New rose buds surmounting old bloom fried in 113-degree heat
Plumeria love the heat! and the fragrance!
Begonias love the warmth, but barely any direct sun
Apple's new growth amongst 113-degree fried leaves
Squash reseeding every month or so provides continuous harvest of tender young fruits
Amarcrinum blooms surmount dessicated leaves from a month ago
The asclepias commongly available
California native Asclepias fascicularis
Cestrum attracts hummers
Figs had no problem with that 113-degree heat
My Pasadena garden has been enduring 95-degree temperatures ever since that 113 monster pair of days at the beginning of July. Talk about Spring morphing directly into Summer! I really don’t want to even go out of doors, much less do any real work in the garden. Since many of my plants and portions of fruit trees sustained foliage damage from that onslaught, I’ve been very careful to 1) cover tender plants, 2) not prune, 3) not fertilize, and 4) not overwater. Here’s why:
Cover tender plants with shadecloth or other protection, especially during the afternoon hours when the direct sun is at its most intense. Give new growth a chance to emerge without being attacked by the sun/heat.
Don’t prune plants, even of the messy-looking burnt-to-a-crisp foliage because it will protect inner growth by shading it from more intense direct sun. Besides, you won’t really know what’s truly killed for another month or so.
Don’t fertilize. Let plants recuperate from the heat attack before forcing them to grow excessive new growth because you’ve fed the plants. Let them grow as they can manage on their own.
Don’t overwater. Plants will naturally droop at the end of the hot day, but they may not need more water in the soil and will perk up again overnight.
Check Soil Moisture Before Watering Despite how limp plants look at the end of the day, the foliage may just be suffering from the daily evaporation forced by the heat and sun. Especially since the 113-days, I want to make sure that my established fruit trees and plants are sufficiently moist – or not – before I automatically pour on more water. My discomfort in the heat makes me assume that the plants need water, but I may in fact be drowning them if I water more! Every day after about 6pm, after the sun has gone behind the hill I live on – luckily I’m in the northeast-facing slope – I trek up to the garden and plunge my moisture meter ($10 at Orchard Supply Hardware) into the soil around each tree and plant just to make sure which needs water and which doesn’t. As it turns out, because of all the organic matter I’ve laid on as mulch and has decomposed over all these years, even in this heat the plants need deep watering only about once a week. Which is why it’s important for me to not give in to my anxiety and water too much! To get an accurate picture of how extensively each root system is satisfactorily moist – or not – I insert the 6-inch-long prong in 5 or 6 spots about 12-18 inches from the tree trunk or plant stem. I push the meter down to its hilt so its sensitive point reaches 6 inches down into the soil. The meter has 4 numbered gradients between number 1=dry and number 4=wet. The desired reading is about number 2, which translates into what I call “damp” – that is, the soil particles are moist but the air pores between them are open so roots can absorb the amount of moisture and nutrition they need but can also “breathe” and grow between the soil particles. Drier means some roots will die by dehydration, and wetter means that some roots will die by drowning. Your soil and your specific plants will determine their own most-desired gradient.
Recuperation I’ve been relieved – truly thrilled – to see new foliage growing on fruit trees, tomatoes, roses and perennials; and new blossoms and fruit setting on tomatoes and squash, as well as resuming harvests of tomatoes and squash.
Which Repeat Crops I Don’t Grow During This Intense Heat Several years ago, maybe the third year of the drought, I quit growing my June successive plantings of tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans. I just didn’t wat to spend the money for the water required to nurture those plants to grow, set flowers, and mature fruit during what was becoming long-lasting extreme heat. So, now I rely only on my tomatoes with a wide range of maturity dates planted in the Spring, and reseeding my yellow crookneck squash, since those just-picked freshness and flavors just can’t be found even at farmers’ markets. It feels very strange to buy cukes and beans instead of growing them through the Summer, but my experiences with few and bitter cukes and minimal bean harvests – all due to scant water – make my decision for me. And, I probably end up spending less money purchasing them when I want them. But, I do want my tomatoes and yellow crookneck squash always available – and they produce so much – that they’re worth the watering investment. While I just keep the tomatoes watered well, and fed them when they first set blossoms prior to the 113-days, I reseed the yellow crookneck squash every month or so. When the first batch begins setting fruit, I seed the second batch. This results in a continuous harvesting of tender, baby-sized squash because the second batch will begin setting when the first batch is finishing. I’ll repeat this reseeding twice or three times more – until either the Fall cold will stop production or I’ll be thoroughly sick of squash! And I’ll never have to deal with squash “logs” to make into ratatouille or bread to foist upon my neighbors!
Sunburned and frazzled Celebrity tomato, but still producing nicely!
Sunburned tomatoes left on the plant to continue ripening and shielding remaining tomatoes from direct sun. When harvesting, just cut off the sunburned portion - the rest of the tomato is unaffected and delicious!
Blossom-end-rot on baby tomatoes that I left on the plant in the hopes of their developing further. But, too little of the edible flesh is left, so I'll remove them so the plant can expend its energy in setting new tomatoes instead of "repairing" these.
There's hope! New blossoms are appearing on several plants. We'll see if they survive this coming heatwave and actually get pollinated and develop fruit.
Zephyr bicolor squash on the left, and one Early Summer Crookneck on the right. My husband doesn't like squash - "They're too squashy!" but will eat them sliced raw in a salad. I love my old-variety crookneck, which is more buttery-flavored than the newer straightneck varieties. I enjoy them so much that I can't get beyond the basic preparation of steaming and adding a small pat of butter. Yum!
Cane begonia thrives in the heat, although with just a bit of filtered morning direct sun!
Figs are loving the heat, too, even with some sunburnt leaves. Don't remove the burnt foliage - it'll shade and protect the foliage beneath it.
Bougainvillea loving the heat!
Mulberry blossoms pollinated, even with sunburnt leaves. We'll see if they survive....
