Lettuce bolts at different stages, even within the same variety.
Bolting Bok Choy
Note the white sap exuding from where the leaf has been ripped from the elongated stem.
Fill dishpan with water. Leaves discarded at left were too mature or bug-munched so will go to the compost pile.
Press down the leaves so all get submerged.
After third rinse, transfer leaves into collander to drain.
Transfer leaves into ziplock bags.
Press out as much air as possible, and seal the ziplock. Refrigerate or give to friends!
If you choose to let the lettuce set its seed, it'll look like this with tiny blossoms blooming over a 3- or 4-week period.
You'll want to tie paper bags over the entire seedhead so mature seed won't fall to the ground before the rest of the seed matures. Don't use plastic bags because they'll retain moisture and rot the seed. When the stem is crispy dry, it's ready to break off and store the whole bag-and-all where it'll stay dry until fall when you'll crush and scatter the seeds in the garden.
Finally, cooler weather, back into the low-to-mid 70s with even some rain promised for later this week. MUCH nicer for transplanting all those tomatoes you’re hopefully purchasing at all the plant sales all over Southern California! That couple of weeks of 80+ temperatures resulted in many of my lettuces and spinaches and bok choys bolting – sending up those long stalks, flowering, and setting seed. Here’s how I was able to continue harvesting individual leaves from each plant up until they were just too bitter.
Salvaging Bolting Greens For More Eating
This process will extend the harvest by up to two or three weeks for each plant, since you’re taste-testing each plant as it begins to move into its reproductive stage of life. Each plant – even of the same variety – will be different in how soon or late it becomes inedible, so you’ll want to deal with each plant separately.
As each plant begins to elongate its central stem, taste one of the mature-but-not old leaves. If it still tastes fine, you know you can harvest the entire plant, and remove each leaf from the elongated stem. If the leaf tastes too bitter, pull the plant and toss into the compost pile.
As you strip away each lettuce leaf, you may see white sap exuding from the tear at the stem. This is a cue that the leaf may be bitter-tasting.
Soak the harvested leaves for about 20 minutes. I like to use a large dishpan so the leaves have lots of room to move. Depending on the size of the harvest, I may have to use several dishpans.
The leaves will float, so push them under the water several times so the entire leaves can absorb the water.
Try not to disturb the dirt particles that have settled to the bottom of the container.
Transfer leaves to another clean rinsing container, removing any debris from the garden.
Repeat with clean water two more times.
This three-time process accomplishes two things – it displaces any bitterness with clean water, and it crisps the leaves.
Transfer leaves to colanders to drain. No need to spin or otherwise dry further – the residual water drops will keep the leaves crisp when refrigerated.
Transfer leaves into ziplock bags. I like to sort different leaves – lettuces, spinaches, beets, bokchoys – and sizes so I’ll have many choices when I’m preparing different recipes or combining salads.
Fill each bag as fully as the leaves allow without crushing or stuffing tightly.
Gently press most of the air out of each bag, and press the ziplock. No need to remove all of the air, however. This mostly-vacuum environment will extend the refrigerated life of all the leaves.
Use this soaking process for all greens from the garden, whether or not they're bolting!
Letting Plants Bolt So You Can Save Seed Of course, another option is to let individual plants continue their bolting process so you’ll have seeds to use for next year’s crop. The only caveat is to save seeds from non-hybrid varieties if you want to get the exact same plant you grew. If it’s a hybrid variety, the seed will germinate into many variations of what you grew this time – sometimes a good thing but many times not what you were expecting. But who knows – you might invent something new!
Double-stacked tomato trellises are anchored both with uprights and between plants. One year, without the anchoring poles, the whole row blew down!
My nasturtium "ocean".
August Pride peach blossoming.
Fragrant freesia in brilliant yellow.
First calla lily.
'Mary Lou Heard' rose.
Sky-Blue bearded iris with clear-yellow chasmanthe.
Cooke's Pakistan mulberry blossoms.
