air circulation. When attempting to identify sage, touch the stem of the plant— it is always square!

Helleborus

Helleborus

Lastly, helleborus, or Lenten rose, is a dream plant for dry shade gardens. It blooms during the winter and spring when the garden tends to lay dormant. The colors of the cup-shaped flowers are subtle shades ranging from the palest of green to pink or purple. Deer and rabbits ignore its existence. Like the above-mentioned perennials, these plants thrive in fast-draining soil and require little water once established.

Perennials are a great way to bring color into your garden. Experiment with the wide varieties that are available. Choose those that are native to the West Coast. I mentioned three, but how can we overlook yarrow, hummingbird mint, and poppies? And the list goes on! If you are looking for color, cut flowers, or plants to fill in bare spots, give these perennials a whirl!

Join Us for Earth Day Marin Festival April 6

MMWD is pleased to be a major sponsor and partner of the Earth Day Marin 2014 Festival on Sunday, April 6, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Redwood High School in Larkspur. Join us for this fun, free, family-friendly event and day of action on sustainability solutions addressing drought, climate change, and other environmental concerns. Enjoy music, hands-on activities, inspiring speakers, storytellers, puppet shows, authors, organic food, and more! We’ll be giving away stainless steel water bottles to the first 500 people who take action at the event to reduce their water use. For complete festival details, visit earthdaymarin.org.

by Andrea Williams

This is installment two of a twelve-part series on grasses. Read the previous installment here.

California state flag

California state flag

You all know the grizzly bear is a main feature of the California flag, but did you ever give a thought to the turf below its paws? While I can’t be certain, I and others like to think they are tussocks of our state grass, purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra, formerly Nassella pulchra). Did you not know California had a state grass? Purple needlegrass was designated our state grass in 2004, so while it’s only been official for 10 years, this pulchritudinous pastoral plant has been an important and widespread part of our state since well before there was a California. In fact, since individual purple needlegrass clumps can live more than 150 years, there may be plants alive today that have been around since before there was a California!

purple needlegrass

Purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra) Photo credit: Stephanie Bishop

Purple needlegrass is not only widespread and long-lived, but also quite distinctive in its look. Its inflorescence of delicate purple pennons wave above a mound of fine emerald blades. This fine look has it also available at many native plant nurseries. Some may mistake ripgut brome (Bromus diandrus) for purple needlegrass, but the former—a non-native annual weed—holds a fistful of red bristles on single stalks, with no basal clump of leaves. And while ripgut brome is a danger to grazing animals, purple needlegrass remains an excellent forage species—for cattle, elk, deer, or bears!

 

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