Deliciously fragrant frangipani - plumeria - also loving the heat.
Amarcrinum loving the heat!
Dwarf plumeria only 18" tall and blooming for the first time, and with many, many more to come!
Fragrant gardenia also thrives in the warmth, but also in shade with only filtered morning sun.
Letting an artichoke go through its bloom cycle - I love that exquisite "black light" purple! When it's completely dry, I'll harvest its seed.
The frequent emphasis on “watering deeply” can be meaningless when you don’t know what “deep” means. Does this mean 1 inch or 1 foot or 3 feet deep? It all depends on which plants you are growing and what kind of soil your garden space (or container) has. The point is to get the water to go a couple of inches further down than the roots of your specific plant so that the entire root system is kept consistently hydrated so the plant can grow well.
Which Plants Grow How Deeply? Genetics determines how deeply roots grow. Here are some examples: 12 inches = Beets, lettuce, onions, radishes, spinach, and Swiss chard 14 inches = Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower 16 inches = Cherry tomatoes, eggplant, peas, peppers 18 inches = Beans, cucumbers, potatoes, squash, large-fruit tomatoes So these depths – plus 2 inches -- are your target watering depths.
What kind of soil? The kind of soil you have determines how deeply the water will go.
In sandy soil, with big particles and air pore spaces, water will go straight down and quickly drain away beyond the root zone.
In silty soil, with smaller particles and air pore spaces, water will billow out more broadly and then drain away.
In clay soil, with tiny particles and air pore spaces, water will spread out just under the surface of the soil and drain very slowly, taking a much longer time to get down to plant roots.
How long should I water? The answer to both questions goes back to your soil type. Here’s how to determine what your specific soil texture's absorption rate is:
Water for 15 minutes
Wait until the next day to allow the moisture to soak down
Push a shovel blade straight down into the moist soil
Gently push the blade forward to reveal how far down the moisture went. The moist soil will appear darker than dry soil.
Now you can see how far down the water went with the 15-minute watering.
Gently push the soil back in place.
Repeat with longer watering periods – like 30 minutes or 1 hour – until you observe that the water has gone down to the depth you’re looking for for those specific plants.
Now you know how deeply the water goes with that specific length of time watering. This length of time will remain constant throughout the year, since it’s based on your soil’s texture and absorption rate.
What about shrubs and trees? Feeder roots of most shrubs and trees are within the top 12-18 inches, so this is the depth to be sure to keep hydrated.
How often should I water? Water when soil is only slightly moist at a depth of 4 inches (about the length of your index finger) under the mulch so these top feeder roots remain moist and viable. The soil further down will remain more moist. Each season will change the frequency required to get water to that desired depth. In general, Spring may require watering once every two weeks, Summer once or twice a week, Fall once every two weeks, and Winter once a month. But your soil, your specific plants, and the weather will be the real determiners. Which is why when the air temperatures are over 100, we water more frequently.
Forecast for 100+ for this coming Monday through Thursday Since last weekend’s torrid 113 degrees, air temperatures in my garden have been in the high 80s, and I’ve watered deeply every fourth day. With the current forecast for more than 100 degrees for this coming Monday through Thursday, I’ll water everything deeply on Sunday so it’s just ahead of the extreme heat. I'll water again on Wednesday, and again next Saturday. Each time, I’ll include sprinkling the tops and undersides of foliage as well as the root zones so leaves can absorb additional moisture, and any heat-loving pests like spider mites will be discouraged from settling in. I’ll also check the garden each evening to determine whether specific plants need extra water. My 9" long moisture meter (about $10 at Orchard Supply Hardware), will give me a more accurate reading of soil moisture levels so I don’t end up drowning my plants, assuming they need more water when in fact they don't!
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch! And, of course, remember to maintain a 2-inch thick layer of mulch on top of the irrigated soil to lessen evaporation of that treasured water!
Tomato plants that were severely droopy following the first day of 113-degree heat are covered to lessen sun's intensity while temperatures are so high.
View from the north side - tomatoes are open to the air.
Apricot tree damage just on some of the outer leaves.
Worst-affected Dwarf Dorsett Golden apple. Even burnt leaves still have a glimmer of green color, though. We'll just have to wait and see if it survives.
Two watering methods - in depression where tomato is planted, and into 5-gallon buckets on either side which allow water to seep into soil a good foot down in the soil. The combination keeps the entire root zone soil profile moist. Note that bottom leaves are dead, but stem and leaves further up the plant are fully green, although the leaves are droopy.
Berms built 2 feet away from fruit tree trunks enable watering of the extended root zone.
Blossom-end rot on green tomatoes. Remove since they'll not develop fully to ripen, so waste energy of the plant.
"Naked Lady" - Amaryllis belladonna - loves the heat.
Yay! New growth on apple tree.
And on mulberry
Russian Sage - Perovskia atriplicifolia - standing tall and fully colored in the heat.
And, of course, sunflowers just keep coming!
After several days of more than 110° heat, some of my garden plants were obviously suffering, with shriveled and bleached foliage. Even though I had watered deeply several days before – as I’d urged you all to do, with my special email -- in anticipation of the forecasted heat, some plants were damaged beyond just a few burned leaves. The plants just couldn’t adapt to the 30-degree increase in one day. Immediate and longer-term help was needed. Here are some guidelines to what I did, and what you can do now and for the rest of the summer.
Leave the damaged foliage on the plants. You don’t really know how much was actually killed, so you don’t want to cut off still-living tissue that can perhaps resprout. Regardless of how it looks. The dead foliage serves as a buffer to protect the only-damaged-but-prospectively-surviving tissue from further damage.
Don’t do any pruning at all for the rest of the summer. The plants have already been severely stressed by the extreme heat, and any pruning will add to more stress, requiring the plant to use even more energy to redirect its growth because of what you’ve pruned. Allow the plants to use all of their remaining energy to grow however they will. You can modify growth later when the plant is back in full health.
