How to harvest leafy greens -- on the left side is the tatsoi plant ready for harvest. On the right side is the plant after harvest, with only the 3 or 4 tiniest center leaves remaining to continue growing. It'll be ready for another harvest in another 2 weeks. Be sure to remove each complete leaf so no remaining stubs will attract munching pests.
Cilantro transplants are growing nicely. I've reseeded more in the entire bed that will develop into a mass for harvesting.
Parsley and carrots usually take a full 3 weeks to finally germinate and send up their little green leaves.
Fuyu-type persimmons can be harvested firm or squishy.
Let asparagus fern die back completely before trimming so energy will be reabsorbed into the crown for next year's shoots.
Grape cuttings turning yellow and browning edges as they go dormant for the winter.
Begonia boliviensis 'San Francisco'
Begonia boliviensis 'Santa Cruz'
Potatoes that I'd missed harvesting have resprouted.
Bougainvillea's rich color
Transplanted three weeks ago, my lettuce, tatsoi, and pak choi provided their first harvests for last night’s dinner and the rest of the week. If I’d purchased the greens from a farmers’ market or the grocery store, with this one harvest I’ve paid off the expense of purchasing the 6-packs. And I’ll have some six more months of harvests to look forward to before the plants bolt in the late-Spring heat. Even factoring in the cost of the compost and manure that I’d incorporated into the soil and the water that I’ll apply in coming months, growing your own is infinitely worthwhile. Especially adding in the superior nutritional value and just-picked freshness! There’s nothing quite like pronouncing at dinnertime, “This and this and this all came from the garden!”
Seeding Augmenting 6-packs with starting your own seeds increases the bounty and variety, even for “weekend” gardeners who are more periodic in their attentions. As long as night-time temperatures are still in the 50s, most cool-season seeds will germinate, albeit slowly. Parsley and carrots, especially, usually start finally showing up some 3 weeks after you’ve sown them and kept the seedbed moist. Just about the time you finally give up, thinking that you had old seed or they’d rotted, that’s when they start showing their little green leaves. That’s when I resow, as well, since I know that the environmental conditions – soil, sun, air temperature, and moisture – are ideal for them to germinate.
Harvesting Persimmons Harvest persimmons according to type. Hachiya (the heart-shaped ones) are astringent when hard, so wait till they’re squishy-ripe. Fuyu (the squat ones) can be eaten hard like an apple or allowed to get soft and sweeter. The Fuyu type can be stored by drying or freezing. A friend of mine who has a huge orchard of the Fuyu type washes them, removes the stem-end foliage, slices them crosswise into 1/4-inch disks, and dries them until they’re leathery for wonderful sweet snacks. My Dad used to freeze them whole and retrieve them sometimes months later for a really-appreciated treat -- long after the rest of us had enjoyed ours fresh.
Hold Off On Trimming Asparagus Ferns Wait to cut asparagus ferns until they've turned completely brown, generally after the first hard frost. By then, they've reabsorbed all their energy back into the crowns for next year's edible shoots. Cutting them sooner means throwing away this recycled nutrition. Trim the fronds at soil level rather than yanking them from the crown to avoid injuring the crowns.
Encourage Winter Dormancy and Protect From Early Frost Give one last deep watering to grapevines and deciduous trees but discontinue feeding. This will begin hardening them off for cold weather. You want to discourage new growth now that will be tender and susceptible to frost damage. Even if we don’t get any frost, we want the trees and vines to go dormant to rebuild their energy for next Spring and Summer's exertions. Provide protection for deciduous tree trunks, as the trees can be damaged more by first frosts than by later ones. Support coverings away from foliage with stakes to prevent conducting the cold directly to the leaves and freezing them.
Cool-Weather Gardening I enjoy gardening during our cool winters much more than during summer’s heat. The coolness of gardening now makes digging and incorporating amendments – or even just spreading them as mulch -- more pleasurable. Watering is more effective since there’s less evaporation. Plants grow more slowly, so you don’t get overwhelmed with produce and the urgency to harvest every day.
Transplanted broccoli raab and bokchoy. The 5-gallon buckets are buried up to their rims,. The hose fills them so water exits bottom holes directly into the foot-deep root zone. Alternatively, add a shovelful of manure or compost to the bin so the water becomes "manure tea" or "compost tea", feeding the root zones every time the bin is filled.
