Monthly Gardening Tips

Monthly Gardening Tips

This section of our website has gardening tips for each month of the year in the San Fernando Valley area. Topics include general maintenance, pruning, pest control, transplanting, using seeds, soil amendments, vegetable gardening, fruit trees, Calfornia native plants and indoor plants. The information was gathered over the years by our Horticulture Chairmen and published in our monthly newsletter.


Click on one of the following links to go to the month of interest:

JAN   FEB    MAR   APR    MAY   JUN    JUL   AUG    SEPT   OCT    NOV   DEC


JANUARY GARDENING TIPS
(Excerpts from past issues of our “Garden Gate” Newsletter)

General Maintenance includes keeping a watch for cold, clear, windless nights when frost damage may occur. Water just enough to keep roots barely moist and cover plants susceptible to frost damage. Do not prune or fertilize frost damaged plants, wait until warmer weather to avoid further damage. The garden is in its dormant stage so other than transplanting, gardening chores are limited to pruning, applying dormant sprays and spreading soil amendments. Do not dig when soil is saturated as it will just compact the soil. Rake up fallen leaves and petals under shrubs and dispose in trash to avoid over wintering pests.

Pruning is the biggest task this month and next. Roses need their dead, damaged and crossing branches pruned first. Then prune the remaining canes by one half to one third. Make the cuts just above an outward facing bud. If you prune back lightly they will bloom again in six weeks. Cut back perennials such as Japanese anemones, perennial marigolds, Russian sage and other summer and fall bloomers almost to the ground. Prune mums back to six inches and keep pinching them back every month so that they do not become leggy. To prevent spreading disease from one plant to another, disinfect your pruning shears with rubbing alcohol frequently and clean blades of sticky sap before moving to another bush or tree. Prune grape vines after all leaves have fallen.

Spraying – to minimize next summer's problems such as scale, spider mites, peach leaf curl, you should spray with a relatively safe spray such as horticultural oil combined with lime sulfur or fixed copper. Check with your local nursery for dormant sprays to use on roses, peaches, nectarines and apricots. Each will require a little different formula to rid the plants of over wintering pests and fungus diseases. Choose a day when the temperature stays above 40 degrees and the wind is calm.

Transplanting - look for bare root roses, and cane berries and grapes this month to get best selection. This is the last good month to plant drought tolerant plants so they will be well established before our summer heat arrives. Plant cole crops up to the first set of leaves. Other vegetables to transplant are artichokes, chard, garlic, leeks, lettuce, green and bulb onions and savoy spinach.

Seeds: If you have bare spots in your garden sow seeds of eschscholzia California or California poppies to fill the space with bright, cheerful spring color in a couple of months. Start peppers and tomatoes indoors toward the end of the month. Other seeds to start indoors are broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chives, coriander, dill , fennel, lettuces, spinaches, curly-leafed parsley, sage, thyme, tarragon, oregano and mint.

Soil Amendments: After pruning your roses give them a “rose cocktail” for more beautiful roses. For each bush use 1 cup gypsum, 1 tablespoon soil sulfur, 1 tablespoon chelated iron and 1 tablespoon magnesium sulfate (sold as Epsom salt at pharmacies). Mix together and scatter around the base of each plant and rake into the soil. Rain and irrigation will do the rest. To keep soil from compacting in the rain, apply three inches of mulch to your garden beds. It will help retain moisture, keep the weeds down, insulate plants against the cold and break down slowly to add nutrients to the soil. Fertilize bearded iris. Control or change the color of your hydrangeas once they are three years old by applying ½ oz. aluminum sulfate per gallon of water for blue flowers or superphosphate for pink flowers.

Fruits: There are varieties of blueberries for southern climates. Choose those with a low-chill rating such as Georgia Gem, Misty (early spring fruit), Sunshine Blue (summer fruit) and plant in morning sun with dappled afternoon shade and plant either in the ground or in a container is acidic soil such as azalea-camellia planting mix. Keep moist and feed with half strength azalea type fertilizer.

Ornamentals: Plant camellias now when you can see what the blossoms look like. Cool season annuals such as calendulas, candy tuft, cyclamen, dianthus, snapdragons and pansies planted now will give you plenty of spring color. Fertilize about two weeks after planting using a fast acting, soluble fertilizer which is high in nitrogen. Continue planting spring bulbs every few weeks to extend the blooming season. Look for anemones, daffodils and freesias to plant in groups of 3 to 5 for color spots in your garden.

Indoor Plants are exposed to the dry air from heaters during the winter. Group them together, mist or set on trays filled with a layer of pebbles covered by water to increase humidity. This is a good time to repot houseplants that have become root bound. Choose a container that is 2 inches larger and make sure there is good drainage by placing a layer of pebbles on the bottom of the pot.

California Native Plants: Water if there is little or no rain during the month. A few weeks of dry weather can seriously damage the growth of new native plants. Patrol your native plants and pull weeds before they grow large. Prune deciduous plants and take semi-hardwood cuttings to propagate new plants. Toyon, manzanita, grape and coyote bush can be pruned in January. What's in bloom? Many manzanitas, ceanothus, sugarbush, currants, sages, heucheras and goldenstars add color to your winter garden while providing food for birds and butterflies.

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FEBRUARY GARDENING TIPS
(Excerpts from our club newsletter, The Garden Gate)

General Maintenance: Snails and slugs are active this time of year. Keep bait in places like ivy beds and flower borders. If you haven't spread mulch around shrubs, trees and bedding plants do it now to prevent weeds from sprouting. Leave an “air gap” around the trunk of all plants of 2 or 3 inches so the mulch doesn't cause a problem. If you have frost damage hold off pruning until later in March in case a late frost hits. Pull weeds now while small before they develop flowers and seeds. Moisten the soil the day before to make it easier to pull up the entire root system. Be on the look out for signs of immature grasshoppers and treat the area quickly to reduce damage later in the season. In two or three weeks the adults will lay eggs for bigger populations of destructive pests. Keep lawns mowed. Slow growth doesn't mean mowing isn't needed. The grass will go into shock if more than 25 percent of its new growth is mowed at one time. Keep mower blades sharp--raggedly-cut grass blades die back and invite diseases.

Spraying: The last time you use dormant spray is critical this month. Watch your plants and spray when the buds begin to swell and before the blossoms open.

Pruning: Finish pruning roses, deciduous fruit trees, grape and wisteria vines, and woody summer and fall blooming shrubs. Do it before they bud out. Prune fuchsias lightly to shape them before they leaf out. Do the heavy pruning after they've completely leafed out later this spring. Prune avocados and citrus before flowers emerge. Remove strong, upright growth and keep height to 8 – 10 feet. Prune poinsettias.

Transplanting:
Plant ground covers this month to give them time to establish strong root systems before hot weather arrives. If you need a shade tree this is a good month to plant one. Plant bare root fruit trees, berries and asparagus this month. Water them if it doesn't rain. Choose plants with All American designation which are adapted to a variety of conditions or look for plants specifically suited for your location and type of soil.

Soil Amendments: Scatter a low value fertilizer over mulch such as 6-6-6 for rainwater to dissolve into the soil. This month fertilize groundcovers, shrubs, perennials, trees and other permanent plants with a slow-release fertilizer such as bone meal, cottonseed meal, blood meal or well rotted manure to give them consistent and gradual nutrients for the season. Hold off on feeding roses until new growth appears. Feed rhizomes with superphosphate to insure good blooms. Feed azaleas and camellias when they stop blooming.

