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What a crazy winter we’ve had. Dry, dry, dry and then torrential rains and winds! How has your garden fared?Irrigation
With days still cool and the sun still low in the sky, plants don’t need much water unless there’s no rain this month. February is traditionally the wettest month, and if we are close to normal, your irrigation system can be off all month. However, if there’s no rain for a couple of weeks or a freak heatwave, run each irrigation zone once; then wait and watch the weather.Check your irrigation controller to make sure all the zones are set correctly.We are likely heading into drought, so protect your garden by switching from overhead spray or the dreaded point-source drip irrigation to in-line drip. In-line drip systems are flexible tubing with emitters embedded in those lines. They are the most efficient and easy-to-maintain systems available. Lay the lines in a grid over the entire planting bed so the soil gets wetted evenly and deeply to encourage deep, drought-resistant roots. Drip-irrigated plants thrive on a low water diet.
Inline drip for your vegetable garden? Sure, just use narrower gauge lines with emitters spaced every 6 inches apart. Set the lines in a grid, spaced 6 inches apart as well.Protection
Winter isn’t over yet, so keep cold-sensitive plants protected until the month’s end. February can still bring some significant cold snaps.Wait to prune away frost-damaged leaves and stems until after your garden’s last frost date. That happens by the end of the month along the coast, in early March inland and late March in the mountains.Keep mosquitoes from breeding by emptying the dishes under potted plants, turning over buckets, plates and anything else that might collect water.
Turn over potted bromeliads to empty excess water from the center tanks where mosquitoes often breed. Sprinkle Mosquito Bits into the center of in-ground bromeliads to kill mosquito larvae.Check fountains to be sure the water circulates — another way to keep mosquitoes at bay.Ornamentals
Continue planting protea family plants including conebushes and Banksia plants; Mediterranean region plants like bay, rosemary and lavender; mayten trees, Chilean guava and other plants native to Mediterranean Chile; and our own natives like monkey flower, Tecate cypress, white sage and California lilac. Don’t amend the planting holes, but do throw in a few handfuls of worm castings. Mulch after planting.Finish pruning flowering shrubs, trees, and perennials before flower buds form. If you wait too long and prune off flower buds, there won’t be any flowers or fruits this year
Looking for a lawn alternative? Try grass-like California dune sedge (Carex praegracilis) or the dense, tough South African silver carpet (Dymondia margaretae), which handles traffic but is not a play surface. Kurapia (Lippia nodiflora) makes a dense, green space that tolerates some traffic and a bit of rough-housing, but it needs hard boundaries like concrete, as it has a tendency to spread and spread and spread.Weeding
As the soil warms, populations explode. Hoe or pull weeds out by the root before they flower. Once they flower, they’ll make a zillion seeds that sprout and return year after year after year.Horticultural vinegar (10 percent to 20 percent concentration) kills annual weeds and grasses by destroying leaf and stem cells. Since it kills only what it touches, it is not a permanent solution for perennial or fleshy rooted weeds, nor Bermuda grass. Those are best dug out by hand.As tempting as it is to head out to weed right after a rainstorm — wait. Standing on wet soil compacts that soil. Wait a few days. The soil will still be soft enough for easy weeding, but drained enough that your weight won’t damage the soil.
There’s still time for a crop of cauliflower, broccoli, kale and other cabbage family plants if they get planted right away. Continue to plant potatoes, carrots, radishes, turnips, spinach, chives, chard, collards and beets. Start planting beans.How to harvest broccoli: Broccoli is a “cut and come again” vegetable. Cut the main heads when the buds are tight and firm. For the next several weeks, the plant will produce two or three rounds of side shoots that you can harvest, too.If you planted a cover crop, cut it this month. Leave the roots in place. Put the leaves into compost or layer them onto your garden beds to decompose in place. It takes six or eight weeks for roots and leaves to compost in place — then plant your spring garden.Don’t jump the gun with spring/summer vegetable seeds — wait until next month to plant.
Ready to start your spring vegetable garden from seed? Take my online seed starting course beginning in early March. Watch for the signup at www.waterwisegardener.com.Prune grape vines. Cut the vines back to just one or two side branches (these are called “laterals”). Shorten each side branch to just one or two “nodes”; nodes look like joints but are actually scars from fallen leaves. The nodes will sprout new branches to bear this summer’s crop.· Continue planting bareroot fruit trees, blueberries, artichokes and strawberries.Do evergreen fruit trees need pruning? Deciduous fruit trees like peach and pluot need to be pruned for production but not evergreen fruit trees like citrus, loquat or guava. The only reasons to prune evergreens is to remove dead or diseased branches, to ensure good sunlight and airflow, and to keep the trees small so the fruit is easy to reach.Start fertilizing citrus and avocado with organic citrus and avocado food. Granulated fertilizers are easiest to use, but liquids work just as well. Follow label directions.
As the weather warms, watch for stone fruits, apples, pears, grapes and subtropical fruiting trees to sprout new green growth. That’s the signal to start your annual fertilizing with granular or liquid organic fertilizer. Always follow label directions.Sterman is a water-wise garden designer and writer and the host of “A Growing Passion” on KPBS television. More information is at AGrowingPassion.com and www.waterwisegardener.com.
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