Transplanted Romanesco brocoflower, celery, lettuce, and spinach
Cilantro 2 ways: one six-pack cell every 2 feet, plus seeds scattered along the entire bed. Nursery trays allow filtered light to keep soil moist to help seeds germinate.
Artichokes resprout from planting several years ago. Note that several new clumps develop at the outer edges of the gap which was the original planting.
Amaranth seeds are beige. Young leaves are edible greens.
Feijoas are welcome November fruit. As a kid, I loved to shake the tree so the ripe ones would fall; then I rolled the fruit in my hand to soften it, and finally bit off the blossom end to suck out the sweet flesh. Definitely fun finger food!
Still-blossoming sunflowers that reseed themselves every year. This is 15 years so far!
Ongoing color of California fuchsia, Epilobium canum.
Chocolate-scented flower, Berlandiera lyrata, on green foliage. Yellow-variegated foliage is lavender.
Stock that's almost permanently in color.
Fortnight Lily seedpod
Allow asparagus fern to die back naturally so the roots can reabsorb all the energy produced through the summer.
Green pepper continues to bloom and set fruit through the winter unless it frosts.
Pilea peperomioides in "bloom"
Odontonema strictum "Firespike" blooms now, but with that name you'd think it should bloom for the 4th of July!
We’re having wonderful weather, albeit without our very-much-needed rain, and plants are thriving in the garden. Now that they’re relieved of the brunt of the summer heat, they’re enjoying the mild temperatures and moister mornings and evenings. With warm days sandwiched between chilly evenings and mornings, we need to get our transitioning from the worn-out summer crops to thriving overwintering ones. You may even be still relishing those still-hanging-on tomatoes that should ripen by Thanksgiving or even the end-of-the-year holidays. Remember to let the garden sit for a couple of weeks following incorporating the amendments like compost, manure and coffee grounds so the soil can heat up and then cool down sufficiently to not burn roots of new transplants. I’ve finished transplanting most veggies and flowers that I purchased at nurseries, and will now start sowing seeds of even more varieties for greater diversity in the garden. When you’re spacing transplants, be sure to crowd transplants as close as you’ll estimate that each mature plant – or whatever size you’ll harvest it -- will barely touch the next plant’s foliage. This way, you’ll get the most effective use of the soil surface and nutrition underneath since plants will grow so much more slowly during cool weather than they did during warm weather. Vegetables and herbs to sow or transplant include fava beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chard, coriander (cilantro), garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce (especially romaine types and small-heading bibb and butter¬crunch types, which thrive with only minimal damage from light frosts), mustards, green and bulb onions, parsley (the flat-leaf type is hardier than the curly one), peas, radishes, shallots and spinaches, especially the curly-leafed savoy types. While these plants won't grow much till early spring, they'll have well established root systems ready for the great growth spurt with the first warmth in Spring. Flowers to sow or transplant include alyssum, Japanese anemone, baby's breath, bachelor's button (cornflower), bleeding heart, calendula, campanula (canterbury bell, bellflower), candytuft, columbine, coral bell, coreopsis, cyclamen, gazania, English and Shasta daisies, delphinium, dianthus (carnation, pinks, sweet William), forget-me-not, foxglove, gaillardia, hollyhock, larkspur, linaria, lunaria (honesty, money plant, silver dollar plant), lupine, penstemon, phlox, California and Iceland and Shirley poppies, primroses, rudbeckias (coneflower, gloriosa daisy, black-eyed-susan), snapdragon, stock, sweet peas, violas (Johnny-jump-up, pansy, violet), and regionally adapted wild¬flowers. Plant azaleas, camellias, forsythias, dogwoods, and oriental magnolias so they'll settle in nicely. Renew acid mulches under azaleas and camellias. Scatter regionally adapted wildflowers where you can let their seedpods mature and scatter for future volunteers. Besides California poppies, include baby blue eyes, chia, clarka, gillia and phacelia. Plant California native plants like ceanothus, grevillea, mimulus, sage, but disturb the rootball as little as possible. Fill the planting hole with water and let it drain away before filling it with just the soil dug from the hole and then watering again once the plant is in place to settle it. Divide cool season native grasses like carex, calamagrostis, festuca, juncus, leymus, melica, muhlenbergia and stipa. Also divide clumping perennials like heuchera, native iris and potentilla. Water well until new growth appears. Shear back Cleveland sage, coyote mint and galvezia by about one-third, and matilija poppy to the ground.
Finally, we can trim all that dead stuff, but do so gradually down the branch so you're sure to leave the inner green cambium survive to put out new leaves!
