Cindy asks: I enjoy growing native plants and I have quite a collection. It has been enjoyable growing plants that require minimal care and water, but look great most of the year. Are there any native plants I can add to my garden that also have local historical significance?
There are plenty of plants developed locally by Luther Burbank that are still in cultivation and would be considered historical. But to find something historically interesting from native plants would require some knowledge of local Indian uses for plants. I spoke with local archaeologist Jim Quinn, who suggested that basket sedge was very important to local Indians and provided a lot of material for the famous Pomo basketry.
The botanical name for basket sedge is Carex barbarae and it is found throughout California. It is considered one of the most important plants used by the local Indians. The roots were used for making fine fibers that were in turn woven into baskets along with the fibers of many other plants.
Basket sedge is very easy to grow and has some added benefits beyond their historical interest. Birds love this grass; they rustle in the leaves and enjoy eating the seeds. It is a riparian plant, so it needs some regular moisture. It is not a drought-resistant, dry garden type of plant. Basket sedge looks great in large groups and the birds will thank you for that. The grass can be found at Cal Flora nursery in Fulton.
Carmen B. asks: I donated two Arbutus unedo “Marina” strawberry trees to a local nonprofit organization. A few of its limbs have grown over the adjoining walkway and the lower limbs are competing with understory ground cover plants that require more sunlight. When is the ideal time to do some minor pruning and shaping of the trees? Otherwise, both trees are thriving.
The recommended ideal time to do selective pruning on Arbutus is early to late spring. Of course, it is OK to prune any broken branches.
Arbutus has the unusual growth habit of blooming as well as developing strawberry-like fruit at the same time. This is one of the beautiful and colorful attractions of the tree. Pruning will remove the pendulous urn-shaped pink bloom clusters and the reddish strawberry-like fruit.
Colder weather is on its way and new fresh cuts will produce tender cold-sensitive growth that will be damaged.
“Hard” pruning in spring will encourage new growth but it will also remove next year’s growth that produces the beautiful bloom and fruit that we admire in November and December. Still, the recommended time to prune is in the spring.
The key to pruning an Arbutus is to carefully prune and shape selectively, and that method entails removing no more than a quarter of the tree’s total growth at one time. Look for broken branches, dead branches and branches that are crossing over others, causing wounds. Remove those problem branches. Cuts should be directly above a stem/bud, thus avoiding the creation of ugly stubs. If an entire lower limb needs to be removed, the cut should be close to the main tree trunk. The selective pruning goal is to sustain and avoid altering the beautiful and unusual structure of the Arbutus while not compromising its health.