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Get ready for Saturday’s UC Davis Arboretum public plant sale

Check the inventory, plan your purchases – then become a member

The flowers explain why the mutabilis rose is also called the butterfly rose.

The flowers explain why the mutabilis rose is also called the butterfly rose. Kathy Morrison

Three entire years – that’s how long it's been since the public could shop a UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery plant sale in person. 

This incredibly popular and plant-packed sale returns Saturday, Oct. 22, at 9 a.m. If you plan to go, be ready for a crowd – and bring a shopping list! 

Only members of Friends of the Arboretum were able to shop at this fall’s first sale, on Oct. 1. And during the depths of the pandemic, when everything was shut down, the Teaching Nursery staff developed a wonderful online sale website that included curbside pickup, usually with nursery manager Taylor Lewis doing the plant loading. So we still had a reliable source for Arboretum All-Stars, California natives and more salvias than any salvia-lover (me included) could imagine.

But the plant sale in person is not only a fundraiser for the nursery, it’s also a joyous celebration of gardening. Garden experts are on hand to answer questions or make suggestions, plus there often is live music as well as children’s activities.

The Arboretum folks have put together some great tips on shopping the plant sale, which you can find here.

They’ve also updated the Arboretum Nursery map, and they offer several ways to access the list of plants. Warning: The list is 63 pages long, so don’t expect to upload the entire thing to your phone.

If you see a plant listed that sounds good but you’re not sure what it looks like, pop over to the Plant Sale Gallery. Not every plant has a photo, but you can, for example, determine which yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has darker pink flowers, ‘Island Pink’ or ‘Rosa Maria.’ (It’s the latter, to my eyes.)  That’s important because in fall not everything is in bloom, and this allows specificity for that shopping list. One-gallon plants generally are $11 to $14, and 3-inch pots are $6; trees and some shrubs are in 3-gallon pots and cost more. 

Yes, write a list of plants you’re seeking. You won’t wind up buying everything, since some plants sell out almost immediately, but at least you’ll have names to work with. Also write down the bed number of your intended purchases. That “Rosa Maria” yarrow is at Bed A14, and there will be 21 of the plants at the start of the day, so chances of snagging one are good.

Note: There is NO milkweed listed for this sale, so be disappointed now. I’ve bought some here in the past. But there will be blueberry plants – 4-inch pots of the ‘Sunshine Blue’ variety, which does well in our area. (I have two.)  Check Bed A11.

Here are a few of the treasures I’ve found at the Arboretum Nursery over the years. I’m not looking to add to mine, but they are on the list for this sale:

– Mutabilis butterfly rose. The cover girl for this blog post, this old garden rose is an Arboretum All-Star even more carefree than those commercial shrub roses. It’s gorgeous to boot; the blossoms change color with age. It will be found at Bed A13, and there will be 35 of them in 1-gallon pots.

– Biokova cranesbill (Geranium × cantabrigiense 'Biokovo'). This true geranium was the happy solution to a dry shade area of my front garden. I’ve bought a few over the years, and they’ve spread to fill in a 4-by-4-by-4-foot triangle. They’re all green and happy now, and in spring they produce the sweetest pale pink flowers. The sale will have 100 of them in 3-inch pots.

– Pineapple sage. Head to A12 to find this fall bloomer. The six regular Salvia elegans and the 25 ‘Scarlet Pineapple’ cultivars may well be showing off their bright red flowers at the event, which means they’ll go fast. Pollinators love this plant, which is another low-water user.

– Pineapple guava. What is it with plants that are named after pineapple? Acca sellowiana (Feijoa sellowiana)  is another Arboretum All-Star. It can be shaped as a tree or a shrub, and produces beautiful red and white flowers. Go to Bed A11 and pick up two of the 1-gallon plants if you want them to produce fruit. The sale inventory lists 25 of them.

– Autumn Fire stonecrop (Hylotelephium 'Autumn Fire'). I came late to the succulent trend; this was my first and still favorite. Bees and lady beetles love it, and the flowers – which go from pink to bronze to deep red – are so pretty. They’ll be at Bed C11 – 71 of them in 3-inch pots. Hmmm, I might have to buy another.

Have fun Saturday and be patient! The region’s gardeners have pent-up plant-buying passion, so you might have to wait for a cart or wagon. Be nice to all those friendly student volunteers, too.

And if you’re not a member of Friends of the Arboretum, what are you waiting for? New members get a coupon for $10 off their purchase, and all members get a 10 percent discount at all the sales. Information on memberships can be found here.

Previous posts related to UC Davis Arboretum plant sales:

How the Friends of the Arboretum came to be

With no in-person sales, UC Davis Arboretum Nursery is very full

Find more water-wise plants at UC Davis Arboretum sale


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For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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