Starting seeds in 6-packs (2 seeds in each cell, trimmed to the one strongest, like for lettuce and spinach) and 4" containers (to be transplanted in little clumps for cut-and-come-again variations like parsley and cilantro. They're in a tray to hold the 1/4 inch of irrigation water that's drained and will be absorbed as the potting mix needs it within a couple of days.
An avocado planted in late June.
More sun allowed in September.
Now can absorb milder Fall sun in October.
Dry stuff left from filtering out the "done" compost to spread onto beds with manure and coffee grounds in anticipation of planting seeds and seedlings -- after waiting 2 weeks for the amendments to heat up and cool down. If you don't wait before transplanting, you run the risk of literally burning the roots of the seedlings. This dry stuff will be the base of a new compost pile, alternating with layers of moist greenery and old potting mix.
Like other Fall-blooming bulbs, eucomis arise once the amount of daylight shifts and heat lessens.
A green eucomis, in the ground.
'Whitewater' acanthus - Bear's Breeches - leaves emerge, alaying my fears that it'd died in that awful heat!
Gomphrena globosa 'Fireworks'
Furcrea "fruits" that had fallen from the flower stalk are potted up and rooting.
Stock that had germinated by a leaky faucet are potted up and thriving, despite their skimpy roots.
Tiny yellow bell-shaped flowers on asparagus ferns. Pile on the mature and compost to feed the roots so they'll put up lots of shoots in Spring.
'Carrion Flower' attracts flies, bu are beautiful one-day bloomers. The long white seed pod has expelled its seed.
Lots of bulbs send up foliage now that the amount of daylight and heat has changed.
Still-blooming sunflowers and remnants of amaranth.
Leonitus leonurus - Lion's Tail, Lion's Mane. I prefer this bright orange cultivar over the more beige ones.
Love that bougainvillea!
Our current Fallish weather, mid to upper 70s daytime temperatures, high-50s nighttime temperatures, and lots of scattered clouds during daytime are perfect for getting new plants started in our gardens, whether from seeds or transplants. We can again enjoy being out in the garden, cleaning up after that torrid heat and starting our plantings for eating and enjoying color through Fall and Winter and Early Spring.
Trimming that burnt-up foliage Finally, it’s safe to prune back that dead stuff and encourage the new growth. Trim back what’s obviously dead gradually, however, since some of the branches that have crispy foliage might be still green inside. If the layer just under the outer bark – the cambium layer -- is green, this may potentially resprout, although perhaps not until Spring. You want to cut the dead stuff away, but only just down to the top of the node so a new leaf may emerge later. If new sprouts are coming up from the base of the stem or trunk, like one of my cherries and a rose are doing, be sure to cut all of this away, way down into the soil as close to where it emerges from the stem or trunk as possible. This growth is from the rootstock and won’t bear fruit or flowers that you want. So remove it as soon as you see that it’s regrowing. You want the plant’s energy to go instead into the topgrowth, which is what will bear the fruit and flowers you bought it for.
Some Seeding Tips
Sow seeds of root vegetables – like beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, rutabagas – directly where they’ll mature. They can be strewn in the entire bed or container about 1/2 inch apart. Their taproots need to be able to extend straight down into the prepared bed. As they mature, thin by pulling some of the crowded tiny plants for salads so the remaining roots can mature fully. If initially transplanted from elsewhere, especially 6-packs or 4” pots, their roots will be curly and have a difficult time maturing properly.
Sow seeds of vegetables that will be harvested using the “cut and come again” method – like lettuce, mesclun, parsley, cilantro – by scattering onto the prepared bed so each seed is about 1/4-inch apart. Harvest by cutting just above the soil level, and repeating every month or so as the leaves regrow.
For vegetable seeds like bok choy, chard, lettuce, spinach and tatsoi that you want to transplant later into a growing bed so they’ll develop full heads, you can start them in seed trays, 6-packs or closely sown in a prepared bed specifically for later transplanting.
Edible peas and sweet peas can be sown together, either intermixed or on opposite sides of a trellis. Despite the sweet pea pods being poisonous, they’re so distinctive that there’s no problem confusing them. Edible pods are large, bright green, and smooth. Sweet pea pods are more narrow, grayish, and hairy. Edible pea pods you’ll want to harvest at a stage of immaturity. Sweet pea pods you’ll want to allow to dry until thoroughly crispy for later sowing.