Seeds: Sow ageratums, alyssum, asters, baby-blue-eyes, baby's breath, bachelor's buttons (cornflower), calendulas, campanulas (canterbury bells), candytuft, carnations, clarkias (godetia), coreopsis, columbines, coralbells, cosmos, African daisies (gazania) and Shasta daisies, delphiniums, dianthus, forget- me-nots, foxgloves, hollyhocks, impatiens, larkspur, linaria, lobelia, lunaria (honesty, money plant, silver dollar plant), lupines, marigolds, morning glories, nasturtiums, nemesia, pansies, petunias, phlox, California and Shirley poppies, salvia, scabiosa (pincushion flower), snapdragons, stocks, strawflowers (helichrysum), sweet peas, sweet williams, verbena, violas, and wildflowers. Don't over plant. Limit yourself to the amount of space and number of plants you are able to care for. Also, try something new to increase your gardening skills. Then you will enjoy your hard work during the spring months.

Fruits:
Feed deciduous fruit trees two to three weeks before they start blooming. Spray avocados with water from the hose to increase fruit set.

Vegetables: How heavy is your soil? There are different carrot varieties for various soils. Heavy soil – plant short, stubby carrots. Looser, sandy soil – choose the longer tapered ones. Transplant artichoke and asparagus crowns and rhubarb rhizomes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, horseradish, kale, leeks, lettuce, onions, peas, and spinach. If the soil is still waterlogged, gently dig the hole, position the plant, and gently gather the soil around the plant's roots. Water just enough to resettle the soil around the roots. This will result in the least compaction of the soil.

Ornamentals: Plant summer bulbs now, especially gladiolus to better avoid thrips. Make a succession of planting every two weeks for a longer bloom period. Other bulbs like lilies, callas, cannas, dahlia, caladium and elephant ears, gloxinia, tigridia, tuberous begonias and tuberose are also available at nurseries.

Indoor Plants: Give your houseplants a new year's bath. Their leaves need to be cleaned of dust and other residue. Set them in the sink or bathtub and sponge off the leaves. Trim where necessary and give them a good drink. In a day or two you can fertilize them.

California Native Plants: Lightly prune natives that have finished blooming. Groundcovers and perennials should be pruned now before the spring growth. Yarrow and some sages will look better after pruning. Cut the Matilija poppies down to about 10 to 12 inches high and mow back the California fuchsias. Top off any mulching to keep the rains from beating the soil into hardened surfaces. Mulching will also keep out weeds. Control pests such as earwigs and snails. This is a good month to propagate barberry, Matilija poppies and the Oregon grape. Sow seeds just before a forecast of rain. Scratch the soil lightly with a rake, broadcast the seeds and then tamp down the soil. Look for blooms on woodland strawberries, wakerobins, early western columbines, baby blue-eyes and the Ray Hartman ceanothus.
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MARCH GARDENING TIPS
(Excerpts from past issues of our “Garden Gate” Newsletter)

Roses: Use systemic rose and flower food to control aphids and provide food for the plants. Fertilize them as soon as they turn green. Many rosarians are using alfalfa meal to encourage cane growth. Spread a three inch layer of mulch around the base leaving about one inch space between the rootstock and the mulch.

Camelias and Azaleas: We are just about in the middle of their season. They are best planted while in flower or just before. The soil needs to be amended with as much as 50 to 65% of volume of amendments to the soil, somewhat less for camelias. They thrive in acidic soils.

Fruit Trees: Begin thinning fruit on apple and other stone fruit trees when fruit is about ½ inch long. Space fruit 4 to 6 inches apart and leave one fruit per spur.

Vegetable Garden: Early in the month plant onions, leeks and garlic for summer harvest. You can still plant seeds for beets, lettuce, cilantro, radishes and carrots. Put out plants of broccoli, mustard and Swiss chard. Wait until late in the month or April to set out tomato plants.

Lawns: This is a good month to renovate the lawn. Be sure fertilizing, weed and pest control are part of the program. We are facing water rationing this spring and summer so consider converting an area of your lawn into flower beds requiring less water or investigate planting Blue gramma grass or Buffalo grass in part of the area which only require about 15” of yearly rainfall once established. The University of California has developed a blue grama grass for the coastal regions of California called UC Verde which has a dense turf of soft, bright-green, very fine leaf blades. It stays greener later into the fall and greens up earlier in the spring than other varieties.

Spring Flowering Shrubs: About mid-month you can start pruning flowering shrubs and small trees when the blooms are finished. Check under the leaf canopy for sucker growth which are branches that sprout from the roots. Cut them off with sharp clippers because they sap the energy from the plant. As a rule of thumb, remove no more than one-third of the growth when shaping the plant.

Fuchsias: Prune fuchsias after the last frost has passed. Prune hard – 50 to 80% - because they only bloom on new wood. Clean cut all little branches then begin feeding them with a balanced liquid fertilizer. Keep pinching the new growth each week to keep them from blooming until about May. This lets the branch continue growing for more blooms.

Bulbs: You can continue planting summer flowering bulbs. Over plant with annuals to cover the drying leaves later on to keep the flower bed attractive.

Pests: Aphids flourish in the cool, warming weather so check your plants on a regular basis. You can blast them off with water, use an insecticidal soap or strip then off by hand. (Use rubber gloves if you are squeamish.)

California Natives: California natives signal spring as your fall seed plantings burst into bloom. You can extend the show by sewing annuals for summer bloom. Sew bird's eye gilia in dry open areas and baby blue-eyes where they will get watered. California poppies, elegant clarkia and globe gilia are easy to germinate and will establish themselves if allowed to go to seed. Spring planting needs regular water to germinate the seeds and to help the seedlings mature. If you water mature plants occasionally, it will keep them healthy. The soil is still soft from winter rains and hand weeding will still pull up the roots of weeds. Should the roots not come up at least cut weeds to the ground to prevent them from going to seed. Prune lightly by pinching back growth to shape plants and prevent bare woody branches on shrubs such as ceanothus, coffeeberry, wax myrtle, redbud and dogwood. Remove any dead or diseased wood. Warm season grasses should be cut back anytime in the spring for a soft look for the rest of the year.
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APRIL GARDENING TIPS
(Excerpts from our past Garden Gate newsletters)

Tomatoes: April is a good time to start planting tomatoes in our area. There are two kinds of tomatoes – determinate, which require only short stakes or wire cages and include Pearson Improved, Ace, Celebrity, Roma and Patio and indeterminate which need more support but give you lots of tomatoes such as Better Boy, Big Boy, Golden Boy, Beefsteak, Beefmaster, Champion, and Husky Red. Plant a different variety every few weeks starting with Early Girl to have tomatoes until late in the year.
        Dig a deep hole to plant the seedlings, deep enough to leave only 3 to 4 inches above ground. Mix in compost, vegetable fertilizer and worm castings, take off all leaves that would be below the surface and bury the plant in the hole. Give the plants a deep soaking to encourage roots to grow down. You will have delicious tomatoes in about 3 months. This is also a good time to plant peppers, eggplants, zucchini and other squashes.) Put a layer of mulch around the new plantings to conserve water.