With these 80-degree daytime temperatures, I hope you're inspired to start planting your spring and summer garden. I already have six different varieties of tomatoes in their beds. My nasturtium groundcover has literally turned my hillside garden into an ocean of green, with blooms popping up amongst 5-inch-round leaves, thanks to all that rain! Other bloomers – including fruit trees -- are brightening the greenery. Since the first sturdy tomato seedling varieties appeared at local nurseries, I’ve been planting my “usual suspects” that I grow every year – Sungold, Celebrity, Early Girl, Ace, Cherokee Purple, Black Krim, Brandywine; I’ll add Green Zebra, Stupice, Dona, Carmello and Green Grape as I find them. I’ll also add new ones to see how they do. I usually give varieties new to me at least three chances – if they do well for 3 years, they’ll perhaps replace one of my “usuals”. In the meantime, there’s a lot of good eating! I always purchase two plants of each variety, and plant them in separate holes, because sometimes one doesn’t survive, and I want to make sure I get some of each of those fruits. So far, one Pink Brandywine and one Early Girl have given up, so I’ll purchase stronger plants. Tomatomania is always an excellent source of many, many varieties (some locations offer more than 200!), and tomato experts on hand to help you decide. See http://tomatomania.com/events/ for upcoming locations in your locale. I’ll be at Tapia Brothers on 3/19, and Descanso on 3/25. Because tomatoes are heavy feeders and drinkers, I recommend these steps in planting:
Incorporate manure and compost into the entire growing bed (tomato roots can extend 4 feet to the side and down).
Provide soaker hoses or drip irrigation or buried 5-gallon buckets with bottom holes. Keep soil evenly moist – like a wrung-out sponge – for the entire growth period.When plants are fully developed during hot weather, this may require an inch of water per day, depending on your soil type.
Provide sturdy trellises to corral extensive foliage and support fruit for the full life of the plant.“Determinant” varieties will grow to 3 or 4 feet tall so one trellis will usually suffice.“Indeterminant” varieties may extend to 8 or 10 feet high, so I stack a second trellis on top of the first one.In addition, I stake one corner of my trellises both with uprights and between plants for support while growing and during our Santa Ana winds in fall when the plants are huge and full of fruit.I’ve done this ever since the year that the winds blew down my whole row of plants following my deep watering.
Dig holes and turn soil a full handtrowel deep and around – about 6-8 inches.
Roughen up the plant’s rootball to “inspire” or “threaten” the plant to develop new vigorous roots.If the container-grown media is very loose, like peatmoss or vermiculite, shake most of it into the hole to mix with the dirt to create a more moisture-holding mixture.
Remove any leaves along the stem, leaving only the topmost 3 leaves.
Place the plant rootball at the bottom of the hole, and hold the stem upright by its top 3 leaves.Gather the soil back around the stem, and fill the hole so only the top 3 leaves are showing.Roots will develop all along the stem for a stronger plant.However, be aware that tomatoes are the only plants that do this, so use this deep-planting technique only for tomatoes.
Arrange remaining soil into a short berm about 4 inches away from the stem and foliage.This will be its initial watering hole to direct water down to the rootzone.
Water the plant in well, filling the hole three times as the water disappears into the soil.Then, also water the area around each plant to a distance of another foot or two.You want that entire surrounding area to be well-irrigated so roots will want to extend out there, providing more nutrition and moisture for the growing plant.
Lettuce bolting - leaves go bitter and white drips at joint of stem
Cilantro bolting - stems are inedible, but sparse leaves are fine.
Harvest parsley and cilantro by cutting about an inch above soil. Remaining base nodes will continue sending up shoots for later harvests.
Tatsoi bolting - elongation, but leaves and even flower buds are still tender and tasty.
Re-transplanted parsley seedlings into bed that had bolted beyond leaving any edible bits.
Harvesting oregano clumps - cut just above the lowest green leaves so it'll continue sending out green shoots for later harvests of tender young growth.
Plum tree in almost-full bloom.
Peach tree shoots trimmed slightly to outside-facing foliage bud, leaving several flower buds to hopefully get pollinated.
Ferraria crispa - love those weird flowers!
Lobelia latifolia blossoms.
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow - purple to lilac to white.
Yellow bulbine and upright blue rosemary. Rosemary is much more brilliant blue than shows here.
Lovely fragrant violets.
The first daffodil!
All this wonderful rain, already approaching double our average amount, coming about each week with several sunny days between, is the perfect timing to have it drain deep down into the soil. Deep-watering, indeed! Not stomping around in the garden for the first day after the rain is a great idea to avoid compacting the soil. Then, working in the garden can accomplish several tasks.
Weeding The first task is to pull the weeds that have already set flowers and seedheads. You definitely don’t want to let these develop further, or put them into the compost pile, since either of these actions will result in “recycling” them for future gardens. The still-moist soil will ease the task and more assure getting the entire root system out.