Keep plants fully hydrated, both roots and foliage. Roots -- Water deeply 1 to 2 feet deep. Check how deep the water went with a soil probe or water wand (available at most nurseries and big-box stores).
Foliage -- Drench both top and underneath surfaces of foliage, including the “dead” ones. Leaves that are still functioning, even minimally, will absorb the moisture to augment what’s pulled up by the roots (which may also be damaged from the heat). Water when the sun isn’t shining directly on the leaves. Water early in the day so leaves will dry by sunset (so you don’t encourage fungal diseases, which take only 6 hours to develop).
Tomatoes and other vegetables If you didn’t plant them in a 3-inch depression to use as a watering hole, gently pull back soil to form a berm 6 inches out from the stem. Fill 3 times with water to make sure the soil is fully moistened at least a foot deep (Tomato roots can reach 3 feet down, if there’s sufficient water). Bury a 5-gallon container with holes in the bottom (like what plants and trees are sold in from the nursery), leaving the top 4 inches out of the soil. Fill 3 times. The water from the top and the water coming out of the container holes at the bottom will meet and keep the entire root zone moistened.
Fruit trees Gently pull back soil to form a 2”-high berm 2-3 feet out from the trunk. Fill 3 times. Check that the water has gone down at least 18-24”.
Don’t fertilize again for the rest of the summer. Because root systems have been compromised by the heat, forcing them to try to absorb fertilizer will further damage both roots and foliage. Let the plant recuperate and be actively growing before you demand that it go back into high production by applying fertilizer.
If extreme heat is again forecast Cover foliage with shade cloth or cheesecloth or other commercial product like Agribon that will lessen the sun’s intensity but let in air and water.
Future Production of Tomatoes Blossom-End Rot Expect blossom-end-rot on existing fruits, since that tremendous heat literally sucked moisture from that “endpoint” of the fruits. If fruits have blossom-end rot but are almost ripe, let them remain on the plant to perhaps further ripening. But, after a couple of days, you may find that the rot just gets worse, so harvest and eat the portion you can. If fruits with blossom-end rot are tiny and green, remove them since they’ll not be able to grow fully and ripen.
No new blooms for a while Expect no new blooms, or blooms that don’t set fruit, for a couple of weeks. When air temperatures consistently stay below 85-90° for about 10 days, the plant hormones will again stimulate blossoming.
Yellow summer squash. Note male flower (with the long stem) on the right, and female flowers (with the baby squashes) in the center and on the left.
Asparagus fern will grow throughout the summer. I'll cut it in late fall when it's brittle brown and all dried out
Carrots growing all Fall and Winter and Early Spring in the morning shade of pea plants; now in the full sun
Netting on figs
Amaranth self-sows throughout the year
Oregano before its haircut
Oregano after its haircut. Be sure to leave several green leaves on each stem so it'll keep growing
Red-purple mallow gets to be a huge bush
Bishop's Cap cactus bloom
Commonly available asclepias
Native Asclepias fascicularis
Hummingbirds love this
Ladybug on flowering celery
Letting cilantro dry its seed
Irish bells dries from the bottom up, and forms three-pronged stickers at their bases that help with distribution when an animal brushes up against it, but it's a pain for people handling it without sturdy gloves!
Richly-colored red-purple daylily with brilliant chartreuse throat
With air temperatures in the mid-80s, everyone in the garden is happy. Tomatoes are lush and setting and ripening fruit. Squash and cucumbers and beans are bearing. Roses and daylilies and lots of others are blooming. And we gardeners are happily moving on from Spring to Summer in edibles, ornamentals, and activities.
Here’s what’s happening in my garden, and perhaps yours:
Tomatoes I harvested my first tomatoes – five of them – from Paul Robeson. I’d grown “him” only once before, years ago, but wasn’t happy with the result then. So this is a great start to tomato-tasting season. This year’s “contestants”in my garden are Ace 55, Big Rainbow, Black Krim, Celebrity, Cherokee Purple, Chocolate Stripes, Costoluto Genovese, Early Girl, Green Doctors, Green Grape, Indian Stripe, Isis Candy, Lucky Tiger, Paul Robeson, Pink Brandywine, Pink Siberian Tiger, Stupice, and Sungold. I look forward to the glut of the goodies!
Squash and Cucumbers and Beans These are all beginning to bear. I'm taste-testing them as they develop - from teeny size with blossoms still attached, through to too-mature. Some varieties I prefer smaller, and others large. This is definitely the great benefit of growing your own -- the choice of when to harvest! I’m sure to keep all of the plants watered well, especially the cucumbers which will get curly and bitter-tasting if they don’t get enough water. I’ve just added more coffee grounds to the pea beds and sown seeds of all three - squash and cukes and beans - for a second batch. About the time that the first batch finishes bearing, in a month or so , this second batch will begin to bear. When those start to bear, I’ll make another sowing and perhaps even a fourth sowing when the third batch begins to bear. Or, I may be sick of squash and cucumbers and beans by then! This multiple-time resowing of only a few plants each time guarantees that I’ll have harvests over a long time range, instead of a glut all at once. But, of course, if you’ll preserve any of these, you’ll want to plant a whole lot of them to get the harvest to be huge so your preservation process can be done relatively all at once.
Artichokes While I harvested my last artichokes a couple of weeks ago, I’ve let a couple of the too-mature ones continue to ripen and open their exquisite purple blossoms, so I can enjoy them in that form for another couple of weeks. I’ll let the foliage continue to die back so the roots can reabsorb the energy from the foliage for next year’s crop. The plants will look pretty worn out and frayed until then, but I'm more interested in letting them reabsorb their energy.