Citrus:
Apply chelated iron to citrus, azaleas and camellias to keep those leaves green. Keep a monthly schedule of applying citrus food for a bountiful crop later in the year.

Roses: To keep your roses blooming and healthy, cut off spent blossoms just above an outward facing, healthy 5 part leaf and strip off any yellow leaves. Fertilize after each bloom cycle. Control powdery mildew on roses and other plants by spraying with one tablespoon of baking soda and one tablespoon of canola oil in one gallon of water. Check the leaves, especially underneath, for sawfly larvae or other chewing insects. Use a garden spray with Spinosad which is not harmful to beneficial insects once it dries.

Summer Flowers: Plant flowers this month for summer color. Long lasting varieties for our area are impatiens, salvias, cosmos, dusty miller, French marigolds, gloriosa daisy, petunias, zinnias, nasturtiums, alyssum, golden fleece, portulaca and vinca rosa. Select plants that are not in bloom because they will adapt to transplanting easier. Prepare the soil by digging in some peat moss or compost and adding a fertilizer such as 5-10-5. Set young plants into the ground about 8 to 12 inches apart. After planting, water almost every day for the first few weeks then once a week soaking is adequate. Also remember to mulch, mulch, mulch to conserve water.

Lawns: Feed all lawns this month and water well after feeding to encourage deep rooting. Set your mower blade high enough to allow the blades of grass to shade the roots to conserve water.

Azaleas: This is the best month to plant azaleas because they are in bloom which means the roots are dormant. Plant in partial shade and if at all possible, water with a drip system to keep roots evenly moist. Also start a monthly feeding schedule for your hibiscus until this fall.

Spring Bulbs: Feed iris with low nitrogen, high potassium, high phosphorus fertilizer (2-10-10) to encourage bloom. Protect them from snails and slugs. Cut the flower stem off other bulb plants when finished blooming but leave the leaf part until brown. This is how the plant regenerates for next season. You could braid the leaves and plant annuals nearby to detract from the brown leaves.

California Natives: California natives are most attractive this month and this is a great month to tour native plant gardens and visit botanical gardens to see what natives look like in full bloom. Take a camera and small note pad to record the names of plants that you would like to try in your garden. Walk through your own garden daily to check for aphids on new growth (blast them off with the hose), check the moisture in your soil and pinch off dead blooms. If dry, deep soak the area and space out watering to encourage deep root growth. Frequent, light sprinkling encourages weeds to grow. Sow seeds for warm season grasses – blue gramma, deer grass, purple threeawn and Diego bentgrass. Mature blue gramma and field sedge grass clumps may be divided this month.
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MAY GARDENING TIPS
(Excerpts from The Garden Gate, our club newsletter)


Vegetables: You can continue to plant tomatoes and other warm weather vegetables such as beans, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplants, squash and peppers. Add more mulch if needed to conserve moisture.

Fruit trees: Now is the best time to plant citrus trees as they do most of their growing in the spring. Keep fertilizing once a month. Check apple, peach, apricot and nectarine crops. If there are too many fruits per limb, thin out to one every 4 or 5 inches to increase size and health of the crop. Build a basin around tree out to branch line and deep water once or twice a month.

Subtropicals: Prune back leggy subtropicals such as brugmansia, hibiscus, lantana and princess flower by as much as one half to improve shape and increase flowering.

Perennials: Plant chrysanthemums now using small plants. Pinch off the top to force it to make low branches. Also plant summer and fall bloomers like asters, coreopsis, daylilies, Shasta daisies, salvia, penstemon, pentas and purple coneflower for continued color through the warm weather seasons. Divide and replant iris clumps that have become overcrowded. Keep the weeds pulled before seeds are formed and use mulch to help prevent new weeds from sprouting.

Soil Improvement: Compost, worm castings and well rotted manure keep your soil healthy and plants thriving. As the soil warms up in the spring, microbes become more active to convert organic materials and natural minerals into nutrients plants can readily take up into their system. There is a compost tea called Soil Soup which will boost the population of beneficial active microbes in your soil.

Pest Control: The warmer days seem to encourage pests of all kinds. There are many organic methods to control pests without destroying the food sources for birds and killing all the beneficial insects. For ants set out some boric acid mixed with corn syrup, jelly or something sweet in a small bowl. Invert a flower pot over it to keep pets away and refill for two weeks to allow the ants to take it back to their nests. For fire ants try blending fresh orange peels and water until syrupy and pour into their hole on a hot summer day. Completely cover the mound so the volatile oils can “gas” the underground nest.
        Black spot, aphids and mildew can be controlled by running the tomato trimmings through a blender or food processor, squeeze out the juice through a sieve or cheesecloth and dilute by half with water. Spray on the roses.
        White fly control on citrus trees is made with 2 tablespoons of Listerine, 2 tablespoons liquid soap and 1 gallon water. Spray several times a week until control is achieved.
        Baking soda can be used to control ants by sprinkling on the dirt mound when it is damp. After one-half an hour pour a small amount of vinegar on the hill. Ants will ingest the mixture. Or get rid of backyard slugs by sprinkling baking soda on them.
        Birds are wonderful pest controls during the warm months. Many species will increase their diet with protein (insects) for their young. Set out some water for them in a shallow container about 3 or 4 feet from a shrub or small tree to attract more birds to your yard. Keep the container clean and filled with fresh water.
        Plant a moveable planter with salvias, herbs, and penstemons to attract beneficial insects. Move it around your yard when insect infestations appear and let the beneficials go to work for you.

Watering: When you plant new additions to your yard, group them with existing plants that use the same amount of water. Keep the bare dirt covered with mulch to reduce water evaporation. Water deep the first few weeks to force roots to grow deep. Remove all weeds which use up precious water. Keep improving your soil to withstand periods of intense heat and drought in the coming months. Install drip irrigation where possible. You should water early in the morning, if using sprinklers, to avoid powdery mildew infestations. Get a moisture meter and test your soil periodically to see where you can adjust irrigators to save water.

California Natives: Extend their growth this month with supplemental deep watering. Let the soil dry out between applications of water to avoid fungal problems. Leave some aging annuals – ripe seeds of California poppies, clarkias, tidy-tips and baby blue-eyes will self-sow for next spring. Ripe seeds also bring another color and delight into your garden. California quail are fond of lupines and native clovers and other birds forage on the nourishing seeds. As native annuals fade this month the native perennials burst into bloom and support the life cycles of hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Plant one or two groups of single species of natives to tempt pollinators to your garden with big swathes of color. They will find the other single flowering plants nearby. Butterflies thrive on sages, buckwheats, columbines and penstemons. Bumblebees also like these flowers plus lupines. Hummingbirds will thank you for monkeyflowers, columbines, the hummingbird sage, coral bells and Indian pink.
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JUNE GARDENING TIPS
(Excerpts from past issues of our club newsletter, The Garden Gate)

Maintenance:
Continue watering and feeding the annuals, perennials, roses, vegetables and just about everything else with a balanced fertilizer and manure tea or fish emulsion every other week or so to promote steady growth and food production. The exceptions are native and Mediterranean plants because they are entering their dormant period. Foliar sprays of liquid seaweed help trees, vegetables, fruits and ornamentals withstand heat stress. Control mosquitoes by eliminating all standing water, especially in the saucers under garden pots. Check azaleas, citrus, gardenias and hibiscus for yellowish upper leaves with green veins. This is a sign of iron deficiency and is corrected by applying chelated iron as a foliar spray or soil drench. Stake tall growing flowers unless you like the casual, draping look.