Harvesting Bolting Lettuce, Spinach, etc. Much of the lettuce, spinach, bok choy, tatsoi, cilantro and parsley that I’d sown last fall and we’ve been eating since has begun to bolt. As each plants begins to elongate, its hormonal changes to setting seed will differ in each plant. Luckily the lettuce plants have been sending up their seed stalks at different times, so we’ve been able to continue eating them just ahead of the time that each goes bitter as its hormones change – although this does require taste-testing a leaf from each plant to make sure it hasn’t gone too bitter. Another cue is the white sap that beads up at the base of the lettuce leaf at the stem. Nothing worse than picking a whole batch of lettuce from many plants, making a salad, and then being startled by that unwelcome too-bitter-to-eat piece! Spinach and bok choy will elongate, but both leaves and stems will remain tender and tasty, even extending to the flowers. Cilantro and parsley will form inedible stalks while the minimal foliage will still be edible.
Re-Transplanting and Re-Seeding As spaces appear in the garden beds as a result of harvesting, new seedlings can be transplanted and seeds sown. These plants will provide harvests through late spring when summer heat makes them bolt.
Pruning Fruit Trees and Roses Once buds begin to swell, and especially once flowers begin to open and leaf clusters form, it’s very easy to see where to trim. Trim branches to the outer-facing leaf cluster at the length you want. Shortening fruit tree branches to as little as 3 inches and as much as a foot will provide enough blossoms for fruiting and leaves for photosynthesis while keeping the entire plant short enough to always been within reach from the ground.
Planting Tomatoes – But No Other Summer Crops Do plant tomato seedlings into well-prepared and enrichened soil. They will do fine withstanding continuing chilly weather. But don’t plant any other warm-weather-loving crops, even if you see them in nurseries. Those other vegetables have been grown in cozy greenhouses and they just don’t adapt to our cold outdoor soil and air temperatures. If you do plant them, they’ll just pout and glare at you, and while they may survive they won’t thrive once the soil and weather warms up. Better to wait at least a month – preferably two months – when warm weather has really settled in, to transplant the first seedlings. Then, they’ll thrive immediately and overtake any you plant now that will struggle and ultimately not thrive.
Wait to Seed Warm-Weather Crops The same goes for seeding. Whatever seeds of summer crops you sow now will probably rot because the soil temperature is too cold. If any do germinate, they’ll struggle to grow slowly. Even if you wait to sow in two months, they’ll germinate quickly and grow sturdily. Any gaps that appear can be reseeded, and inside of another couple of weeks those second-seedings will be just as tall and vigorous.
Continue Sowing and Transplanting Cool-Weather Lovers So, continue to concentrate on cool-season veggies that thrive now! This includes beets, caraway, celery, carrots, chard, chervil, chives, collards, cilantro (coriander), dill, endive, fennel, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuces, mustards, green onions, bulb onion sets, parsley, peas, white potatoes, radishes, shallots, spinaches, and turnips.
Sprouts arising from pruning cut. Figs are a wonderful place to start for the beginning pruner, since you can pretty much hack the tree and it will still send out lots of new growth and fruit.
The "before" of a persimmon tree.
And the "after" of that persimmon tree pruned.
Lemon verbena - lots of new growth after each branch was cut down to its only remaining green shoots. Note the new sprouts all along each branch -- you can now choose to trim further down for an even shorter and bushier plant.
Boysenberry - cut the old gray branches that bore fruit last summer but are now dead. Be careful to not damage new pink shoots arising from the crown.
Boysenberry vines anchored with clothespins to wire strung about 5 feet tall.
Tangelos have the novel nipple where they're attached to the branch. This tree has been producing in my garden for 70 years!
Oro Gold grapefruit. Dead branches need pruning.
Chasmanthe lemon yellow.
"Easter Egg" radishes formed 3 lobes and were super mild due to all the rain and quick growth.
This is the big month for pruning deciduous fruit trees and vines. Basic guidelines for winter dormant pruning are to remove crowded or crossed branches, to open the center for good light exposure and airflow, to repair structural weakness, to remove vigorous vertical-growing branches (waterspouts), and to reduce the height or width of the tree to keep harvesting easily within reach when standing on the soil. Take care to not leave stubs or to overprune in any single year, as this encourages excessive new foliage and less fruit. An excellent, inexpensive, and easily-used disinfectant for pruning tools is rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. Wipe shears with the alcohol after pruning every several cuts to avoid spreading any diseases. Clean the blades extra well before moving to another tree or bush. Pruning cuts that are under one-and-a-half inches across don't need protective covering. Paint larger cuts with an off-white or sand-colored interior latex paint that has a matte finish, not a glossy one – paint must be latex-based for interior use since exterior-use paint is oil-based and will suffocate tree pores. Never use black asphalt substances or dark-colored paint, especially on south-facing surfaces, since they will concentrate the sun's heat, baking and killing the tissue that the tree is trying to heal.