Asparagus The asparagus ferns from the shoots that I didn't harvest (the ones less wide than my little finger) are still an exuberant green and will continue growing through the summer and into the fall. This makes them beautiful “edible landscaping” plant choices to combine with other ornamental-only plants throughout the garden. Once the ferns die back, I know the roots have reabsorbed all their energy for next year’s crop, so I’ll cut down the brittle brown stalks and put them into the compost pile. But I’ll mark the location of each plant clump so I don’t disturb it before it resprouts in Spring. Over the winter, I’ll have piled on more manure and compost so the nutrients are washed down to the roots by rain (hopefully) or irrigation.
Carrots Having been in the morning shade of the peas for most of the winter and early spring, the carrots are now in the all-day sun, so I’m making sure that I keep them well watered so they’ll continue growing well and their flavor will remain sweet. However, I will make more of a point of harvesting more of them now, while they’re still smallish. If allowed to dry out and grow too far into the heat of the summer, their natural “turpentine” flavor will concentrate, overcoming their sweetness. Some varieties are more likely to do this, but I haven’t figured out which ones they are yet. I'll just have to take notes as I munch my way down the row!
Figs I just covered the figs with their bird netting, gathering and tying together the secondary branches and foliage at the base of each primary branch. Each of these “balloons” has a fist-size access hole that I’ve punched into the netting on the far and downside, away from where any squirrels might be able to enter. This technique worked well last year. We now have 10 kinds of figs - Celeste, Conadria, 3 kinds of Kadota, Black Mission, Panache/Tiger, Peter’s Honey, Texas Everbearing, and Violette de Bordeaux. My "one" fig tree - with the 3 Kadota types - is really three varieties, since years ago I'd stuck cuttings from several friends into one hole, intending to transplant them once they'd rooted. Which of course I never did, so all the branches grew intertwined. Last year, I noted which slightly-different fruits were on which branches, and pruned them all back so this year I corralled each different variety in its own "balloon" of netting. This way, in future prunings, I'll be assured that I don't mistakenly prune out one of the varieties. This is always the protential problem with multi-grafted trees. The Violette de Bordeaux are new transplants that I’d rooted from friends’ cuttings, so they’re still tiny and not fruiting yet. The rest will make a great taste-testing later this summer!
Grapes I just planted two new grape varieties that I’d rooted from last February’s California Rare Fruit Growers Foothill Chapter scion exchange. (There are 4 chapters in the greater LA area and another 5 in Southern California, so choose the one that’s closest to you for the best match with your garden’s microclimate. See https://crfg.org/ and click on “Chapters”.) Now I have 12 varieties - Blueberry, Cabernet, Captivator, Concord, Diamond, Flame Seedless, Hamburg, Jupiter, Mission, Red Flame, Muscat of Alexandria, and Thompson. All are growing vigorously, but none have set fruit yet.
Amaranth These free-sowers that pop up through the year are welcome in my garden. Their brilliant red-purple-maroon stems and leaves and blossoms add color to the garden-as-bouquet, and the nutrition and flavor of the young leaves augment salads and stir-frys.
Lettuce bolting - sending up stalks with blossoms that'll become seeds.
Cucumber seeds sown into gaps from first sowing - they'll catch up within 2 weeks.
Squash seeds sown at outside of fruit tree watering berm to benefit from water and then shade the area for lessened evaporation.
Celebrity tomato fruit set. No blossom-end rot here!
Beautiful mini rose.
Maranta seed pods.
Double Delight rose bloom flush.
Pepper plant planted a year ago: this year's foliage, bloom, and fruit.
Fortnight lily blooms.
Tomatoes supported by double-decker cages and watered at base of plants and also in buried 5-gallon buckets. Note upright green stakes at corners of each cage and anchored with tie at top of upper cage and also horizontally between all cages.
Dancy tangerines. Harvest citrus by shaking the branch - if fruits fall, they're ripe; if they don't fall, they need more time to ripen.
Is your lettuce, spinach, parsley and cilantro bolting – sending up those tall stalks and flowering? They’re reacting to the suddenly hot weather, proceeding with their reproductive cycle by going to seed. This is just one result of our air temperatures suddenly rising 15-20 degrees hotter after a mild spring that went on very comfortably for months and months – even more so since we never really got any cold weather over our winter.
Here’re some other things you may observe in your garden resulting from this instant Summer.
Seeds Germinate Quickly Cucumber, squash, corn, melons and other warm-season-loving vegetable seeds you’ve just sown seem to literally pop out of the soil within a couple of days – and catch up quickly to the seedlings from the seeds that you’d sown a couple of weeks ago. This is why I no longer hurry earlier in the coolness to get my summer-loving crops to germinate and grow. I know that they’ll come up and thrive more readily if I just wait a couple of weeks until the soil warms up. This is also the reason that I no longer bother purchasing seedlings of these plants available commercially – they’ve been forced to sprout in a greenhouse and pumped up with fertilizer so they can be sold at nurseries, but then they have a supremely difficult time adapting to the very different environmental conditions in your garden – in most cases barely surviving. Instead, I sow two or three seeds in each hole, two inches apart, in well-amended soil, and water them in well. Then, if there are gaps in germination, I just put in a couple more seeds into each hole, and water them in, and these usually catch up with the original seedlings within 2 weeks. And, because they’ve germinated and grown up in my garden soil and environment, they’re extremely healthy and thriving.
Check for Tomato End Rot Tomato fruits that set just after a sudden change in air temperatures may develop tomato end rot because the plants have been subjected to drought. During our long cool Spring – up until last week – plants have been growing nicely, and we haven’t been paying much attention to how frequently we’ve been watering because the plants looked fine. But, with this sudden increase of 15-20 degrees air temperature for days on end, we may have still felt comfortable, but the plants may be pulling more moisture from the soil than we’ve been providing by watering. Which means that the extremely last spot on the plant – the blossom end of the fruits – may be starting to dry out since not enough moisture is able to make its way that far away from the roots. This results in that brownish-gray scab. There’s nothing wrong with that scabby-looking thing – it’s not diseased or anything. If the fruit is already a good size, you can just let the fruit continue to ripen, harvest it, and cut off the scab before eating it. Or – if the fruit is still small – just pluck it off and toss it into the compost pile. And then change your watering pattern!