Spraying: “June gloom” creates ideal conditions for powdery mildew on roses. Either hose off the leaves early in the morning to wash off the spores or spray with 1 tablespoon each of baking soda and horticultural oil in a gallon of water. Do not spray when it gets above 85 degrees.

Lawns: If crabgrass is a problem in your lawn, treat it with selective controls available at your local nursery. Plant zoysia grass. You can use less water and still have a beautiful lawn. Water early in the morning, preferably before 7 a.m. Water deeply once a week (but not more than twice a week) to promote deep rooting and reduce evaporation. Remove a plug of grass to make sure the water is reaching below the root zone. Wait to water until the grass is a dull green color instead of bright green, and it's slightly wilted--older leaf blades will begin to fold lengthwise into a tight "V" shape. Don't fertilize heavily with nitrogen, since rapid leaf growth requires more water. Proper mowing helps grass grow deeper roots and encourages much side-branching for a thicker carpet. For perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and tall fescues, set mower height at two to three inches. For common Bermuda lawns, set it at one inch; for hybrid Bermudas, three-quarters of an inch. For St. Augustine, it should be one and a quarter inches. Keep mower blades sharp.

Perennials: Plant summer and fall bloomers like asters, coreopsis, daylilies, gloriosa daisy, saliva, penstemon, pentas, purple coneflower, and stokes aster now for strong growth. Plant mums now and start with small plants. Pinch off the top to force it to make low branches. Keep pinching all mums until after July Fourth to force more low branches. Keep bougainvillea vines on dry side to promote more intense color in the blossoms. Fertilize camelis, azaleas and fuschias with an acid based fertilizer or with cotton seed meal. Purchase and plant alstroemerias throughout summer while they are in bloom. Pinch back tips and faded blooms from alyssum, tuberous begonias, carnations, chrysanthemums, dianthus, delphiniums, fuchsias, geraniums, hydrangeas, lobelias, marguerites, and penstemons to encourage bushier growth and more flowering.

Annuals: Choose transplants that aren't root bound. Confined roots can't spread out fast enough to absorb enough moisture and nutrients to survive hot weather. Gently loosen the rootballs of transplants before planting them so roots can grow quickly into surrounding soil. Transplant seedlings close enough so that the leaves of mature plants will shade the soil between the plants. This will keep the roots cooler, and there's less evaporation and reduces the need to water frequently.

Fruits: Plant citrus trees this month. They do most of their growing in the spring, therefore now is also the time to fertilize them. Before your peaches, apricots and berries begin to ripen protect them with scare tape (shiny red-silver tape that moves in the wind). Dust grapes with sulfur for powdery mildew and bunch rot. Fruit will naturally drop small, unripened fruit. If the drop seems unusually heavy, blame it on the weather or erratic watering. A mild winter doesn't give the trees enough chill to provide a good harvest. Set up a regular watering schedule to give your trees a good soaking every three to four weeks. Thin fruit trees for larger fruits.Leave at least three inches between apricots and plums; and five inches between peaches, nectarines, pears, and apples.

Vegetables: There is still time to set out plants of cucumber, eggplant, melons, pumpkins, peppers and tomatoes. Also sow seeds of lima and snap beans, corn, cucumber, summer and winter squash. Vegetables need deep and thorough watering to reach the roots several feet below the soil surface. Side dress vegetable rows with fertilizer. Keep picking ripened vegetables to promote more flowers. Carrots, cucumbers, onions, potatoes, summer squash, and tomatoes produce the most yield. You can hand-pollinate tomatoes by flicking each bloom during the driest part of the day.

Indoor Plants: Other than African violets and their relatives, house plants can take a summer breather outdoors. Gently wash the dust from plant leaves (both upper and lower surfaces) and remove damaged foliage. Repot them with fresh potting soil or mix. Place them away from wind and direct sun on a patio or under a tree or roof overhang, and provide sufficient water during hot spells.

California Natives: Do not water during a heat wave to prevent root rot and crown rot in native plants. Instead, water the soil thoroughly and deeply and allow the soil to dry out before watering again. Check the soil down to the root ball level for dryness before deep soaking again. Watch the weather forecasts and water ahead of heat waves or Santa Ana winds. Finally, water in the morning to avoid fungal problems. This is a good month to solarize part or all of your lawn to prepare for planting natives in the fall. Check your gardening books for instructions. The most striking June bloom is the jumbo sized white flowers of the Matilija poppy. Other white flowering plants include the blue elderberry, Western azalea, mock orange and clematis. Cleveland sage and woolly blue curls brighten the garden with lavenders and blues. Red-flowered buckwheat will bloom through September, bush monkey flower and western columbine add hot colors to the garden.
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JULY GARDENING TIPS
(Information from Yvonne Savio,
www.ucdavis.edu/gardentipsforL.A.County )

Maintenance: Replenish deteriorated mulch as needed. Keep compost pile moist and turn frequently. Continue watering and feeding the garden with a balanced fertilizer and manure tea or fish emulsion every other week for steady growth and food production. Pay special attention to shallow rooted plants on hot, dry periods. Don't water overhead late in the day as this encourages diseases. Encourage birds into your garden to eat harmful insects with a constant water supply and edible seeds and berries,

Lawns: Continue to mow lawns at two or three inches height to keep grass roots shaded. Grass that is shorn too much when mown is susceptible to shock and sunburn. Also, keep your lawn mower blades sharp. Dull blades tear the grass blade edges, making the lawn more susceptible to stress and diseases.

Vegetables: Transplant basil, celery, chard, cucumbers, dill, kale, leeks, summer-maturing lettuce, okra, green onions, melons, white potatoes, pumpkins, summer savory, New Zealand spinach, and summer and winter squash. Do it in the late afternoon or evening so plants have the whole night to begin to recover before they're hit with a full day of sun and heat. Water the transplants in well and provide shade from the intense mid-day sun. Water enough to keep soil around transplants moist for at least a month until they're well-established. Mulch transplants to lessen evaporation so your irrigation water lasts longer. At the end of the month, sow carrots, celery and cole crops--broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (especially red and savoy types, which resist frost better), cauliflower, and kohlrabi. Keep the soil moist and shaded until they're up, and then gradually allow them more sun over a week's time.

Harvesting: Harvest beans, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes at least every other day to encourage further production. If onion and garlic foliage have not yet slumped and dried, stop irrigating, and bend the stalks to the ground. Allow a month or so for them to dry prior to harvest. Avoid bruising the bulbs during harvest, and let them cure in a single layer on slats or screens in a dry, well-ventilated place. They're ready to store when the foliage and outer layers are dry and papery. Store the bulbs in a cool, dry place where air can circulate. Any with soft, thick necks or bulbs that are not thoroughly dried should be used first, as they will spoil in storage. Check the stored batch once a week, and toss or use immediately any that begin to spoil.

Preserve peppers as soon as they're harvested. Quick-freeze them by slicing or dicing the whole peppers, spreading the pieces on a cookie sheet, and freezing them. Pack the frozen pieces into larger containers, and use the pieces as desired. They will lose their crispness when they've thawed, but they're fine for recipes to be cooked.