Citrus Pruning citrus trees requires a different approach. Remove entire branches at the trunk. Heading branches back--cutting off only portions--will remove wood that would have blossomed and set fruit this coming season and stimulate more bushy growth.
Cane Berries Cane berries are most easily pruned when all their leaves have fallen off and the buds have just begun to fill out and show their light pink color. The dead canes and the plant structure are then quite apparent, and the thorns are more easily avoided. When clipping away all the dead growth at the base of the plant, be careful to not injure the new pink shoots at the crown. Then prune each strong cane from the root crown about six inches above its point of attachment to the top horizontal support of the trellis. Prune side shoots just after the third strong bud. This second-year growth is where most of the blossoms and berries will set. Spread and re-anchor the upright canes evenly along the trellis in order to keep the area open for good ventilation and promote the even spread of developing foliage. This pruning and trellising procedure will encourage strong growth of fruiting vines but not of unnecessary foliage. Another approach, cutting down all dead and growing vines at the soil level in a clean sweep, is an easy approach, but it encourages weak bushy growth resulting in only a few berries setting very low on the plant.
Grapes The choice of pruning approach depends on the specific varieties and trellis structures you have. Generally, grapes will bear on second-year growth, so prune to encourage this. Pencil-sized grape cuttings with at least four nodes can be used to start new vines. To identify which end is which, cut the bottom (root end) of the cane flat across, and cut and the top (foliage end) at a slant. Bury the lower two nodes in the soil. Don't be concerned if new foliage doesn't appear from the upper nodes until very warm weather, as the strong root system develops first.
No problem with frost over the last decade for my beautifully-blooming 7-foot wide and tall jade tree/bush!
Australian native plant Eremophila glabra blossoming
Sky-Blue bearded iris blooming
January's nasturtium "ocean" flowing down my hillside garden
Last straggler tomatoes - tonight's salad so I can renovate the bed for more spring veggies.
Loaded Dancy tangerine tree
Cymbidium orchid reblooming for first time
Upright rosemary blooming, although much more brilliantly blue than this shows
Brilliant orange of Leonotis leonurus, variously called Lion's Tail, Lion's Ear, or Lion's Mane.
Broccoli - first main head removed; secondary heads developing at each node.
Harvesting kale, chard, spinach, lettuce - remove all but the top several leaves, which will continue growing for harvests through spring and early summer, when most will bolt and go to seed with the heat.
Lacinata (dinosaur) kale cut into 2" pieces, massaged a bit with oil, lightly salted and dried. Munchies!
Easter Egg Radishes - wonderfully crunchy and mildly biting following all that rain!
Even some early (or late?) mulberries!
The last several nights have threatened frost, even down here in the mid-lowlands of my garden in the southern section of Pasadena. While the end of January is the average last frost date for our area, I haven’t worried much about it for quite a few years since we haven’t had even a light frost in more than a decade. But the possibility is always there at this time of year, especially for more highland gardens than mine. So, here are some thoughts to help you understand the possibility/probability in your locale.
Why Frost Happens Frost – or indeed any “bad” thing – actually happening in our gardens is the result of several factors that I’ve adapted from the Plant Pathology “Disease Triangle.”
Pathogen – the “disease” – or “pest” or “frost” mechanism. While diseases and pests are pretty much always around in our gardens during their particular life cycles, frost conditions exist only during our winters. But whether or not they result in damage in your garden depends on the other two factors.
Environmental Conditions. For pests, this means the temperature, humidity and other elements that they consider close to ideal and so they may thrive. For frost, this means not only being close to 32 degrees Fahrenheit freezing temperatures but also whether the soil is hydrated (our rains confirmed that), the wind is blowing (lowering the freeze factor or keeping the frost from settling), where the plant is located (next to a wall or out in the open), etc.
Host Plant Susceptibility. Is the plant more likely to attract the pest or be damaged by frost?If the plant is healthy and of a resistant variety, it’s less susceptible to a particular pest; if it’s worn out from a season’s growth or not resistant to that pest, it’s more susceptible. Regarding frost, if it’s a tender begonia, it is definitely more open to frost damage; but if it’s a deciduous plum tree that’s already dormant, frost is less of a potential problem.