Change Your Watering Pattern This is your timing cue to shift your watering pattern to “Summer” instead of “Spring” – more frequently, and deeply enough so the plants’ entire root systems are sufficiently supplied each time. How frequently and how deeply? This depends on the type of plant, your soil type, and the amount of organic matter that you’ve incorporated into the soil.
Type of Plants and Their Root System Most vegetable plants’ root systems are in the top 6-18 inches of soil. More shallow plants’ roots that reach down about only one foot are beets, bok choy, carrots, garlic, lettuce, onions, radishes, spinach, strawberries, swiss chard. Deeper plants’ roots that reach down another foot are beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, peas, peppers, squash. Some roots can reach even further down - to 3 feet - are blackberries, blueberries, potatoes, tomatoes. Which means that every time you irrigate, the water must reach down that deeply to keep those roots hydrated, absorbing nutrients, and developing strongly.
Your Soil Type Sandy soil, with large chunks of rock and large pore spaces between them, will drain water very quickly, leaving root systems dry. Silty loam soil, with smaller pieces of mineral matter and equal-sized pore spaces, will hold water for enough time so plant roots can remain moist enough to pick up nutrients, but then the soil drains so roots can breathe. Clay soil, with tiny pieces of mineral matter and even tinier pore spaces between them, takes in water slowly because the pore spaces are so small – and easily runs off instead of entering the soil – and then holds onto to the water for a long time, and drains very slowly.
Amount of Organic Matter in the Soil Organic matter incorporated into each of these types of soil will benefit all of them because it provides a “wrung-out sponge” lodged between soil pieces and pore spaces to help absorb the water in the first place and then keep the moisture always available to the roots. It’s the magic enabler in all soils!
Keep tomato plants corralled in cages - and inadvertently hand-pollinated!
Blooming cilantro attracts beneficial insects
Leonitus leonurus and Salvia canariensis
Harvest outer stalks of celery. Burnt top edges were from that blast of heat we got several weeks back
Time to put bird netting on individual nectarines!
Amarosa and French Fingerling potatoes ready to cover stems with compost and another tire
These low- to mid-70s temperatures for weeks on end - with nary an afternoon break with sun - are continuing perfect transplanting weather, but I’m waiting momentarily for that sudden shift to “real” late spring and early summer temperatures closer to the mid- to high-80s and brilliantly blasting sun. In the meantime, I’m putting in another couple of tomatoes that will extend my eating season beyond the end of August, if last year’s yield timing will be the guide for this year. And I’m planting another batch of beans and squash. I’m even buying a packet of Wando peas to plant since it’s heat-tolerant and I’m already missing this year’s scrumptious harvest. With previous hot summers starting much earlier, with a week of over 100 degrees in early May, I’d pretty much given up planting another batch of anything after mid-May just because I didn’t want to pay for the water it’d take to get newly-planted plants to survive – much less thrive – through the summer heat. But this year, this extenuated coolness is shifting my perspective, so I’m trying again. You never know what the weather’s going to do, so I decided I might as well try something. Of course, this may be precisely the reason that the weather will suddently turn into summer with a vengeance. Ah, well. As gardeners, we just have to do whatever we can whenever we can, and suffer or succeed with the consequences. Here’re some other things I’m doing in the garden now that may also be good for you to consider:
Plant the Last Corn Later plantings will probably have smut problems (those big, gray and black puffs of fungus in place of kernels) when harvested in September. Of course, during our Master Gardener program, I learned that many of our Hispanic community gardeners relished this fungus as “huitlacoche” and actually inoculated their corn with it. Yay for different cultures sharing their culinary treasures and enabling us to redefine “good” and “bad”!
Feed Blossoming Plants Tomatoes, peppers, squashes and eggplants need this extra nutrition now to continue growing foliage and also blossom, set fruit, and mature the fruit.
Keep Tomato Foliage Corralled Pushing tomato foliage back into the rungs of their cages accomplishes two things – keeping the vigorous foliage corralled and growing upright instead of sprawling, and also pollinating blossoms by your inadvertently flicking each bloom as you tuck in the foliage. This is best done just prior to watering the plant, since the stems are more pliable and less likely to break as you tuck them in. For this hand-pollinating, big plants can be taken care of with one or two shakes while holding onto their cages or stakes. The pollen is naturally sticky, and this helps spread it.
Harvest Celery Stalk By Stalk Instead of pulling up the entire plant, harvest celery from the outside, and only the number of stalks you need. I usually remove all the stalks except the innermost four or five that are very pale green. I love growing celery because I use all the foliage – more than half the plant – in soups and stews and salads.
Keep Veggies Harvested At Least Every Other Day Vegetables that aren't harvested soon enough will produce a chemical that inhibits further blossoming. Check plants at least every other day during the summer. This is especially true for beans, cucumbers, eggplants, squashes, and tomatoes.
Don’t Refrigerate Tomatoes But if you must, then pick them early in the day, when they’re still cool from overnight and are less sensitive to chilling injury – that disappointingly flavorless mushyiness.
Thin Fruit Trees Ruthlessly
Thin fruits on trees and vines to what you realistically expect to consume. More than a couple dozen is ok only if you’ll be making jam or some such.
Thin tree fruits to opposite sides of branches for balanced and more complete development with less strain on trees, especially on those bearing fruit for the first or second time. Leave at least three inches between apricots and plums; and five inches between peaches, nectarines, pears, and apples.
Thin grape clusters to produce bunches of fewer but larger individual fruits, rather than many tiny ones.
Put Netting On Fruit Trees Discourage birds and squirrels from visiting your trees by putting netting on individual fruiting branches two or three weeks before the fruit begins to ripen. Otherwise, you know that they’ll decide the fruit's ripe the very day before you do, so they get them first! Tie loose ends of the netting so birds don't get trapped inside.
