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Gardening Tips With Nan Sterman

December 11, 2012

Nan Sterman

Submit your questions to gardening expert Nan Sterman, beginning at 1pm.

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below. Note: The transcript is in reverse chronological order.

In my garden, I use in-line drip for all except my meadow which is watered overhead using MP rotators. I would have done subsurface in-line drip for the meadow but I wanted to test out the MP rotators.

As for fertilizing, I'll share a secret with you but please don't tell anyone ; }

I don't fertilize. That's not 100% true. Fruiting trees and shrubs and vegetables get fertilizer (granular organic fertilizer sprinkled under the mulch, around the drip lines) but not the ornamentals. If you are planting "climate appropriate" ornamentals and mulching, they shouldn't need fertilizer. In fact, the more you fertilize, the faster plants grow and the faster they grow, the more maintenance they need (and the more green waste they generate and the bigger their carbon footprint).

Its far better to choose plants that don't require fertilizer, grow them without it, and be patient as they grow in.

If you need suggestions for such plants, take a look at California Gardener's Guide vII. Those are the plants I focus on in that book, and in just about all my talks and presentations.

Nan Sterman | at 2:05 p.m.

Hi Nan,
How would you describe the type of irrigation system that you are using in your garden. If it is a drip type system, how do you fertilize your plants?



tstrom | at 1:59 p.m.

Hmmmm....I doubt that passion fruit fruiting pattern in Talmadge would be much different from elsewhere in coastal San Diego. My bet is that either the plant is too young to have a regular fruiting pattern yet, or the difference is the result of uneven watering.

How do you water this vine? And how long has it been in the ground?

Nan Sterman | at 1:59 p.m.

hello nan, i have a young passionfruit vine. with irregular fruiting. Big crop one winter. next winter, nothing. I have nice warm southfacing exposure next to house up on a mesa. do you know anything about passionfruiting patterns around talmadge?

hughesmaxwell | at 1:56 p.m.

If I were you, I would put as big a pot in that spot as possible and plant into the pot. The goal would be to elevate the plant above the hot, dry air as much as you could. You'll have to water a bit more, especially if you use the dryer frequently. Dri-water would be a good product to use in the pot since it is a gel that slowly releases water into the soil - it would make managing watering much easier. Check out (and if you decide to order some to try out, you can get a discount if you enter NAN into the discount code in the on-line order).

As for plants, once you have the watering issue worked out, you might consider Abutilons (flowering maples) which are soft and leafy with red to orange to pink, yellow to white flowers that often look like upside down lanterns

Some of my favorite dry shade plants are Bromeliads, plants in the same family as pineapples. They have fantastical flowers in bright colors, are easy to grow, and most take the shade.

Most Bomeliads are naturally epiphytes so rather than planting them straight potting mix, combine the potting mix with small bark, about 50/50.

Water often and watch them multiply!

Nan Sterman | at 1:56 p.m.

We live in San Diego and ground covering plants or shrubs up to 4 feet would both work. Most of our front yard is hard-scaped and this is one of the few areas where we still have some soil and irrigation. We have some succulents in pots close by but we would love some more color there.

jjohnson | at 1:48 p.m.

Todd, using gray water in your garden is a terrific idea! There are very simple systems that do not require permitting in most municipalities (though you should always check with your city's planning department to be sure). In fact, the state published a gray water handbook back in 1995. Here's a link to it

Basically, you install a diverter valve between the washer outflow and the sewer inflow. The valve allows you to control where water goes as it leaves the washer - into your sewer if you happen to be doing a bleach load or a load with disinfectant or something else that would hurt your plants. The rest of the time, you can direct the water into a line that goes out into the garden. You might need an antisiphon valve as well.

There are many system designs posted on line. The critical things to know are these: you need to use laundry soaps that are formulated to be mild for plants (Costco sells a brand called Ecos that is supposed to be okay). Do not use gray water on vegetables. Fruit trees are okay but not vegetables. Also, think about how much water plants need and how much water you generate from the washer each week so you don't drown plants. Take a look at this website too,

Good luck!

Nan Sterman | at 1:48 p.m.

Hello Nan,
What would be the best way to incorporate gray water from the washing machine into the garden watering process. It seems like a tremendous amount of water could be utilized if it doesn't harm the landscape.

Thany you,


tstrom | at 1:36 p.m.

That can be a big challenge - finding something for shade that gets blasted on and off by hot, dry air.

Can you give me some specifics? How large a plant do you have in mind? What part of the county do you live in?

Nan Sterman | at 1:31 p.m.

Hi Nan

Do you have any recommendations for a flowering plant or shrub that could thrive in the shade next to an clothes dryer outlet. Nothing I have tried seems be happy there but unfortunately the outlet is right next to our front door. Thanks for any suggestions.

jjohnson | at 1:29 p.m.

Sure! Trim that jasmine. Bougainvillea and jasmine are both very vigorous plants that rebound pretty easily. The biggest challenge will be making sure that you pull out all of the branches that you cut. Otherwise, you'll see a big, beautiful jasmine vine (or Bougainvillea) with browned branches. Its can be a bit of a Pandora's box, so pay attention to where you make the cuts, then be sure to pull them out, all the way.

Nan Sterman | at 1:21 p.m.

I also have a jasmine plant that is starting to thin out. Should this be trimmed as well?


pmccallum | at 1:17 p.m.

Hi Peggy

If you aren't watering alot, then you are doing the right thing to start with. If it is very straggly, you could go ahead and prune it back, just don't prune it back tooo far. I would take off only about a third of the branch length now, then wait to see what happens. I would expect that it would go through a bit of a dormant period in the cooler weather, then rebound as the air warms in spring. If you want to take it back even more, then take off another third next year this time.

And, do keep in mind that plants don't live forever. At some point, it will become fairly geriatric and need to be replaced.

Nan Sterman | at 1:04 p.m.

I have a bougenvilla - at least 20 years old - that has been very straggly for about five years. In season, it doesn't flower as much as it used to, and it doesn't produce as many leaves so it looks very "branchy". Should I trim it back? It doesn't get a lot of water so should I water it more?

Thanks Nan.

Peggy McCallum

pmccallum | at 1:01 p.m.