All three of these conditions must be met for the pest or the frost to affect the plant. If any of the three isn’t existent, then chances are there’ll be no damage. Also, time is a limiting factor – long enough for all the conducive conditions to be in effect for the pest or frost to actually inflict damage.
How to Protect Against Future Frosts You can change a couple of the environmental conditions to preclude frost damage. First, recognize that frost falls straight down on still nights.
Move container plants under eaves so they’re shielded by the roof above.
Provide top covering for plants in the open. For example, if you’re still nurturing old tomato plants for those last few slowly-ripening (or at least coloring-up) fruits, provide cover above the plant that extends out just beyond the foliage. Unless you also get freezing winds, no need to wrap the plant entirely; the top protection is most critical.
A caveat regarding using plastic, however – don’t let it touch the plant leaves, since this will literally transmit the chill damage directly where it touches.Let there be some open air to act as insulation between the plastic and the plant foliage.
Keep plants hydrated. With all of our wonderful rains so far, plants may be fine for at least a couple more weeks before needing irrigation or more rain.
If Some of Your Plants Have Already Been Nipped You may not know for several days whether a plant has been damaged by frost, since the foliage may not go limp and shrivel for a while. When you do see damage, it’s best to not trim it off immediately, even though this may offend your sense of aesthetics and desire to keep plants neatly trimmed. The dead foliage will serve as protective interference for the tender interior of the plant from further damage from later frosts. Although it may take a month or so for new growth to appear, it will define precisely how far the dieback actually occurred on each branch – sometimes considerably less than you would have guessed when first observing wilted leaves.
My "free" mailbox corner garden from rootings of plants elsewhere in my garden after almost one year and several prunings to keep plants compact and blooming. No stepping onto the soil, though!
The natural time for poinsettia to begin blooming, once it's been in the garden for several years.
Blooming jade tree.
Roses keep blooming
Amaryllis grown from seed after several years in the garden
I hope you haven’t been stomping around your garden during or following all of these wonderful mini-downpours we’ve been having. This is certainly the best way for rain to sink into our depleted soil – little, then more, then little, then a couple of days’ reprieve for all the water in the air-pore spaces to thoroughly moisten the soil particles and then drain down further into the soil profile. But that process takes days, and it’s critical for you to not be walking on the soil, compressing it just with your weight, during that time. This is because your weight presses the water out of the pore spaces, compacting the soil particles together. The problem is that they don’t decompress after you’re done walking there – it’s a permanent compression. As it dries, what’s left is a squished-out solid brick that can no longer absorb any moisture. Even in pathways, this isn’t a good thing because it lessens the available surface area open to any moisture. This is the time I make a point of doing other garden-related activities, like sorting my seeds that I’ll be sowing later, preparing my seed tray supplies, repotting container plants, cleaning and sharpening tools, perusing garden catalogs, or anything else not in the garden. Great time to visit your favorite nurseries to purchase plants you’ll plant later, after they’ve had a week or so to acclimate to your garden’s microclimate. Even bareroot roses you can purchase and submerge the roots into water overnight to get them thoroughly hydrated before planting. Even for my pruning tasks – roses and fruit trees – and certainly planting bareroot roses and fruit trees – I’ll put these off until there’s been no new rain for several days. After all, we really don’t have to do these tasks until mid-February at the latest. That’s usually the time when really active growth starts happening – buds swell, color-up, and begin to open – so consequently is an excellent time to be able to see what’s happening and therefore which choices to make in pruning.
Receive a Gift Amaryllis? Amaryllis that's just finished blooming can be grown as an evergreen, indoors or out, through the fall, and encouraged to bloom again next winter. The bloomed-out stalk can be cut off about an inch above where it emerges from the bulb or allowed to dry up naturally -- this allows the plant to reabsorb the energy and store it for the next bloom. Set the plant in a warm, sunny place, water generously, and fertilize regularly through August. Then, let the plant rest a bit, with no fertilizer and only enough moisture to keep the soil barely moist. Be sure to not let the plant dry out at any time, however, or the growth cycle will be upset and perhaps skip or delay the next round of bloom. In September, move the plant to a spot that's sunny but where daytime temperatures are in the 70's and nightime temperatures are above 55. Begin watering and fertilizing -- with a high phosphorus and high-potash food (the last two numbers of the N-P-K trio) -- and watch for buds. You may even have two or three separate bloom stalks. The first year, you may not have any blooms because the plant is readjusting to its new conditions and light schedule.