To dry chili peppers, pick them when they're deep red, and hang them in a sunny place until they're brittle. To dry other types of peppers, cut the larger ones in half or into pieces, or slit smaller-sized whole ones. Dry them until they're brittle. Store dried peppers in moisture- and vapor-proof containers in a cool, dry, dark place.

Freeze whole tomatoes for cooking later. After slight thawing, cut out the core, and squeeze from the blossom end. The pulp will emerge easily and can be used in any recipe.

Quick, thick tomato sauce can be achieved with little cooking. Puree whole, unpeeled tomatoes, and freeze the pulp in a narrow-topped container such as a plastic water jug. As it freezes, the clear liquid in the juice will separate and rise to the top of the container. When you're ready to make the sauce, remove the cap and turn the container upside down in a bowl to defrost. The clear liquid will melt before the pulp does, and the longer you allow the liquid to drain, the thicker the sauce remaining in the jug will get. Use this nutrient-rich clear liquid as a soup base.

Make a "sandwich" rack for drying fruit outdoors. Place a second rack on top of the fruit, and flip the "sandwich" each time the fruit needs to be turned. Use a single or double layer of cheesecloth to separate the fruit from the rack.

Fruits: Keep grape root zones evenly moist to assure full filling out and ripening of the grapes. Enclose whole grape clusters in paper bags for protection from birds and wasps. Excluding light will not affect the ripening or sweetening of the grapes. Water grapes and berries deeply, once a week, until harvest. Then, water once a month (twice a month during long periods of hot, dry weather). Place ripening melons onto upside down aluminum pie pans or cans to keep them off the damp soil. The reflected heat and light will help them ripen evenly and sooner than when they are shaded by foliage.

Ornamentals: Encourage repeat blooming by pinching or cutting back alyssum, coreopsis, crape myrtles, dahlias, delphiniums, dianthus, fuchsias, gaillardias, lobelia, marigolds, penstemons, petunias, rose of Sharon, salvias, and verbenas. Prune chrysanthemums and poinsettias for the last time to encourage them to bush out and keep the stems from becoming scraggly by autumn--unless you prefer a droopy or curly-stemmed display. Continue pruning spent blooms on roses weekly down to the first five-part leaf or a bit further to gently shape the plant. Then, feed lightly, and water. Water only in the mornings to reduce mildew and other disease problems.

Bulbs and Rhizomes: Dig and store spring-blooming bulbs and tubers when their foliage is completely dry. Remove excess soil and store them in a cool, dry, dark place. Dig and divide bearded iris clumps if they're crowding each other or didn't bloom too much last spring. Break off and discard the older central rhizomes that have no foliage. Let the young, healthy rhizomes dry out of the direct sun for several hours so a callous forms over the break before replanting it. On rhizomes with foliage, clip roots to two inches in length, remove individual dry leaves, and clip the rest to about an eight-inch fan. Dig compost and bone meal into the top six inches of soil. Replant the rhizomes a foot apart but deep enough only to barely cover the rhizome with soil. Water them in.

Herbs: Pinch back herbs to encourage branching, and use the clippings either fresh or dry. Their flavor is at its peak just before they flower--harvest them early in the morning after the dew has dried but before the day becomes warm and the fragrant oils dissipate. If you can smell them, it's too late; wait till the next day. Dry and store whole herb plants by using drawstring net bags from store bought apples, onions, and potatoes. Draw the string closed, and hang the bags on hooks. The netting allows air circulation but contains most dry crumbled pieces if the bag is bumped.

California Natives: California natives go dormant in the summer heat and this means the fire danger increases. Be diligent about removing dead plant material to reduce fire “fuel.” Clear away dead plants leaving their roots. Maintain the plants near your house with enough water to stay green. It would be wise to remove pepper trees, upright rosemary, greasewood pampas grass and Scotch broom which are especially flammable. Consider replanting with low growing succulents such as stonecrop and dudleya or blue-eyed grass and iris to provide space between shrubs and trees. Deadhead your perennials and pinch back shrubs. What's in bloom? Natives still provide a show with the flannel bush, mariposa lilies, sulfur buckwheat and California morning glory
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AUGUST GARDENING TIPS
(Information from Yvonne Savio,
www.ucdavis.edu/gardentipsforL.A.County )

Maintenance: When planning several hours of work in the garden, take along something to sit on and something to drink. Rest periodically and drink plenty of liquids. Paint tool handles and a foot or so of hose at nozzle ends with a bright color of exterior enamel paint so you can find them easily when they're hiding in green foliage. Toward the end of the month is the best time to begin planting your winter garden with cool season vegetables and flowers.If you're not going to have a winter garden, plant cover crops such as alfalfa, soybeans, fava beans, winter rye, and winter wheat. Till them in next spring two or three weeks before planting as "green manure" to give it time to decompose and not "burn" seeds or delicate seedling roots.

Use household baking soda to get rid of mildew in your garden. Dissolve about one-quarter ounce in a gallon of water. Spray it onto plant leaves weekly or after rain or sprinkling. The baking soda serves both as a preventative and a cure--mildew spores cannot spread or reproduce, so their development is stopped.

Red spider mites thrive in hot, dry weather. Hose them off from roses, evergreens, shrubs, and ivy. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the undersides of leaves.

Toward the end of the month, pinch off the last blossoms of eggplants, peppers, melons, squashes, and tomatoes. Plant energy will then be spent maturing fruit that's already set, instead of setting more fruit that won't ripen sufficiently before fall.

Harvesting: Continue to keep vine vegetables (especially beans, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes) picked, whether or not you will use the harvest that day. If many fruits are allowed to over ripen on the plant, production will slow and then cease. Replace the bottom of a wooden box with half-inch hardware cloth or chicken wire for use as a colander. Collect fresh-picked vegetables in the box, and rinse them off to remove excess soil. The soil will remain in the garden, and only final cleaning will be necessary indoors.

If you have kept plants well-picked, but fruit set has stopped, suspect hot weather. Fruit set will begin again about ten to fourteen days after the temperature stays below 85 to 90 degrees.

Harvest fruits and vegetables as early in the day as possible, especially if they are not to be eaten that day or will be refrigerated. Research at the University of California, Davis, has found that the six hours before sunrise is the best time to harvest. As soon as the sun hits the fruits or vegetables, the pulp temperature begins to rise, and even shading them will not delay the temperature rise for long. Each five degrees lower temperature when the fruit is picked will extend shelf-life for another three days. Tomatoes, in particular, develop more chilling injury--that telltale graininess and mushiness--when they are cooled after being harvested when thoroughly warm.

Freeze excess vine-ripened tomatoes for winter use. After washing them, cut out the core, cut them into quarters, and place them on a cookie sheet so the pieces don't touch. When they're frozen, transfer them to bags or containers for use as desired. The peel will slip off easily when the tomato pieces begin to thaw.