Repeat sowings of seeds every three weeks or so to assure good germination. Later sowings will catch up with earlier ones. Some years, my peas finally come up with the fourth sowing. So keep trying – at some point, the seeds will finally respond to the ideal environment.
Flower seeds can be started either by scattering or in containers, and transplanted when they’re about 2 to 4 inches inches tall.
Wildflower seeds are best scattered over beds that have been weeded and moistened, but without any fertilizer added. Sprinkle the seeded bed lightly with water after sowing and every 3 or 4 days for the next couple of weeks so the seedbed remains slightly moist so seeds can germinate.
Some Transplanting Tips
Prepare growing beds by incorporating compost, manure, and coffee grounds – about 2 inches of each – into the soil at least 9 inches deep to provide nutrition for the full root profile.
Space transplants of vegetables like bok choy, chard, lettuce, spinach and tatsoi closely together. You’ll need only about 3 or 4 inches between plants since you’ll repeatedly harvest only the outer leaves instead of letting the plants mature completely. This way, you’ll have tender “gourmet” greens for maybe 6 months instead of a glut of overmature veggies only next Spring!
Bury cabbage family plants like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower up to their first leaves to help stabilize their heavy-to-be tops. Their stems’ hard cuticles will keep the buried stems from rotting.
California Natives thrive in “native” soil that’s as unfertilized and uncomposted as possible. Loosen the soil in the hole a foot wide but only as deep as the rootball. Fill the empty hole with water and let it drain. Slip the plant into the hole, disturbing the rootball as little as possible, but with some scratching of the outer surface to loosen root tips and encourage them to extend out into the new soil. Fill the hole with the original soil. Water in the plant to fully saturate the rootball and loose soil so they’re in good contact. Then don’t water for several weeks. Hopefully Fall rains will take over, keeping the soil barely moist so roots will anchor themselves in their new home soil.
Beautiful salvia loving this transition time in the garden
Feijoa - pineapple guava - ripening up for October harvest. As a kid, this was "my" tree, which I harvested and enjoyed in place by rolling the fruit in my hands until almost squishy, then biting off the blossom end and squeezing into my mouth. Yum!
Garlic chives blossoming.
Flower bulbs beginning to emerge. If they're crowded or didn't bloom well last year, transplant them now to give them more new soil and moisture to thrive.
Stock potted up from a patch where a billion seeds had fallen and sprouted. When they've developed good root systems, I'll transplant around the garden and share with friends.
Fig cuttings from a friend starting to root well and push out new leaves.
Repotted up succulents from an overcrowded pot with lots of old dead foliage.
Poinsettia pruned down by half from its 10-foot-tall plant that had already started to push new growth. That's your cue to trim it back!
Tip trimmings from an over-leggy succulent are potted up and kept out of direct sun for a month or so while they root. Then, over a week's time, I'll give it more direct sun each day so it acclimates.
The last tomato plant. I may give it another month to see if it produces any more blossoms and sets fruit. But, chances are I'll rip it out and plant veggies that really love the chill.
September and March are transition times in our Southern California gardens. We plant the last seeds and seedlings of the almost-finished season, and the first ones of the next. Because we never know exactly what the weather is going to be, we’re hedging our bets by this double planting. Whatever the weather ends up doing, one of those sets of seeds and seedlings will thrive and produce food and beauty for us to enjoy. Success either way! So, I’m planting more beans, cucumbers and squash on the chance that warm weather will continue for the 2 months that they’ll take to mature. I’m not bothering with tomatoes, even the ones bred for cool locales like ‘Siberia’. In the past, I’ve trimmed back still-healthy plants that had new shoots and even some fruits. They ripened around the end of the year; but were no better than the ones available in the grocery store and farmers markets. So I decided to devote my garden soil and effort to the edibles that thrive in the cool weather. I’m also planting the first batch of beets, bok choy, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, kales, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, parsley, peas, spinach and tatsoi; also sweet peas and wildflowers. I’ll repeat plantings of all these again each month through March for a continuous supply of new sproutings and maturings. I'm counting on my multiple tries to result in many seeds germinating and plants blooming over the long time span. The trick to successful germination when sowing this early when both the soil and the air temperatures are still so warm is to keep the nursery bed or seeding trays moist and shaded from hot afternoon sun until the seedlings develop two to four true leaves. The seeds need to be kept moist so they germinate. The residual heat in the soil may be too warm, and the warm air may dry out the seeds before they're able to