For more of what to do in the coming month, see June's monthly tips.
Artichokes - the first one is the biggest, the second set are smaller, and the third and fourth sets are "baby" size.
First tomatoes have set near the bottom, and more blossoms throughout the plant.
Cilantro bolting - going to flower and seed - attracts beneficial insects. While the stalks are unchewable, the individual leaflets still taste fine.
Cuphea continues to bloom
Figs set on last years gray-brown wood will ripen in June/July, and the newly-set figs on this year's green wood will ripen in July/August. When pruning next winter, be sure to leave 3 or 4 nodes of this years wood so you'll get some of these early fruits - called the "bebra" crop.
Harvest celery from the outside so inner stalks continue growing. The burnt edges were from that heat spell two weeks ago; I watered immediately to keep the stalks fully hydrated.
Last sweet pea blooms
Sweet pea pods are gray-green, fuzzy, and thinner than edible peas. Let them get crispy dry before harvesting to save for next year - but catch them before the pods split, twist, and shoot out their seeds. You'll always miss some, but then you'll enjoy their blooms when they germinate next spring elsewhere in the garden.
Bulbine in orange and yellow. Not as vigorous as the clear-yellow ones.
Amaranth freely self-sows, but are easily pulled up to share with friends.
Beets coming up.
Arctic Star Nectarine
Salvia canariensis has wonderfully fuzzy white stems in contrast to lilac-mauve blossoms
I garden because my Mom gardened, in the garden where I now garden. I feel her every day, I visit with her every day, I garden with her every day, in our garden. Her nurturing our family through our garden is why I for more than 20 years nurtured Master Gardeners in their own gardens and all the gardens they helped Los Angeles residents garden. And I continue to do so through chatting about my Pasadena garden – her garden – on this website and in my presentations to gardening groups throughout Southern California. Since I was 2 years old, we lived in the home that my Dad designed and built, and my Mom created a vegetable and flower garden between the fruit trees that my Dad planted, all up a hillside lot anchored by a heritage oak tree. Those first years they spent terracing the hillside and planting the fruit trees. Then came the roses and dichondra lawn by the house, and the beds of vegetables, melons, corn and boysenberries up the hill behind the house. I grew up eating mostly what we grew, with only in-season purchases from the local Preble’s produce market on Green Street in what is now Old Town Pasadena. Mr. Preble went to the downtown Los Angeles produce market early every morning and then displayed the wooden crates full of whatever was ripe. But we always purchased from the sale section at the back of the store – the Thomson Seedless Grapes that were so ripe that they’d fallen off their stems and turned ochre yellow with sticky sweetness, the too tiny but most-tender green bean, corn that hadn’t filled its kernels completely, the watermelons that were so ripe that they’d cracked open merely through handling them. Between our own garden’s produce picked on a daily basis only when it was absolutely ripe, and the Preble’s bargain-priced almost-overripe treasures, I learned what it meant to eat exquisitely flavored produce -- according to the season and harvesting at the perfect moment of ripeness. This is an exploration that today’s gardeners can experience in their own gardens, harvesting several times during the development of the portion we eat to see when they’d like the flavor best. For example:
Removing the older outer leaves of lettuce and spinach and kales, and harvesting the inner tender leaves, leaving only the tiny innermost leaves to continue developing. The same plants continue growing for up to 9 months, providing enough of those most-delicately delicious leaves for the whole time.
Picking peas when they’ve just set from their blossoms, a week later, another week later, and yet a week later. The gardener gets to decide which moment offers the greatest texture and flavor, so they know when to harvest that variety in the future.
Harvesting squash blossoms, tiny fruit, larger fruit, and even too-mature fruit just so you can decide when you like them best.
This is how you can have “baby” and “gourmet” vegetables and fruits from your own garden. There’s nothing so delightful and fulfilling for the gardener-- and that that says “I love you” – more than pronouncing at dinner time – all of this came from our garden! From my Mom to me to you!
Buckets of peas - this is half of yesterday's harvest since the first batch went straight into our mouths. Yum!
Vases full of sweet peas. The blossoms we missed picking have already turned into pods, easy to distinguish from the edible pods.
Dancy tangerine tree is loaded. Living mulch underneath includes Irish Bells, coreopsis, nasturtiums, salvia, alstroemeria
Succulent blooms and spines offer great color and textural contrasts in bright sun.
Amaryllis blooms 2 years after collecting seeds.
Grape bunch thinned to encourage larger individual berries and to allow better air circulation as the bunches mature.
Irises in brilliant yellow.
Tatsoi that we've been eating for 7 months by harvesting the outer leaves is finally bolting (going to seed). However, the whole plant - including flower stems - is still sweetly tasting, so we're continuing to harvest for salads, stir-fries, and soups. Great economical value as well as tasty!
August Pride peach tree in full bloom.
Now's the time to let tomato plants set their bloom - when they're full of foliage and have reached the second rung of their cages. Until then, pluck off the blossoms so the plant continues to invest its energy into developing an extensive root system.
Palo Verde tree in full bloom.
Oro Gold grapefruit blossoms and fruit set.
Pineapple Guava - Feijoa - blossoms have a droplet of sugar at the base of the stamens and make colorful and tasty additions to salads.
Lemon verbena blossoms are unspectacular but delicate contrast to more substantial leaves.
Bearded iris add statuesque highlights to the garden. If yours are in big clumps but haven't bloomed well in a couple of years, consider separating and transplanting individual rhizomes. Then they'll reestablish themselves and bloom again in 2 years.
Harvest celery by removing the outer stalks. Rip them from one side to the other to break them off. Don't cut them since this will leave open cuts that encourage spoiling.
Good old California poppies scatter throughout the garden when their seeds can reach soil under the mulch.
Finally those lush vines are producing bucketsful of edible peas and vasesful of fragrant posies. This feels like the real beginning of yumminess and beauty for the coming summer. And the promise of fruits to come are blossoms on fruit trees and even a couple on boysenberry vines.