Ornamentals: Sow or transplant alyssum, amaranthus, balsam, fibrous begonia, calendulas (winter or pot marigold), candytuft (iberis), celosia (cockscomb), columbines (aquilegia), coral bells (heuchera), coreopsis (pot of gold), cosmos, gloriosa daisy (rudbeckia, coneflower, black-eyed-susan), marguerite and Shasta daisies, dahlias, delphiniums, dianthus (sweet william, pinks), forget-me-nots (myosotis), foxgloves, gaillardias (blanket flower), gerberas (Transvaal daisy), geums, gypsophila (baby's breath), hollyhocks, impatiens, larkspur, linarias, lobelia, marigold, nasturtiums, nemesias, pansies, petunias, phlox, Oriental and Iceland poppies, portulaca (moss rose, sun rose), fairy primroses (primula), scabiosas (mourning bride, pincushion flower), schizanthus, snap-dragons, statice (limonium, sea lavender), stock, sweet peas, vinca (periwinkle), violas, and zinnias. Seedlings sown now will be ready for transplanting by early October and November. Calendulas will provide color all through winter when they have been planted every three weeks from now through mid-December.

Seeds: Refrigerate delphinium seeds for planting later this fall. They are cool-germinating, as are pansies, primroses, and violas. One technique is to start them on moist paper towels rolled loosely in plastic bags in the refrigerator. After they germinate, gently move the tiny plants to potting soil in a pan. When they're large enough, transplant them into their permanent garden spot for winter color.
Collect seeds from non-hybrid flowers, and sow those that are cold-hardy, such as bachelor's buttons, dianthus, Oriental poppies, and stocks.

Sow carrots, lettuce, and spinach a dozen or so seeds at a time every two or three weeks from now through October. This will provide a succession of succulent harvests through the winter. Leafy green plants like lettuce and spinach that are three or four inches tall and wide--or carrots that are at least one-half inch in diameter--before the first hard frost will be mature enough to provide harvests through early spring. If they're smaller, they'll not provide much to eat until spring, when they may bolt first.

When you plan the layout of your fall and winter gardens, consider which new crops should follow those just removed--follow heavy feeders with light feeders, and vice versa. Heavy feeders include beets, broccoli, cabbage, celery, collards, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, escarole, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, okra, parsley, pumpkins, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, squash, and tomatoes. Light feeders inlude carrots, chard, garlic, leeks, mustard, onions, parsnips, peppers, potatoes, rutabaga, shallots, sweet potatoes, and turnips.

Cover sunflower seed heads with cheesecloth when birds start pecking, but also leave a couple heads for the birds. Heads are ready to cure when the backside of the head is brown and dry, with no trace of green. Cut off the seed head, leaving a foot or two of stalk attached. Hang it to cure--still in the cheesecloth--in a well-ventilated, warm location. When the backs are entirely brown and crisp, the seeds should snap out easily.

California Natives: This is the quiet time for California native gardeners. Take time to relax and enjoy the scents, sun-ripening berries and small tasks. Harvest blue elderberries, huckleberries, California blackberries and thimbleberries for jams, jellies and wine. Be sure to keep container plants hydrated daily and use cool mornings to water as necessary. What is blooming? Butterflies rely on native sunflowers, asters and goldenrods, western columbines, wood mint and wood rose to survive. Hummingbirds dart around woolly blue curls and California fuchsias.
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SEPTEMBER GARDENING TIPS
(Excerpts from our club newsletter, The Garden Gate)

Vegetables:  This is the time to plant cool weather vegetables such as beets, brocoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kohlrabi, all varieties of sweet peas, potatoes, radishes, garlic bulbs and spinach. Grow in rich, well drained soil in full sun. Try tucking a few of your favorites here and there in flower beds and pots as the summer flowers fade. If seeds have not been successful for you, look for young plants including artichoke, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts in your local nursery. Keep the seedbeds moist and cool with shad and a layer of mulch until the seedlings develop two to four true leaves. Pinch out new blossoms and growing tips of melons, winter squash and determinate tomatoes to force growth into fruits that have already set.

Citrus: Feed for the last time this year. Pale green citrus leaves may indicate a need for a does of liquid chelated iron or a solution of fish emulsion and kelp. Deep watering keeps the trees healthy and able to withstand periods of drought.

Herbs: Sow some frost tender herbs for fresh use indoors all winter long. Plant the seeds now and move inside next month to acclimate. Good candidates are dark green and dark opal basil, chives, chervil, mint, oregano, flat leaf parsley, rosemary, summer savory, sweet marjoram and thyme.

Ornamental Grasses: Purple Fountain Grass and other ornamental grasses need cutting back to nearly the ground by mid September to avoid thatch build-up. Also fertilize established ground covers, shrubs, trees and warm season grasses.

Spring bulbs: Plant a series of bulbs this month for a long display of flowers next spring. Search your local nursery for freesia, babiana, Grand Duchess oxalis, sparaxis, tritonia, alliums, amaryllis, anemones, crocuses, daffodils, narcissus, paper whites, ranuculus and watsonia. Purchase early for best selection. Look for big, plump bulbs which have the most stored food to produce larger and more numerous blooms.

Perennials:  Switch fertilizer for cymbidiums from a high nitrogen to a high phosphorus formula (15-30-15). Mums should be staked and tied to avoid damage by unexpected wind and overhead watering. Fertilize until color begins to show.

Annuals: Mid month, set out seedlings of calendula, candytuft, delphinium, English daisy, foxglove, Iceland poppy, nemesia, pansy, penstemon, snapdragon, stock, sweet alyssum, sweet William and violas. You will have blooms from Thanksgiving until April.

Flowering Shrubs: Your roses need some attention now. Prune out weak growth and shorten growth that has already bloomed. Reconstruct the water basins to make sure the water can penetrate deeply into the root zone. Fertilize once more this year. Hibiscus blooms will continue longer if you use an acid type fertilizer on a regular basis. Switch to 0-10-10 fertilizer for azaleas, camellias, gardenias and rhododendrons to encourage formation of next spring's blossom buds.

Pest Control:  Dispose of old leaves and old compost mulches from under shrubs into the green container. Cleanliness will keep fungus, and pests from over wintering and returning next spring.

California Native Plants: Start now to prepare a space for native plants in your yard as we are approaching the prime months for planting native and Mediterranean plants. Water the site to force weeds to germinate then remove with a hoe. Keep up your deep soaking and letting it dry out before more watering. Check your trees and shrubs for overgrowth and thin out to prevent fall wind damage. If you have lost a shrub or tree in the summer heat and drought look for a native plant as a replacement. You can plant some bulbs this month - mariposa lilies, leopard lilies, fairy lanterns and trilliums will grow. What is in bloom? Poppies and penstemons will rebloom after shearing. California fuschia are still in bloom and sunflower, goldenrod, tarweed, and goldenaster bring color to the garden.


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OCTOBER GARDENING TIPS
(Excerpts from past issues of The Garden Gate, our club newsletter)


Roses in October: Check your roses to remove dead wood, twiggy growth, and leaves with spots and mildew. Clean up fallen leaves in rose beds to prevent pests and disease from taking up residence. Do not prune now. Give your roses one last feeding early this month to enjoy one more bloom season during the holidays.

Soil Improvement: Before commencing your fall planting, clean out your beds and garden plots – pick up leaves, dead blooms, dead vegetables or flowers, and grass clippings. Add fresh compost, gypsum (for clay soils), and aged steer or chicken manure, seaweed and whatever source of humus you have to build up the nutrients in the soil and improve drainage. If using chemical fertilizers, read the label carefully to avoid adding more than necessary. Trace elements of iron, boron, zinc, lead arsenic and other heavy metals will build up with overuse of chemical applications. Dig up the soil at least 8 inches deep to work in the supplements.

