Thursday, October 8, 2015

Permaculture Plants: Rubber Rabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseosa

Rubber Rabbitbrush (Chamisa)
Ericameria nauseosa (Chrysothamnus nauseosus)
Asteraceae (Compositae)

This is the primary source of golden-yellow in much of the west during the late summer and early fall. When it is not blooming many people mistake it for sagebrush, but once you take a good look at the flowers it is hard to make that mistake again.

Growing Conditions

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-7, maybe higher. Similar width

Drought Tolerance: Very good

Soil: Best on well drained alkali soils, but flexible with other soils

Light: Full sun

Native Range: From North Dakota south to Texas and all points west. 

Potentially Invasive

Permaculture and Homesteading Uses

Yellow Die: A very warm yellow gold yarn can be made using Rabbitbrush.

Pioneer Plant: brush is an aggressive pioneer plant at home in rough and tumble roadside areas as well as any other disturbed area. If this does not grow in you area it is because your conditions are to nice for it or because it has never been tried. Use this plant in areas regions where it is already established because it will push out other pioneer plants in places it is not native to.

Soil Builder: When the leaves fall they build up in piles under the plant and enrich the soil. When the soil becomes sufficiently enriched Rabbitbrush will often dieback and give its position to more delicate and slower growing plants. 

Late Honeybee Finisher: Rabbitbrush is one of the latest blooming plants available in its home range. The honey is said to be strong and an acquired taste, but most beekeepers have already harvested by the time it blooms so it usually gets left to the bees. 

Nutrient accumulator: Since there are few roots near the surface there is an excellent chance Rabbitbrush is a top notch nutrient accumulator.


Flowers: Golden-yellow, late August through October

Leaves: Dusty gray or dusty green, narrow and long--resembling a rabbit's ear, deciduous to semi deciduous 

Size: 1-8' tall

Roots: Deep with few feeder roots near the surface

Fruit: Achine

Pests: Nothing serious known


Used as a medicinal tea, yellow die, chewing gum.


This is a tough plant for tough areas and so common it is nearly invisible to many people that pass it every day. This is surprising because as an ornamental it has drop dead color and needs very little maintenance. Rabbitbrush can be made into a high grade rubber, but it is not cost effective at this time.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Permaculture Plants!

With the advent of cheap energy the only two branches of design that retain their regional requirements are agriculture and horticulture. As a subset of these, permaculture suffers from the legitimate need to fill more plant niches than traditional horticulture and agriculture have plants for.

Many writers have given lists that are expected to fill the international hunger for more information, but all of these lists fail by including so many plants that it is impossible to sort out what works in your area, or the list plants that are simple not going to work with your soil and climate.

This is a series of permaculture plant posts for my home and county, but those in Utah and the surrounding states will find many of the plants in the series useful for permaculture and homesteading.

The first in the series will be posted later this week. To get the whole series enter Permaculture Plants into the search box in the upper right. I will try to make each plant in the series searchable by the most used common names and botanical names.

I hope this will become a useful tool for all my gardening and permaculture friends in the region. Good luck and let me know how well these plants work for you!


Friday, September 25, 2015

Powdery Mildew in the Fall

Late summer and early fall bring a lot of changes that are frustrating to a gardener. In particular this year I have seen folks worried about late season powdery mildew on many of their plants. While powdery mildew can be a big problem when it attacks plants early in the year, later in the year it is simply a part of the overall changes in the seasons.

Some organic gardeners recommend spraying with milk or other treatments, I say that late in the year you just need to accept change and let autumn come. Besides, the best use for milk in the fall is turning it into a hot cup of cocoa to sip while you watch the colors change!


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Late Summer Sick Trees

Do you know what is ailing your tree in late summer?

This time of year I always get a few questions about sick trees, often times they were planted within the previous year. Sometimes the conversation goes like this:

Me: When did you notice the problem?
Client: Oh, for a while.
Me: Beginning of September?
Client: Yea, I guess so.
Me: What tells you the tree is sick?
Client: The leaves don't look right.
Me: What color are they?
Client: Kinda yellow and maybe some red. I guess there is some brown around the edges of the leaves.
Me: Are there spots or anything that might look like a fungus or infection?
Client: I mean the leaves are really sick looking, but there are no spots.
Me: I think I know what is causing the problem.
Client: Really? You didn't even look at the tree!
Me: You know I am good at what I do, don't you?
Client: Come on, please just help me. I don't want to lose my tree!
Me: Ok, your tree is having an onset of Early Autumn.
Client: What?
Me: Your tree is going dormant early. Some trees do it quicker than others. Some are a little stressed, but they got everything they needed in the summer, so they are turning color early. They will be fine.
Client: Are you sure they don't need to be sprayed or something?
Me: No they are fine.
Client: Could you come and look at them anyway?
Me: Sure, at my usual rate.
Client: What is that again?
Me: $100 an hour. One hour minimum.
Client: I'll let you know if things get worse.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fight Orchard Pests with Flower Power!

A parasitoid wasp. Most of these wasps are under a quarter-
of-an-inch and none are able to sting humans.

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago and he told me that he never sprays his apple trees, but he regularly has 25% of his apples worm free. He didn't know why, but I have a pretty good idea what is preventing his apples from being damaged.

My friend lives on his old family farm in Lehi, Ut and it is full of "weeds" that are left unsprayed and usually un-mowed. These feral plants feed all comers including small parasitoidal wasps. These wasps lay eggs on a number of pests, including apple codling moths. When the eggs hatch they start eating the pests.

This is not a perfect system, but it is a sensible way to have better fruit with no added chemicals. And you don't need to live on a farm to make it work! All you need is to plant more flowers.  Not all flowers are created the same and some flowers will do more to attract predators.

Below is a list of some of the more useful plants for attracting parasitiod wasps. They are all readily available in seed or plant form at your local nursery or on line.

Scientific Name Common Name Growth Type
Achillea spp. Yarrow Perennial
Agastache foeniculum Anise hyssop Perennial
Artemisia spp. Wormwood, sagebrush Perennial
Aster spp. Aster Perennial
Astragalus spp. Vetch Perennial
Baptisia spp. False indigo Perennial
Bellis perennis English daisy Perennial
Borago officinalis Borage Annual, reseeding
Caragana spp. Peashrub  Shrub
Chamaemelum nobile Roman, English chamomile Perennial
Chrysogonum virginianum Green and gold Perennial
Coreopsis spp. Tickseed Perennial
Echinacea purpurea Purple cone flower Perennial
Foeniculum vulgare Fennel Perennial
Helianthus spp. Sunflower, Sunchoke Annual, perennial
Lupinus spp. Lupine Annual, perennial
Medicago satvia Alfalfa Perennial
Robinia hispida Rosa acacia Shrub
Robinia pseudoacacia Black locust Tree
Solidago spp. Goldenrod Perennial
Trifolium spp. Sweet clover Biennial

The best places to plant these plants is as need your orchard area as possible. In the case of the annuals and perennials, planting them under and around the fruit trees is best. If that is not possible, a flower bed near the trees would be the next best thing.

It will take a few years to start attracting wasps, so be patient and take the time to work with nature. Any other flowers, especially perennials, are likely to help, so feel free to add more flowers and flowerbeds to your property. All the good critters will love you for it.