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Fruit trees are developing, vegetable gardens are exploding, and ornamentals are putting on a beautiful show. After a winter of little rain, prepare your gardens for a dry summer. Pay careful attention going forward.Vegetable gardens
Did you start your first garden last year? Make it even better this year.Plant summer edibles now: tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkin, basil, squash, melons and more from seed or seedling.Building and planting your first raised beds? Here’s how:
Revitalize last year’s raised beds by layering on compost, worm castings and organic vegetable fertilizer.No room for raised beds?A 15-gallon nursery can or a half whiskey barrel is large enough for one tomato plant, or two eggplants, or three basil plants, or three cucumber plants or two pepper plants.A 5-gallon nursery can is big enough for two eggplants, two basil plants or two pepper plants.A 5-gallon bucket with holes drilled in the bottom can support one tomato or two eggplants, or three basil, or two pepper plants.In the nursery, choose the smallest, healthiest seedlings before they make buds, flowers or fruits. These young plants will put down deep roots and grow lots of leaf-covered branches to power flowering and fruiting.
Brown spots on the bottoms of squash and tomatoes are blossom end rot — the result of uneven watering. Adapt your watering so the soil stays evenly damp at all times. Straw mulch helps, too.White powdery film on leaf surfaces is powdery mildew, the result of poor air circulation and too much humidity. Selectively remove branches or leaves to increase airflow through your plants. Rinse leaves in the morning to wash away mildew spores. Do it early so leaves dry by the afternoon.If seedlings get eaten to the nubs, look for snails or slugs or look on the undersides of the leaves for green worms — at night. Once you identify the problem, find the most appropriate and least toxic treatment.DO NOT USE: salt, oil, gasoline, Epsom salts or dish soap in your garden. These products cause serious damage to your plants and your garden soil.
To prune or not to prune tomato plants? Experts say there’s no reason to, and several reasons not to. Contrary to legend, pruning does not increase production. (Why would it? Leaves power the plant, so when you remove leaves, you remove the fruiting power.) Pruning leaves fruits exposed to sunscald. Do remove branches selectively to increase airflow and reduce mildew. Use your fingers to break off branches and wash them between plants so you don’t spread diseases from one to the next.
Thin growing stone fruits (peaches and apricots, etc.), apples and pears when they are marble-size. Leave one fruit every 4 to 6 inches along the branches. Pick fruit from trees as they ripen, before animals can get at them.(Getty Images)
Water and fertilize stone fruits, apples and pears. Regularly water through the growing season.Thin the developing stone fruits (nectarine, apricots, etc.), apples and pears when they are marble-size. Leave one fruit every 4 to 6 inches along the branches.
If leaves on peaches, nectarines and other stone fruits look curled and disfigured, that’s probably peach leaf curl, caused by a fungus. There’s no treatment now. Wait until the tree is dormant next fall and winter, then spray with horticultural oil and fungicide.Pick fruits as they ripen — before critters get them. Pick up fallen fruits and set traps for rats.Water deeply but only occasionally for figs, pomegranate and pineapple guava. No need to fertilize these waterwise fruits.Continue watering and fertilizing citrus and avocado. Water under the entire canopy to wet surface roots, and water a long time to wet deep roots.
Water bananas and other subtropical fruits, as well. Mulch them thickly to conserve moisture in the soil.Ornamental plants
Inland, stop planting drought-tolerant shrubs and trees now. Continue planting in coastal gardens.Deadhead spent flowers on roses and spring perennials to squeeze another round or two of blooms from them before summer’s heat arrives. Always cut at a branching point, even if that means shortening a branch. Never leave a stub.Enjoy beautiful orchid cactuses (Epiphyllum) blooms now. If you see one you like, get a cutting or find out the variety and shop for it in the nursery.
Get rid of your lawn — the thirstiest, highest maintenance plant in your garden. Prepare now to solarize later in summer.Holes in leaves? Don’t spray pesticide. Figure out what is causing the holes and whether it is truly a problem. Plants grow many, many, many leaves — a few holes may be ugly but aren’t a problem for the plant.Control whiteflies and aphids by spraying them off with a sharp stream of water. Their soft bodies can’t withstand the impact of the spray. Repeat every few days for several weeks to interrupt their reproductive cycle.Eliminate ants to control aphids, mealy bugs and scale. Ants “farm” these bugs by moving them around the garden and harvesting the sweet “honeydew” they excrete. It is the perfect ant food.
Got gophers? Eliminate them with the amazing GopherHawk gopher trap.Protect plants from gophers by planting into gopher baskets. These hardened wire baskets line planting holes and keep gophers from attacking the crown of the plant.Reduce and reuse
We are heading back into drought. If you still have overhead spray irrigation, switch now to in-line drip, the most efficient and effective irrigation — it uses about half as much water as overhead spray.Use a bucket in your shower and bath to collect water as it heats up. Use the water in your garden.
Cover the soil with a 3- or 4-inch-thick layer of mulch, leaving a bare sunny spot for ground-dwelling native bees. These bees are important pollinators in gardens and for native plants; they rarely sting.Use rock mulch for succulents, wood-based mulch for nonsucculent ornamental plants, and straw (not hay) on vegetable gardens.The goal of irrigating is to wet roots, so water long enough to get water down to the root zone — with drip irrigation, that could take an hour or two. Stick your fingers down into the soil to be sure it is wet as deep as the roots go. Wait to water again until the soil dries out.Since vegetables need much more water than ornamental plants, put them on separate irrigation zones. Stone fruits and apples go on their own zone. Citrus go on yet another zone.
Run irrigation before 6 a.m., before peak weekday water demands.DO NOT use overhead spray in the evening or overnight. Wet leaves in the cool hours are susceptible to molds and mildew.Fruit trees do really well on gray water, which is water that comes from your washing machine, sink or bath. Do not use gray water on vegetables. See how at https://tinyurl.com/greyh20Learn about San Diego Botanic Garden’s critical work in local and international plant conservation on “A Growing Passion,” at 8: 30 p.m. on May 6 on KPBS-TV. The show airs again on at 11 a.m. on May 9, and it will air on KPBS HD2 at 8: 30 p.m. on May 10. All episodes are available online at www.agrowingpassion.com.
Nan Sterman is a garden designer, journalist and host of “A Growing Passion” TV show. She runs Nan Sterman’s Garden School at www.learn.waterwisegardener.com.
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