Planting Bulbs: Purchase your bulbs early for a good selection and look for plump, healthy looking bulbs. As a rule of thumb, dig the hole two to three times the depth of the bulb. You may layer smaller bulbs above the deeper, larger bulbs to extend the flowering period in your bulb beds. Place some bone meal or bulb fertilizer at the bottom of the hole, add a little dirt and then the bulb so it does not touch the bone meal. As a final, step plant annuals over the bulbs to keep weeds out and to cover the leaves as they start to turn brown after the blooming period is finished. Spring bulbs for this area include allium, daffodils, Dutch iris, freesia, ixia, babiana, oxalis, scilla, spider lily, and watsonia. Wait until the soil has cooled to plant anemonies and ranunculus – around Thanksgiving.

Winter Flowering Annuals: This is a good month to start planting pansies, stock, snap dragons, alyssum, and viola starter plants from the nursery for cheerful blooms from fall until the heat comes in April. They will thrive with a regular watering schedule until the rainy season starts. Be alert to wilting when the Santa Ana winds blow and dry out all plants – they will need watering daily until established.

Perennials: If some of your perennials are starting to decline, they may just need to be divided. As a rule, spring and early summer blooming perennials should be dug up now during their dormant season, their beds improved with compost and manure, and then divided to give each plant more root room. Usually the center of the clump declines first so replant the smaller, more vigorous plants around the outer edge of the clump and discard the plants from the center. Dig deep to get most of the root structure and keep the roots moist with a wet burlap sack, wet newspapers, etc. until replanted. Aim to replant the same day if possible. Divide the clump with a shovel, or sharp knife leaving plenty of roots on each division. Some typical perennials to divide are astilbe, Asiatic lily, Oriental lily, Siberian iris, Japanese Iris, veronica, peony, Shasta Daisy, and veronica. Prune geraniums to reshape and stimulate new growth.

Vegetables: October is a good time to sow seed for winter vegetables such as beets, carrots, onions, radishes, Swiss chard, arugula, cilantro, parsley, peas, shallots, turnips and lettuce. Set out transplants of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and other cole crops and plant perennial crops such as artichokes, asparagus and rhubarb.

Pest Control: A thorough cleanup now really pays off in fewer pests and diseases later. Set out bait to protect your new plantings from snails and slugs.

California Natives: Planting time for these plants is starting toward the middle/end of October through February and early March. All newly planted specimens will need to be watered during the first two summers to get established. Check the listings for fall plant sales below to find a sale near you. Natives bring rich colors to your garden this month. California fuchsias, sunflowers, gum plants and goldenrod show reds, golds and yellows. Wooly blue curls, lilac verbena and silver carpet aster cools the garden with blues and lavendars. California native trees and shrubs also bring color as their leaves turn and berries begin to ripen.

Fall Plant Sales: There are many plant sales during the month of October in or near San Fernando Valley. Theodore Payne Foundation has a huge inventory of native plants, seeds, books and art to entice people to their annual fall sale at 10459 Tuxford, Sun Valley - their phone number is 818-768-1802 or check their website: www.theodorepayne.org

The Sepulveda Garden Center, 16633 Magnolia Blvd., Encino, 818-881-3708 hosts a native plant sale every fall by the California Native Plant Society offering plants (including expert advice on where to plant and how to care for them), seeds, books, posters, gift items, snacks, and free native gardening talks. Contact the Society at 818-881-3706 or at www.lacnps.org for time and dates of the annual sale.

Conejo Valley Botanic Garden, 350 W. Gainsborough Road, Thousand Oaks, specializes in water-wise and California native plants. They have an annual sale during the month of October. Contact them at 805-494-7630 or visit their website at www.conejogarden.com

Huntington Library and Gardens, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino has 15 specialized gardens and holds a plant sale combined with gardening talks every 2
nd Thursday. Contact them at 626-405-2100 or at their website www.huntington.org

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NOVEMBER GARDENING TIPS
(Excerpts from past issues of The Garden Gate, our club newsletter)

        Some examples to try in your yard are: wild lilac or ceaonthus which grows as either a ground cover (Yankee Point), evergreen shrub (Joan Mirov) or small tree (Ray Hartman). Flannel bush will thrive in hot, dry areas with good drainage. Needs no water once established and produces bright yellow flowers in the spring. Coffeeberry shrub is evergreen with long, shiny green leaves. It is dense, compact, grows berries for bird food and is garden friendly. There are salvias with red, blue, violet or white flowers. Cleveland Salvia reaches 6 feet and produces blue flowers from May to August. For spectacular 9” white saucer shaped flowers, plant the matilija poppy in a dry, sunny corner of the yard. For the widest choices, expert advice on what to plant in your area and viewing plants at various times of the year, visit a local native plant nursery or specialist.

        There are showy plants for more visible spots. Purple fountain grass is graceful and non-invasive. Edge a deck or patio with tubular flowers such as penstemon or lobelia laxiflora where the bright flowers attract hummingbirds.

Roses in November: We usually get some of the best blooms this month. Stop feeding them and start reducing the amount of water you give them to ease them into dormancy. Remove all yellow and brown leaves and clean up debris on ground to keep the bushes healthy.

Vegetables: This is the best month to put in onion starts and strawberries. Plant onion sets every month or so to harvest onions throughout the winter and spring. Continue sowing seeds of beets, carrots, chard, parsley, peas, radishes and turnips. Set out broccoli, cabbage, kale, mustard, loose-leaf lettuce and cauliflower seedlings. Scatter some plants here and there in bare garden spots, mix in a flower bed or plant in a container near the kitchen door. The leaves of some larger vegetables are quite pretty in flower beds. Mulch the ground between plants to keep the rain from pounding the soil down.

What to Plant This Month: Soak ranunculus bulbs for about an hour before planting. Pre-chill tulips, hyacinths and crocuses now to plant later in the month. You may work bone meal into the soil as you plant bulbs. Bulbs like morning sun and afternoon shade or dappled sun under tall trees. Plant small bulbs 3 inches apart and larger ones 5 inches apart. Plant some daffodils and narcissus in pots and baskets for holiday blooms. Make a “Show of Daffodils” by planting a layer 8 inches deep and half cover with soil. Plant a second layer into the spaces between the tips which are still showing. The upper layer will bloom first, then the second deeper layer will burst forth for a longer lasting “show”. Bulbs that will naturalize are Dutch iris, freesia, sparoxis and watsonia. Daffodils will naturalize at higher elevations and gophers won't eat them.

Herbs are easy to start now. They can be tucked between other plants or grown in pots close to the kitchen door. Buy and plant pony packs of annuals such as African daisy, calendulas. Iceland poppy, pansies, snapdragons, stocks, sweet alyssums, and ground covers.

Plant a variety of chrysanthemums for instant color in pots or sunny garden spots. When the flowers die cut back the plants to within an inch of the soil. They will reappear in the spring and bloom again next year.

Fall Pruning: Sages and lavenders need to be cut back to shape and to force new growth. Cut the tops off yarrows and put on the compost pile. For bigger blooms, de-bud your camellias and leave one bud per tip. You want it to be facing up and out. This will let the plant put all its energy into making bigger blooms. If you have blackberry, boysenberry and loganberry plants, cut old canes back to the ground. Keep the smooth barked canes that grew this year because they will bear fruit next year. In December or January you can cut back the canes of low-chill raspberries.

