Letter from Suzanne Sparacio to the Lamorinda Weekly

“Dear Lamorinda Weekly,

As a Contra Costa College Biology Professor, I wanted to provide a clarification to the article “The Garden Melting Pot” published on March 13, 2024. Cynthia Brian stated “Many revered non-natives have acclimated to our soil, weather, and stressors providing food and refuge for our insects, wildlife, and birds while living in harmony with native species.” While it is true that many non-natives thrive in our ecosystem, it is not necessarily true that they live in harmony with native species. Ecosystems consist of delicate food webs with producers and consumers that have evolved together for thousands of years and non-natives can disrupt this delicate web. Some consumers only survive on a very small selection of native species. I would encourage everyone to plant as many native species as possible.”

Thanks,
Suzanne Sparacio MATSci, PhD
Moraga

https://www.lamorindaweekly.com/archive/issue1803/Letters-to-the-editor.html

Regarding Cynthia Brian’s August 19th Gardening Column in Lamorinda Weekly

I have a couple comments about this particular installment. I’m reluctant to even link to it, because some of it is just…wrong.

* Brian writes “If you planted a succulent garden earlier in the season, you don’t need to waste any water by running the irrigation system.”

This is a broad generalization that doesn’t hold true, in many instances. I’ve had clients tell me “I don’t know why that cactus died. I didn’t think they needed water.” Succulents are a deep and wide class of thousands of plants, with varying cultural needs. Most need supplemental water during the warmest months of the year, especially if they were recently planted, and/or are in containers. In mid-August we had several consecutive days of 100-plus-degree weather. Water your succulents, especially if they’re in containers. Water until it drains out the drain holes. And never plant a succulent in a pot that can’t drain.

* Later in the same piece, Cynthia states “orchids are trouble-free and undemanding. Just leave them alone, put an ice cube once a week in their container, and let them beautify your home.”

This kind of blanket statement drives me bonkers. The majority of indoor orchids like to be be very wet, then very dry, for the most part. The ice cube fallacy can kill orchids. Take your indoor orchids to the sink when they’re dry, and let the water run through them and drain out completely. Then let them dry out a bit, preferably outside, where there’s a breeze. If the nights are below 45 degrees, don’t leave indoor orchids outside. Never let an orchid sit in a saucer full of water, and no plant is going to benefit from having ice-cold water dribble across a small area of its rootball. Oh, and if your orchid was potted in soil when you bought it (as are most mass-market plants sold at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Home Depot, and the like), it will nearly certainly benefit from being repotted in bark, and fertilized regularly during the growing season.

As with any plant, think “nuance”. What’s best for one species (or family of plants) doesn’t necessarily work for others. Beware of general plant-care advice. If in doubt, research the particular plant online. Find out where it’s native, and what the conditions are like in its native habitat. If you have any questions, email me via the Contact link over there on the top right. I’m happy to help.