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Rain is on my mind, or lack thereof. Across Southern California, the season’s rainfall is less than half of normal. That portends a dry spring and summer — challenging for gardens and for us gardeners.Gardens around us
This year’s wildflower bloom was minimal — sort of making up for the fantastic bloom back in 2019. Home gardens, though are putting on a good show. Some garden clubs are slowly restarting their annual spring garden tours. Mission Hills Garden Club’s wonderful annual May Garden Walk is happening, with advanced ticket sales and set start times to space people out. Visit missionhillsgardenclub.org to purchase tickets.Not ready for a garden tour? Take a walk around the block or along a trail. April is the biggest bloom month for our home gardens and for native plants too. Nature puts on a show all around us!Remember to take photos of plants and gardens you like. Create your own wish book for next fall, when it’s prime planting time. Share with others on social media.
Flowers and wildflowers
Plant summer bloomers from seed or plant seedlings now: marigolds, calendula, zinnia, cosmos, Mexican hat or blanket flower.Pick garden flowers to enjoy indoors and outdoors, too. Remember to pick your own flowers, not your neighbors’ and NEVER pick plants, wildflowers or flowers from native habitats or public landscapes. If it doesn’t belong to you, don’t cut it or pick it.Cut back California poppy plants after their first blooms fade. Water and wait. They’ll sprout a new set of leaves and bloom again.Enjoy the beautiful bulbs of spring, like Watsonia, daffodils, Ranunculus and Sparaxis. Once bulbs are done blooming, green leaves continue to photosynthesize and make energy for next year’s bloom. Allow the leaves to go completely brown before you remove them.
Enjoy blooming perennials, flowering trees, succulents and shrubs as well as roses, iris, pineapple sage, aloes, Mexican tulip poppy, geraniums, South African daisies, California lilac, Grevillea and many, many more. Take note of what you like and add them to your garden next fall.Vegetable garden
This is the best time to plant your summer vegetable garden. Plan before you plant.Start from seeds or plant seedlings for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, basil, pumpkins, okra, and cucumbers. These vegetables all require six hours of full, direct sun each day.Star from seed only: carrots, beets and other root crops. Root crops don’t transplant well.
There’s time for one more crop of lettuce, spinach, chard and kale before temperatures get too warm. Plant either seeds or seedlings.Starting a vegetable garden from scratch? Your first lesson is to plant in raised beds, not in the ground. Vegetables grow best in soils that have more organic matter, are watered often, and fertilized more than just about any other plant in our gardens. Those conditions are easy to create in a raised bed, but not so easy in native soils.Build your own raised beds. Watch my videos to see how build a raised bed
and plant a raised bed.
If you prefer a prefabricated raised bed, Vegepod is my favorite kit, especially for people who have issues with their backs, knees, bending over and so on.Refresh your existing vegetable beds with a mixture of compost, earthworm castings, and granular organic vegetable food. Use a hand trowel to gently mix them into the top few inches of soil.
DO NOT rototill your garden. Rototilling was the standard in the old days. Now, we know it destroys soil structure along with the critically important community of beneficial microbes that live in the soil and interact with plant roots. Rototilling also destroys the habitat for earthworms and other important tiny critters that build soil and benefit plants.Gophers love vegetable plants as much as you do. If your raised beds sit on the ground, line the bottom of the beds with hardware cloth (welded wire mesh).The best irrigation for raised beds is narrow in-line drip, such as Netafim Techline EZ, with 6-inch spacing emitters, available at your local irrigation store.Set up supports before you plant. For tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, peas, and small melons, create a cage using a sheet of concrete reinforcing mesh held together on the short ends with zip ties. Fold the mesh to create a freestanding cylinder, about three feet in diameter — the perfect support system.
Plants in the nightshade family — tomato, pepper, eggplant, tomatillo — are all susceptible to the same suite of soil pathogens. If you plant them in the same soil year after year, they produce less and less. So instead, have at least two garden beds. Plant the nightshades all in one bed the first year. Move them to the other bed in the second year. Move them to the original bed in the third year, and continue with that rotationPatio gardens
No backyard? All you need is a sun-filled patio, stoop, porch, or balcony to grow dwarf varieties of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and other summer vegetables, flowers, and herbs.Match the size of the pot to the needs of the plants: A 15-gallon black nursery pot can support ONE tomato plant or TWO pepper plants or eggplant plants or basil plants.A half whiskey barrel or wine barrel is big enough for two tomatoes or three peppers, or three eggplant plants, or three basil plants. Alternatively, this size container can support three cucumber plants or one squash plant or five cilantro plants.If you use a geotextile fabric pot, monitor the soil moisture and water daily. These flexible, temporary pots are easy to use but dry out superfast in our climate. In the heat of summer, they require daily water to keep the soil moist and vegetables hydrated.
Fill pots with good quality potting mix. Don’t skimp. Water regularly to keep the soil moist.Fruit trees
Thin the marble-size fruits on nectarines, apricots, and other deciduous fruit trees to one fruit per four to six inches along each branch. Collect and compost the fruits you remove.Remove the fruits from newly planted trees. The fruits will likely drop before they ripen, but remove them now and let your tree put its energy into leaves and roots instead.Feed stone fruits, apples, and other deciduous fruit trees with an organic fruit tree fertilizer. Follow directions on the label.
Water all fruit trees often enough to keep the soil slightly damp. The water helps the trees make leaves, roots, flowers, and fruits.Maintain
Weed, weed, weed. DO NOT LET WEEDS FLOWER. Weeds go from leaves to seeds really quickly. Those seeds fall onto the soil where they wait until next spring, when they’ll sprout with a vengeance. Pull them now, before they flower. To me, weeding is meditation.Inspect your irrigation system. Turn on each zone to check for leaks, breaks, etc. Flush each drip irrigation zone. If you haven’t yet converted from overhead spray to in-line drip, this is the time.As the days grow warmer, mosquitoes multiply. Avoid breeding mosquitos; empty all bowls, dishes, buckets, and anything else that holds standing water. Decommission old fountains and plant them with succulents instead. Add Mosquito Bits to standing water in the center of bromeliads.
When you garden wear sunscreen, long sleeves, and a hat. While the sun might feel nice on “winterized” skin, those UV rays can still do damage. Protect yourself.Enjoy three brand new episodes of “A Growing Passion” this month. In one episode, learn about growing and eating dragon fruits. We have two shows that spotlight the gardens and good works of San Diego Botanic Garden. Shows air on KPBS Thursdays at 8: 30 pm, Sundays at 11 a.m., and are always available online at www.agrowingpassion.com.Sterman is a water-wise garden designer, journalist and the host of “A Growing Passion” on KPBS television. Her latest book is “Hot Color, Dry Garden.” More information is at AGrowingPassion.com and www.waterwisegardener.com.
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