On the verge of spring?
Written for the Davis Enterprise, Feb. 21, 2002
The weather has been great, with sunny days and pretty cumulus clouds scudding across the sky. Each day is warmer, and people (and bugs!) are coming out! We're already spotting shorts and tank-tops. A customer asked recently: is this a "false spring?" Probably not in terms of frost
we hardly ever get a frost after Valentines Day. But, of course, last year we got one on April 8! [and two weeks after this was published we had a hard frost on March 8] That was unusual, the latest ever here, so hopefully we really are just on the edge of spring.
So its time to plan
.and within just a few weeks its time to plant
your summer garden. Gardeners are always looking ahead a season or two
what peppers or tomatoes will you be harvesting in August? What worked last year? Do you want to cut flowers this summer? Does your kid want to grow pumpkins or sunflowers?
When it feels like spring, we get lots of questions
is it too early to plant? Can I move my rose bush? Is this the best time to plant Citrus? Can I reseed my lawn now, or plant a whole new lawn now? Is it ok to prune shrubs now?
The answers? When your soil is workable, you can plant most plants. Workable means when you can dig your soil without it sticking together in big globs: it should crumble, or at least fall apart. Prune your rosebush hard, dig it up and move it quicklythis weekend!--before it pushes more new growth. Citrus can be planted anytime weather is warm, early March until October. Reseed or plant your lawn from March through early May; just be sure to water frequently while the seeds are germinating. Most shrubs can be pruned now, but its important to know where or whether the plant will resprout. If there are growth buds on the hard wood the plant will respond with vigorous new growth: Pittosporum tobira is a good example. Coniferous evergreens such as Junipers have few of these growth buds on the lower stems, so severe pruning of them leads to dieback and a very unsightly plant.
The vegetable garden.
Tomatoes and peppers are first on every vegetable gardener's list. Avid gardeners are already sprouting their favorite varieties from seed indoors in sunny windows. Move the seedlings outside every day and set them in partial sun to get sturdier plants, then back indoors every night for warmth. If you havent started your own seedlings, dont worry: there will be plenty available to buy in just a few weeks. The seedlings want the soil to be warm before they go in the ground. Night temperatures should be consistently above 50F; 55F for peppers and eggplants.
It's easy to heat your soil if you want to plant a little earlier. Build raised planters, and fill them with good soil; elevated soil warms up quickly. Adding compost enriches the soil and starts the heat-producing process of composting right where you will transplant your seedlings. Spread clear plastic over the soil to magnify the suns rays. Or you can buy Walls-of-Water
plastic tubes rings with individual tubes that you fill with water and set up around your seedling. The suns rays magnify through the water tubes and significantly heat up the soil and the air around the plant, just like a little greenhouse. They really work--you can plant the heat-loving summer vegetables several weeks early, and be the first on your block to harvest tomatoes or peppers!
Build your soil for flowers or vegetables by adding organic material and slow-acting fertilizers! If you dont make compost, you can buy great products to add humus to your soil. Thanks to new technology, many high-quality bagged composts and fertilizers now include mycorrhizal fungi. Adding fungus to your soil? Yes! These tiny endo- and ecto- parasitic fungi grow on the roots of your plants and help them to use soil nutrients more efficiently. An inch or so of any good compost, turned in to a shovel's depth, will make a big difference.
Never planted a vegetable garden before? What would your family use? How much space do you have?
If space is limited, plant a tomato or two, a couple of peppers, and some basil, and youll have enough produce to enhance your salads, make some sauces, salsas, or fresh pesto. Ask about reliable varieties for our climate. Early Girl and Celebrity tomatoes, and Bell Boy and Gypsy peppers are some we wouldnt be without. Serious cooks should plant a half-dozen tomatoes, a dozen peppers of different types, and several kitchen herbs. One or two squash plants are probably enough for any family. If you have room, plant the fun stuff like corn, pumpkins, or melons, but these do take space to produce enough for a family. Sunflowers are a fun addition to any summer garden, are easy for kids to plant, and attract hummingbirds.
Take action now to prevent weeds this year and next.
Install mulch and/or apply pre-emergent herbicides to prevent summer weeds. Most of those that sprouted last fall are about to flower and seed. Chop, mow, spray, or rototill them now--in just a few weeks they'll have seeded next year's crop. Get your weeds identified before beginning any control strategy, so you will know whether they multiply primarily by seed or from roots and bulbs. There are a few that are "noxious"nutsedge, bindweed, and bermudagrassand these all propagate vegetatively, so chopping or rototilling actually increases them.
Flowers for spring and summer.
Starved for color? Need a quick fix? The workhorses of the winter and spring garden are primroses and primulas, pansies and violas, and Cyclamen. These will all bloom for at least two more months, and are known for vivid colors and profuse bloom. Coral bells and Columbine are perennials which can be planted now from young starts for blooms in April and May, and will bloom again for several years.
You can start planting summer annuals as soon as the weather warms more reliably, usually in mid-March. Impatiens and fibrous Begonias for the shade; Lobelia, marigolds and Petunias for sunny areas. Wait until the nights are reliably warm to plant the real heat-lovers: annual vinca, Cosmos, Verbena, and morningglory, among others. These suffer if planted in cool soil.
Finally, there are bulbs that we plant now for summer flowers
Gladiolus, Dahlias, and more. Tuberous Begonias give dramatic flowers and Caladiums have bright-colored leaves; both do well in partial or dappled shade. Lilies are my wifes favorites, with their wonderful fragrance and elegance. They are surprisingly easy to grow if you enrich the soil and plant them in light shade. Tuberose have a special, haunting scent and love warmth. Many of these spring-planted bulbs are easy, long-lasting garden plants.
Take a quick look at your yard, make a map of the space available, start preparing your soil, and find out what does well in this area. Ask a California Certified Nursery Professional. Then you'll be ready to garden when the days and nights really warm up.
© 2008 Don Shor, Redwood Barn Nursery, Inc., 1607 Fifth Street, Davis, Ca 95616
Feel free to copy and distribute this article with attribution to this author.
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