Peas My husband prefers peas that he has to play with – the ones that he has to shell and is rewarded with the morsels inside. For him, I grow whichever I can find of these varieties - Burpeeana Early, Cascadia, Green Arrow, Little Marvel, Mr. Bit, Progress #9, Sabre, and Thomas Laxton. I, on the other hand, want my peas totally edible – picking and popping directly into my mouth, with lots of crunch and “green” sweetness. I count on Sugar Snap (which need a 7’ trellis) and Sugar Daddy Snap (which need only a 3’ trellis), and Oregon Sugar Pod. If I were planting now, I’d plant Wando, which is resistant to bolting (going to seed) in the heat.
Sweet Peas I love planting my sweet peas at the back of the cages containing the edible peas. They come into bloom about the same time, but last all the way through the edible-pea picking period. Even though the sweet pea pods are poisonous, there’s no problem distinguishing between them. The flower pods are shorter, skinnier, furry, and grey-green. The edible pod pea pods are longer, broader, more filled-out, shiny-surfaced, and bright green. After the edible pea harvest is done, you’ll allow the flower pods to continue maturing on the plants until both the foliage and the pods are completely brown and crispy – perhaps another month or two. Then, snip off the pods with clippers to avoid having the pods shattering and scattering their seeds. Of course, this will be somewhat unavoidable, but you’ll enjoy the results when the escapees sprout next fall!
Tomato just transplanted, with watering berm 1' wide and 3" deep to be filled 3 times when planted and then once a week as the plant grows. On either side are 5-gallon plastic containers with holes in their bottoms to be filled with water at the same time as the plant is watered. This combination assures that the entire root zone and surrounding soil is kept moist (but not soggy) throughout the life of the plant. More water may be needed when we have our weeks-long 90+ degree heat spells in July and August. But by then, the root zones will be very deep and so the plants will thrive instead of just survive. Trellises are stacked on top of each other and anchored by the green stake in the corner and across several cages to support indeterminate plants getting 10 feet tall.
Dancy tangerine tree with lots of fruit. "Living mulch" of nasturtiums and correopsis keeps soil temperature and moisture moderated so more inviting for extensive root zones. Trunk is painted white with interior latex paint to reflect direct sun and preclude sunburn.
Three shades of purple on yesterday, today, and tomorrow; and orange and yellow bulbine.
Overwintered pepper had lost all its leaves, but new ones are starting now that the weather and soil are warming up.
Celery harvested of its outer leaves, with inner leaves remaining to continue growing. Note two plants growing from basal plate of only one seedling. I left the outermost small leafstalks remain covering the soil to help retard evaporation and shade the soil.
Species stock is a fragrant, single purple that prolifically - and welcomingly - scatters its seed. Seedlings are easy to pull up and transplant or share with gardener friends.
Edible peas setting their blossoms, with carrots at their bases.
Root Systems Determine the Health and Vigor of Plants and Their Yield.
Extensive root system will support healthy plants that produce lots of tomatoes over a full life of the plant.
Lack of nutrition, water, friable soil, and spread-out roots will result in weak plants and few tomatoes.
1. Choose Strong Plants
At least 3 sets of leaves
2. Acclimate Plants to Where They’ll Grow to Maturity
At least one week
Keep potting mix moist
3. Prepare Soil
Turn soil and break apart clods at least 1 foot deep and 1 foot across to facilitate good root development into surrounding soil.
Preferable instead of containers because connected with the earth so doesn’t need so much attention, water, and fertilization.
Container – minimum of about 20 inches wide and deep
Use premium grade potting soil.
Tomatoes need frequent attention, water, and fertilization.
Mix soil from the 1' hole with about 2 cups of manure and 2 cups of compost and 2 cups of coffee grounds
4. Prepare Plant
With your thumbnail close to the stem, pinch off all leaves up to the top three or four.
This is ONLY for tomato plants – they’re the only plant that will develop roots along its stem.
Vertical or horizontal?
Plant vertically (upright) to gain benefits of deep planting or if soil is lighter in texture so it’s no problem digging deeply
Plant horizontally (sideways) if soil is so heavy that you can’t dig deeply, or if the soil is so cold that it will delay plant roots from warming sufficiently to thrive.
Holding the plant over the planting hole, massage/tickle most of the potting mix from the rootball to reveal new white roots. Save the potting mix (see below).
Shake the tomato plant to remove most of the loose potting mix. Save the mix.
Remove any roots that dangle more than 3 inches down from the base of the stem, and toss them into the planting hole.
Mix the removed planting mix with the soil in the planting hole. This creates a “half-way” mix of the potting mix that the plants have grown in with the soil in their new home where they’ll mature. This way the roots can “remember” the particles of potting mix that they grew in as well as extend into the new amended soil.
Pull the mixed soil to the sides of the planting hole.
For vertical planting, hold the plant suspended in the hole so that the 3” of roots hang down into the base of the hole, and the junction of the stem and roots is 2 inches below the level of the soil.
For horizontal planting, lay the plant in a 3” deep hole, holding the topknot of foliage upright above the soil level.
With your other hand, pull the soil mix into the hole around the roots until the hole is filled. It'll mound above the original level since you've added the amendments.
With your thumbs and forefingers (but not your whole hand), press the potting mix several times around the stem to anchor it but not compress the soil mix too much.
Form the remaining soil into a bowl about 1 foot wide around the stem as a watering basin.
6. Water In
Fill the basin with water.
Sprinkle the foliage to moisten it.
Repeat 2 more times. Each time, the water will take a bit longer to sink down into the soil. This is assuring that the soil is thoroughly saturated to the 1-foot depth and width of the loosened soil, and into the surrounding soil.
7. Keep Soil Evenly Moist
Repeat this 3-times filling with water again in 3 days and again in another 3 days. This spreads the moisture even further out into surrounding soil, which will attract the roots as they develop further.