Broccoli getting almost harvest-size, lettuce ready for 4th harvest
Sweet peppers, "hot-weather" plants producing all winter long
Artichoke - notice different foliage shapes: youngest leaves are uncut, more mature leaves have distinctive cut margins
Cilantro (top right) almost ready to harvest by cutting just above the growing point. Parsley (bottom right) is more slow-growing. Beets (left side, 5 different varieties) need weeks more for bulbs to reach 1.5 inches, my preferred size for harvest. If you want to harvest leaves a couple of times, you won't get very large bulbs since you're depleting the plant's energy.
What a great way to end 2016 and begin 2017 – with LOTS of rain! Yay! So glorious to relish each gentle drop over long hours so the soil was able to absorb all the goodness…and then have those downpours that really filled the soil's air pores so the moisture could sink deeply down into rootzones. Love it! With the promise of more on-and-off-again showers at least through the coming week, I’m definitely looking forward to continually happy trees and plants! Yesterday, I went up the hill to document all the wonderful color and lush edibles flourishing in the chill. The glory of living in Southern California was so apparent. Sharing it all with you here!
Pruning Tasks Through Mid-February The big tasks of the month – really through about mid-February when tree fruit blossoms start opening – are planting bareroot fruit trees and roses, and pruning to guide new growth. If you can, attend as many of the various workshops available at botanic gardens and nurseries as you can to increase your comfort level in dealing with your own plants. See the “Upcoming Events” on my homepage, and also the “Botanic Gardens…” listing on the “Events” menu item page. Truly, try not to get too worried about ruining your plants with your first attempts at pruning. The plants want to grow, so chances are they’ll survive whatever you do to them. And then you’ll observe what the results were and consequently how to alter your efforts next time around. In addition, with more recent recommendations to accomplish “summer” pruning – which really means pruning to guide growth throughout the year – you needn’t feel that you have only this one chance each year to do it correctly. What a relief! Allow yourself to learn as you go, and your trees will reward you...maybe not this year but certainly after that! I'll discuss all of this in more detail in upcoming blogs, but for now, here're the basics to get you started:
Remove broken, crossing, or diseased branches
Keep height within desired range for easy harvesting
Trim just above outward-facing buds.
Cut out slender twiggy growth so energy reverts to strong canes.
Height is your choice – 12 inches, 18 inches, 3 feet, whatever you prefer relative to the strength of the plant.
Leave stub of no more than one-quarter of an inch. More will cause dieback that may extend further down the stem.
Trim down to bottom-most new buds.
Deciduous Fruit Trees
Object is to keep new growth limited to about six feet tall and wide for easy harvesting.
Cut back branches with buds about half way.
“Summer” Pruning Year Around
Trim back after flowering plants blossom, or trees fruit.This will encourage new growth that you can again cut back for fuller plant foliage and blossoming or fruiting within your desired height range.
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.
Rose hips add bright red and orange colors to green wreaths.
Vines from grapes, honeysuckle, wisteria, willow, or ivy will bend into many usable shapes.
Eucalyptus pods, pine cones, acorns, and magnolia leaf clusters provide many shades of brown.Bufford's Holly, which grows better here than the traditional variety, gives us stickery-leafed green with red berries.
And, of course, the mistletoe.
Herbs, too, can trim yule logs, flavor jelly, give fragrance to clusters of twigs or wreaths and perfume the air in stovetop potpourris.
Living plants for indoor color include African violets, azaleas, begonias, Christmas cactus, Jerusalem cherry, cyclamen, and kalanchoe, as well as the ever-dependable chrysanthemum and poinsettia. Be sure to give these living plants bright indirect light, keep them cool and out of drafts, and water them just enough to keep the potting mix barely moist. Cacti and succulents are also good choices, but they need direct sunlight and very little water when kept indoors. Norfolk Island pines can become mini-Christmas trees, with their own tiny lights and ornaments. Provide each room in the house with its own individually decorated tree – like cookie cutters hung with red ribbon bows for the kitchen!
Houseplants Need Rest Don't worry that your houseplants don't seem too perky now – they're going dormant, just like plants outdoors. Plants need this rest, so stop feeding them, and water them less frequently. Also, be sure they're not getting blasted with hot air from a heater vent or fireplace. Plants close to windows may get too much cold air at night, so move them or provide a shield between them and the window. The most comfortable temperature range for indoor plants is 65-75 degrees, with extremes of 60 and 80 degrees.
