Cambrian: Opinion

Seasonal changes or climate change? Maybe both

Dwarf apple trees wait to be planted in Cambria.
Dwarf apple trees wait to be planted in Cambria.

My garden has experienced a “climate change” of sorts. Generous rains last winter brought welcome relief to Monterey pines, local ranchers, and Cambria gardens. Then came the cool winds of spring and early summer. Finally, the growing season ended with a “wretched heat wave” causing leaf burn on my Japanese maples and sending humans inside seeking cool shelters, good reading materials, and salads for dinner.

Regardless of weather, we’ve kept busy in the garden. After purchasing a small vacant lot next door, we’ve fenced it and cleared debris. Don built a lovely arbor for a climbing rose. It’s our intention to make it a small mini-orchard. We’ve lost two of our ancient apple trees in the past few years. They were planted, we believe, in the 1940s, when Cambrians learned that there were apple trees that would bear fruit in our cool climates. Many older homes and cottages have these “low-chill apple trees” surviving in their gardens even today. Many are of the ‘Beverly Hills’ cultivar.

It is important to understand the “chill factor” (called vernalization) of fruiting trees when selecting varieties. Fruit trees need a period of rest, or dormancy. During dormancy, trees are exposed to cooler temperatures and shorter days. The period of time when the thermometer drops below 45 degrees is referred to as “chilling hours.” Different varieties of apple trees require different numbers of chilling hours. Without the required number of hours, buds — and, therefore, fruit — will not develop properly. Our coastal area receives less than 300 hours of the required chill temperature, so trees classified as “low chill” are desirable.

You’d think with all the rain, the snails and slugs would have been a problem this year. They love our cool climate. But this year, they seem to have “taken a breather.” Evidently, the summer has been too warm and dry for the slimy creatures to play “slip and slide”! When they appear this fall, pick them off plants and drop them into a bucket of soapy water.

Another common pest here is the yellow-green black-spotted beetles. We had our share this year. The western spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) can reduce a zucchini leaf to a webbed skeleton in hours and make poppy petals disappear within a day of unfurling. To control, cultivate (disturb) the soil around your plants to expose the cucumber beetle eggs. Hand-pick bugs to keep numbers in check. Remember, using insecticides also affects beneficial insects, so less is better.

With the welcome winter rain, plants in my garden appear to be generally healthier. This makes them less likely to be attacked by aphids and mites, requiring less spraying. If you have a plant that is susceptible to diseases and pests, it may simply be that its environment is not appropriate. When selecting plants, look for varieties that are recommended for our coastal environment. This will save you work and allow you to spend more enjoyable time in your garden.

Lee Oliphant’s column is special to The Cambrian. She shares her garden and chickens online at and Email her with gardening questions at

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