Repeat this 3-times filling with water every week or so as required by warming weather, and twice a week when air temperatures are consistently above 85 or 90 degrees.
Determinant variety - the plant will grow to only about 4’ in height so will need a trellis about that height.
Indeterminant variety – the plant will grow to perhaps 8 or 10 feet’ in height, so will need a heavier duty trellis and probably also stakes driven into the ground to keep the plant upright later in the summer when it's full of foliage and fruit and has just been watered. I learned this one year when one of our Santa Ana winds blew my whole row of tomatoes over......
9. Pluck Off Blossoms
Let the plant grow to about the second rung on the trellis – about 2’ – before allowing blossoms to set on the plant. Until then, the initial growth is important to focus the plant's energy on establishing its extensive root system that will provide for a lot of fruit.
If the plant is allowed to blossom and set fruit before it’s established its extensive root system, it won’t have the strength to produce much fruit or continue growing and bearing fruit to its full potential.
10. Fertilize When Plants Have Set Their First Fruit
Setting blossoms and ripening fruit takes a lot of energy from the plant, so fertilize at half-strength each time you water.
This procedure is adaptable for every single plant you transplant into your garden, from tiny vegetable and flower seedlings to larger shrubs and trees -- just dig larger holes for larger plants and trees! Enjoy!
Statuesque amaranth self-sows, grows, and blooms throughout the year.
Mini rose new and older blossom colors complement sea lavender.
Blue-purple iochroma attracts hummingbirds through the year. Although its branches are gangly and grow to 10 feet, they're easily snapped off so lower growth will be more bushy.
Boysenberries sending up new shoots alongside last-year's stems.
Chasmanthe seed pods.
Grape hyacinth and creamy-white species freesia.
Double Delight rose.
Species stock growing in a crack -- perseverence!
Our flip-floppy weather may or may not be settling down with easing into warm weather. But our considerable rain was a wonderful start! Chances are that the weather will continue warming up, so best to begin planting summer veggies and flowers rather than more cool-season lovers.
Plant Tomatoes Tomatoes can handle still-cool soil temperatures and cool nighttime air temperatures, so do plant varieties you find at nurseries and Tomatomania events.
Don’t Plant Others Quite Yet But, hold off on planting other warm-season lovers like beans, cucumbers, eggplants, and squashes. Seedlings currently in nurseries have been rushed to market and were grown in too-hot greenhouses and can’t adapt to inconsistent air temperatures and cold soil temperatures. At best, they’ll “sulk” for a month and never really catch up and thrive. And that’s only if they don’t die first. Wait a month to plant both seeds and seedlings, when soil is warmer and air is consistently mild to warm. Another month after that, reseed whatever didn’t come up, and they’ll all thrive together in the heat.
Back to Tomatoes This year, I’ve already planted my first set of favorite varieties, purchased as I found them in nurseries and let them acclimate near where I'd plant them for two weeks before I actually got them planted. These were Ace, Big Rainbow, Black Krim, Celebrity, Green Zebra, Isis Candy, Paul Robeson, and Sungold. I always grow Ace, Black Krim, Celebrity, Sungold for their flavor and quantity. I’m giving a second chance this year to Big Rainbow, Green Zebra, and Isis Candy. I’m trying Paul Robeson for the first time. Other standbys that I’ll purchase and plant when I find them - probably at Tomatomania or at San Gabriel Nursery - include Pink Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and Stupice. Varieties that I grew last year but weren’t thrilled about included Brandy Boy, Chocolate Stripes, Jaune Flamme, Odoriko, and Pineapple. Maybe I’ll give them another chance this year. I have 6 open spots for varieties that I'll try for the first time this year, that other people rave about this time around. And I have another 4 spots for second plantings of Celebrity toward the end of May to carry me through the rest of the summer to at least Thanksgiving. I've found that planting new plants later than that is not worth it - they're too hard to keep alive and healthy through our summer heat to provide tomatoes after mid-August If hornworms have plagued your tomatoes in the past, consider planting cherry tomatoes. Their thicker skins and higher alkaloid content seem to repel the worms. Adult hornworms are the larval form of large fast-flying, mottled gray or brown moths that will hover near tubular flowers at dusk later this summer. As you work your soil prior to planting, destroy the pupae -- the hard, brown, two-inch long, spindle-shaped cases with a handle that are buried three to four inches underground.
Come Say Hi at Tomatomania at Descanso Gardens on Sunday, April 8 I'll be at Descanso chatting with visitors most of the day. My presentation on "Growing Great Roots for a Productive Tomato Season!" will start at 1pm.
Add Edible Flowers Add to your garden some edible flowers for their foliage, bloom, and flavor. You may already grow some -- the edible portion of artichoke, broccoli, and cauliflower are all immature flowers. Nasturtium leaves and flowers both taste peppery. Squash and borage blossoms have a cucumbery flavor. Some marigolds taste unpleasantly strong, but others are mild. Be sure, however, to eat only flowers and foliage that haven't been sprayed with a pesticide not registered for food.
Encourage Beneficials To encourage beneficial insects to populate your garden, provide them with their chosen foods and habitats. Many weeds -- including lamb's quarters, nettle, knotweed, pigweed, and cocklebur -- as well as many cultivated annuals, perennials, and herbs are food sources for two of the most important orders of beneficials, wasps and flies. Most of these plants are members of two families, the umbelliferae and the compositae. Umbelliferae - such as anise, carrot, caraway, coriander, dill, fennel and parsley -- have many tiny flowers arranged in tight umbels. (To help yourself remember their name, think of them as upside-down umbrellas.) Compositae - such as black-eyed Susan and strawflower - have a daisy-like central disc flowers surrounded by many ray petals. Mustard flowers attract lacewings (for aphids) and parasitic wasps (for cabbage caterpillars and coddling moths, but they don't bother people or pets).