Watering Unless we get considerable rain, continue to water your overwintering outdoor plants to keep the soil moist. Irrigation should be reduced, not stopped, as plant photosynthesis slows down and cold weather dries plants out. Plants that are stressed lack of irrigation are more susceptible to frost damage.
Pruning Prune fruit trees and vines through mid-February, but only when all of the leaves have fallen. This indicates that the plants are fully dormant, and pruning will not damage living tissue. Don't clip spring-blooming shrubs, however, or you'll remove this coming year's color. Wait till bloom is over. Also wait to prune outdoor fuchsias till they leaf out and you can see just what frost damage occurred.
Species poinsettia is long and gangly, but with long red bracts.
Brilliant berries of heavenly bamboo, Nandina domestica.
Red Hot Poker, Kniphofia uvaria.
Peas are up -- edible type at front and both sides, and flowering "sweet peas" at rear. All will be guided up the trellis so they have it to grab onto along with their fellow vines. The bucket is for watering -- Fill the bucket, and water exits through the holes in the bottom. For seeds or seedlings planted around the rim, water from the top as well so the entire soil profile remains moist for excellent root growth.
After lettuce harvest, small center leaves remain to continue growing for next harvest in about a week. Note how plants are "triangulated" to best utilize soil space.
Cilantro on left and parsley on right germinate at different rates. Harvest can begin when plants are about 4 inches tall, cut in handfuls with a knife about an inch above their growing points so they'll keep growing for later repeated harvests.
Driving through my neighborhood enjoying the holiday decorations, I noticed some exquisitely colored trees each time the sun broke through the clouds. Not just mild hues other than green, but truly vibrant yellows and oranges and reds, sometimes in combination on the same tree. Wonderful reminders of our trips back east to Pennsylvania in early October where entire hillsides were ablaze. Just because it’s mid-December here makes no difference – the brilliance of our very own Southern California trees is striking. Absolutely puts to shame the complaint that we have no seasons! On the other hand, our early rain and chill weather seems to have shifted back into gloomy skies, upper-50s-degrees nighttime temperatures and almost-70s-degrees daytime temperatures. Hardly helpful for our fruit trees needing to accumulate sufficient below-41-degree chill hours necessary for timely blooming and fruit set. But perfect for more transplanting and seeding of winter edibles and bloomers! So, if you hadn’t managed to get veggies and flowers into the garden yet, now’s a great time to give yourself a calming dig-in-the-soil break from all the holiday hubbub!
Peas Are Up! My edible peas and sweet peas are coming up, and I’m thrilled to almost taste and smell them in anticipation! I sowed them around each trellis cage – edibles around the front and sides, and flowers at the back. Although seed pods of the flowers are poisonous, I don’t worry about their intergrowing since the pods look so completely different – edible ones are bright green, big and very smooth, while the flower ones are grayish, longer and thinner and very hairy.
Replanting Cauliflower I’ve had to replant cauliflower seedlings since the first ones kept being dug up by skunks and – despite my repositioning and watering them in several times – finally just couldn’t reestablish themselves following the multiple traumas. Luckily I still had some of the Romanesco, Violeta, Cheddar and Tasty seedlings in my Speedling® trays that I’d started at the same time that I’d planted the seedlings that I’d purchased and planted immediately. This is why it’s wise to always both plant seedlings and sow seeds at the same time, for consecutive crops and also replacement availability! You can always find another nook and cranny to plant extras if there aren’t any failures!
Today's Yummies Today’s harvest included the last persimmons and first celery, chard, Lacinata kale, Red Russion kale, and spinach along with lots of lettuce. The cilantro and parsley are still too tiny to harvest, but they’re developing nicely. My husband prefers his chard and kale raw in salads, whereas I love them sautéed with garlic, leeks, and mushrooms. Remember to harvest leaf crops such as lettuce and spinach by removing only the outer leaves. Toss the outer ones that have been munched or are too old, and leave the two or three tiny center leaves to develop further. Thus, the plant continues growing -- and you continue harvesting -- throughout the season until spring warmth causes the plant to go to seed. By then, you'll soon be harvesting spring-sown or transplanted greens to supply your salads.