Fall Tasks: When you rake fine textured pine needles, save them to mulch acid loving plants such as camellias, azaleas and blueberries or to cover garden paths. Keep cabbage white butterflies from laying eggs that hatch into leaf-chomping caterpillars by spraying the plants with “Bacillus thuringiensis” to kill the young caterpillars. Keep hydrangeas blue by adding aluminum sulfate to the soil around the drip line. Make a second application in December. Clean out gutters and downspouts. Consider purchasing rain barrels or similar containers to collect rainwater for plants. Pull out annual weeds as they appear to prevent them from setting seeds. Have you had a tetanus shot within the past ten years? If not, its time to get a booster. The tetanus bacteria is found in soil, manure and potting mixes which may get into an open cut as you work and the poison is potentially fatal.

Soil Erosion:
Turn off automatic sprinklers as the weather cools and rains begin. Use native plants to stabilize dry slopes. Because of their deep roots and low water requirements, shrubs like California buckwheat, ceanothus and toyon are good choices. Sow seeds of California flowers between the young shrubs to hold the soil while the shrubs are growing to mature size. Shredded bark mulch will also help hold the soil in place.

California Native Plants: This is the prime time to plant native plants. Dig a hole slightly larger than the rootball and fill with water three times letting it drain down each time. This will encourage the roots to grow deeper. Place the plant in the hole and fill in dirt carefully to avoid damaging the tender roots. Unless it rains, give the new planting about a gallon of water once a week through the winter and then every two weeks during the summer. By next year it will not need winter watering and only once or twice a month watering during the summer heat. Try planting bulbs, corms, and rhizomes for spring color. If you canot find a spot in your garden - plant in pots. Sow wildflower seeds a day or two before it rains. Prune sages now before they set winter blooms. Natives attract birds and butterflies as well as beneficial insects. They are the original flora and are very attractive, need little to no water once established and need no pesticides.


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DECEMBER GARDENING TIPS
(Excerpts from past issues of The Garden Gate, our club newsletter)

Maintenance: Be sure to rake up old leaves, fallen flower petals and debris from under trees and shrubs and discard. This helps protect your plants from diseases and insects that live over winter. Apply a 3 or 4 inch layer of new mulch to shrubs to keep the soil moist and warmer. Snails and slugs love tender young growth from bulbs and annuals. Don't forget to bait to protect your plants. Use fish emulsion to fertilize actively growing winter vegetables and annuals to promote steady growth. Cover the compost pile loosely with a tarp or black plastic to hold in heat and keep the rain from leaching out the valuable nutrients. Clean, sharpen and oil tools. Store tools in a protected area so handles and blades are not damaged by moisture over the wet months.

Watering: If the winter rains have not yet arrived, water established shrubs and trees deeply at least once this month. Check the soil under eaves for moisture during a rainfall. If the soil is still dry you may need to water occasionally. Plant photosynthesis slows down and cold weather dries the plants out.

Prepare for Frost: When freezing weather is predicted, move tender container plants under house eaves or indoors. Cover plants in the ground such as hibiscus, citrus, plumerias and succulents with perforated plastic or burlap. Remove the covers in the morning and repeat at night if frost lasts more than one day Water plants before a predicted frost and they will tolerate the cold temperatures better. Protect citrus from cold damage by wrapping the trunks in newspaper and covering the foliage with plastic sheeting. Or you could decorate cold sensitive plants with Christmas tree lights. The heat radiated moderates the air temperature in that location.

Bare root berries and vegetables: Nothing compares to fresh berries from your garden. Bare root berry plants and artichokes are available at garden centers this month. Check with a professional to learn about the best varieties for our area. Some varieties need a much lower chill period than we get in the Valley to produce a good yield. Grapes may be pruned late this month.

Roses: Now is a good time to remove old rose bushes to make room for new ones. Toward the end of the month local nurseries will be getting their bare root roses stock delivered. Shop early for the best selection.

Trees and Shrubs: Prune and spray deciduous trees. You can shape and control the growth of orrnamentals by removing dead branches and thinning overcrowded centers. Use a dormant spray on peach and nectarine trees to prevent peach curl. This is a good time to purchase and plant bare root fruit trees. Plan for winter beauty in the garden by planting sasanqua camellias. They bloom earlier than japonica camellias and are more sun tolerant. This is an excellent time to choose your plants because you can see the color and shape of the flowers. Also look for early flowering shrubs such as flowering quince, lilac, acacia, and daphnes in the nurseries. In the years to come they will reward you with a larger flower show.

Lawns: If you have crabgrass problems check with your local garden center for various controls to apply this month to kill any seedlings that sprout.

Tubers and Bulbs: When your dahlia stalks have yellowed or blackened, lift the tubers, clean them off and apply an all purpose garden dust before storing them in sand in a cool place. Replant in the spring. Plant more spring blooming bulbs early this month and reserve some for planting mid-February through mid-March to extend your springtime blooms.

Annuals: Continue feeding them with a fast acting soluble fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro (15-30-15) Pinch off the faded blooms to encourage more flowers. Transplant calendulas, columbines, cyclamen, delphiniums, foxgloves, gaillardias, ornamental cabbage and kale, pansies, peonies, Iceland and Oriental poppies, primroses, snapdragons, stocks, Sweet Williams, violas and violets to establish stronger roots for the spring show time.

Holiday Décor: (Tips from Yvonne Savio, UC Davis Extension) The garden is a treasure trove of possibilities for holiday decorations. Pyracantha berries alternated with popcorn make attractive garlands. Oranges, lemons or apples sprinkled with cinnamon or cardamom and stuck with whole cloves are delightfully fragrant pomander balls. Vines from grapes, honeysuckle, wisteria, willow, or ivy will bend into many useable shapes. Eucalyptus pods, pine cones, acorns, and magnolia leaf clusters provide many shades of brown. Herbs, too, can trim yule logs, flavor jelly, give fragrance to clusters of twigs or wreathes and perfume the air in stovetop potpourris. And, of course, there is mistletoe.

Gift Plants: December is the month for gift plants and here is how to maintain them indoors after the holidays. Amaryllis, florists' cyclamen and paper white narcissus bulbs are forced to bloom for the holidays. These bulbs can be grown indoors indefinitely. However, they may not bloom at Christmas time again like the first time. For amaryllis, allow the bulbs to dry out from mid-August through mid-November, then water and feed to promote bloom. Cyclamen grow from tuberous roots. Cut back watering after they finish flowering. Stop watering when leaves die and put the plant in a cool place (65 degrees) for three months then water and feed. Let narcissus bulbs dry out from the time the leaves die back in spring through early fall and then begin to water and feed. When florists' chrysanthemums stop blooming store them in a frost free place and transplant into the garden when the ground warms up. Christmas cactus will grow for years with only moderate light. To get them to bloom at Christmas, keep the plant indoors in a cool (50-55 degrees) spot where it will get 12 to 14 hours of darkness in November.

California Natives : Remember to water new plants until well established by next winter. Continue to sow seeds. Look for volunteers around mature plants and either move them to a better location or put in a pot to give to a friend. Prune herbaceous perennials that have finished blooming to rejuvenate them. Bring garden trimmings inside - especially toyon, manzanita and holly cherry to celebrate the holidays.


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