Live Holiday Trees If you plan to decorate a live holiday tree indoors and then move or plant it outdoors afterwards, choose a smaller size of tree, as it'll adapt to its new home better than a more mature one. After you bring the tree home, water it well and store it in an unheated garage or outbuilding for two or three days as a "half-way spot" till you move it indoors. Keep the rootball moist and the boughs misted. Once the tree is in place indoors away from heating vents or fireplaces, either water it directly or scatter ice cubes around the soil surface to slowly seep down into the entire root ball. Limit its time indoors to a maximum of seven days; fewer if the house is very warm. Then move the tree outside again to that half-way spot, garage, shed, or protected spot for at least two weeks before moving or planting it in the open. The longer you enjoy the tree in the warm house, the longer it will need to readapt to outdoor conditions.
Bibb lettuce ready for harvest. Note triangulated planting which enables mature-plant foliage to cover all soil, reducing evaporation and sprouting weeds. Water two days before intended harvest to assure crisp leaves.
From 12 plants, a bin full of lettuce, harvesting the individual leaves. Toss the outermost old or bug-chewed leaves into the compost pile. Leave the several smallest interior leaves to continue growing for future harvests. Rinsed twice to filter out garden soil and debris, into ziplock bags, excess air squeezed out, and refrigerated, this will provide enough for several dinner-plate size salads.
Harvests of individual leaves from this 20-foot row of triangularly-planted lettuce (see last photo of 11/7 blog) will keep us in huge nightly salads through May or June when heat will make the plants bolt and go to seed, turning the leaves too bitter to eat.
Love those Dancy tangerines!
Bird netting around each clump of fruits, with a small hole at the bottommost "open air" spot enables me to harvest when I (not the birds and squirrels) want.
Parsley (left) and cilantro (right) germinate at different rates.
Deciduous tree trunks painted with white or beige-colored interior latex paint prevent winter sunburn damage.
Asclepias, butterfly plant
Between those first searched-for lettuce 6-packs at nurseries, and my seeds sown at the same time, we finally have our first dinner salad. My favorite lettuce is Bibb, with its intensely curly and crunchy midrib, richly green color with rouge highlights, and sweetly-tinged flavorfulness. Other shapes, colors and textures add to the salad-bowl diversity, but that Bibb is my mainstay. And, apparently the Bibb seed remains viable longer than many other varieties, since seeds from my three-year-old packets germinated more successfully than year-old packets of other varieties. Picking the dozen or so remaining Dancy tangerines from last year’s set has been a joy we’ve been rationing since it’s best to leave fruits on the tree until we want to harvest them. They’re so fully plump from absorbing that more-than-half-inch rain we had. Wonderful balance of tartness and sweetness, and so easy to peel. I recommend this variety highly, if you’re considering planting a tangerine! More plentiful are the persimmons we’ve been harvesting as we (and not the birds and squirrels) like. My success in wrapping branchfuls with bird netting has worked for a couple of years. I punch a hole only large enough for my fist and clippers into the bottommost open area that’s unreachable by critters because gravity would make them fall off before they could enter. Parsley and cilantro germinate at different rates, parsley more slowly – up to three weeks! If you sow your parsley-family seeds (including carrots and dill), you’ll need to lightly sprinkle the bed perhaps every other day to keep the seed hydrated until it finally germinates. I’ve found that lightly scattering some sawdust or compost dust on top of the seed will help retain the moisture but not bury the seed. Even so, by the time I forget about continuing to sprinkle – some two weeks later – some seeds finally begin to germinate so I remember to sprinkle again. New asparagus shoots are coming up, but are the size of a pencil so I’m leaving them to fern out so their energy will revert back into the roots. Next year’s shoots will be large enough to harvest – even if only a couple of them per plant – without depleting the plant’s resources. I’ve painted my deciduous fruit tree trunks to reflect the sun so they don’t get sunburned. Yes, even though temperatures feel mild to us, the sun’s rays are intense on tender new wood. Other young trees in the garden for their first winter should also be painted since their bark is still so tender. Although it seems counterintuitive, be sure to use interior latex paint which will allow the bark to breathe. Exterior oil paint will clog bark pores and suffocate the tree. White or beige colored paint will reflect the sun’s light best. Inexpensive paint can be purchased, or more expensive paint can be diluted half with water. Paint can be applied pretty sloppily - no need to get into all the nooks and crannies – since you’re just concerned with generally reflecting the sun’s beating rays. The part of erratic weather that I love is the roses sporatically blooming and bulbs sprouting their color at unexpected timings - even if they're just the first ones! Just like enjoying my ripening peppers all winter long (since we get no frost to kill the plants) instead of their supposed harvest time during warm weather! But then, I do find horticultural weirdness in all its permutations to be fascinating and intriguing!