germinate. But, you don't want the soil to be soggy, either. So it takes attention.... I’ll wait until November to plant garlic and strawberries so they're not stressed by current heat. Some years, I keep sowing both edible and sweet peas, but they finally germinate only after several months. You just have to keep at it until the environmental conditions are right for the germination to finally happen. Now, I also transplant California natives and other perennials like salvias and stock that have sent up new shoots from the mother plants or sown their seeds that have sprouted. Because the soil is warm, this and next month are ideal to transplant perennials, ground covers, shrubs and vines and trees of all kinds, not just California natives, so they can develop extensive root systems as the weather slowly cools down over the next couple of months. This timing is far superior to spring planting, when plants will barely have time to get established before they’re subjected to increasing temperatures and the stress of also producing their food or flowers – and consequently you have to spend more time watering just to keep them surviving, to say nothing of thriving. I also keep an eye out now for re-energized bearded iris, daylilies and other rhizomatous plants and bulbs as they sprout so I can dig and transplant clumps before the roots become too extensive to transplant successfully. If you're growing melons and winter squashes, pinch out any new blossoms and growing tips to force growth into the fruits that have already set. They really do need the remaining heat to mature completely, either for sweetness in the melons or to be able to store well for the winter squashes. Pruning back perennials is an easy task for beginners, now that the plants are sending up new foliage at their bases and lower branches of the plants – it’s easy to see where to cut. Just make sure to cut no more than one-quarter of an inch above a node. Leaving more stem invites dieback that may continue down through the node to the whole branch and perhaps the entire plant. And put all those clippings into the compost pile!
The cane begonia's spots accentuate along with its bright pink bloom
Purple stems and foliage back contrast with light pink blossom
Gomphrena globosa 'Fireworks' pink pom-poms
Zephyr squash from Nichols Garden Nursery in Albany Oregon
Celebrity tomatoes loaded again with fruit
Jujube fruits set - they'll turn brown and shrivelly as "Chinese Dates". They're crunchy until then.
Daylily keeps coming with multiple blooms each lasting a day
Succulent loving the heat too
Newly planted avocado protected from intense sun
Umbrellas protect plants from mid-day sun
How wonderful this mild weather’s become! I’ve barely gotten used to low-80-degree days and low-60-degree evenings. And the garden tells me it loves the change too – lusher foliage, blossoms setting, new shoots in branches burnt by that torrid heat. Life begins again!
Time to start trimming the dead stuff Now you can begin trimming away those fried leaves. But, trim only the obviously-dead stuff. Trim little by little down a branch until you see some green within the branch. At that point, trim down only to just above the next node, leaving less than one-quarter of an inch of stub. The node will be the place that regenerates new leaves or branches.
Sow another batch of squash, cucumbers, beans Prepare new spaces in your soil for another batch of veggies that’ll mature within 2 months to continue the fresh harvests through the beginning of cooler weather. I’m eating my third batch of these veggies, and will plant another batch tonight. By the time that the current plants finish bearing fruit, the newly-sown batch will begin setting theirs. So, through this summer, I’ve kept harvesting tender veggies at just the perfect moment that I prefer, moving from one planting to the next without having to endure gaps in production, too-ripe ones, or too many at any one time.
Tomatoes are beginning to set blossoms and fruit again Blossoming stops when air temperatures rise above 95 degrees, so of course we got no blooms or fruit-set during that early-July heat onslaught. After air temperatures stayed below 85-90 for a couple of weeks, plants began setting blossoms again. A couple of those fruits are ripening up now, with more coming throughout the next month. Finally, fresh tomatoes again! Of course, that extensive heat was too much for some plants. My two Paul Robesons, which had borne 42 huge, delicious, brownish-reddish-purplish fruits between June 28 and July 26, were completely done in. Wonderfully flavorful and productive that I’ll grow again! My four Celebrities, which have borne 40 fruits between 6/28 and 8/21, now have another dozen or so green or ripening fruits on each plant. Definitely a wonderful producer of tasty, mid-to-large-size fruits that I’ll continue on my “always plant” list. In total so far, I’ve harvested 148 fruits. Surprisingly, both Sungold and Isis Candy haven’t been big producers this year. Their plants have been sturdy, so maybe I gave them each a couple of handfuls too many of fertilizer, and the nitrogen created hefty plants but not enough of the phosphorus and potassium to result in fruits.
Saving seeds? Be sure to let seed stalks dry completely, until they’re crispy. If they can bend at all, and don’t snap off immediately, they’re not dry enough. You want to make sure that seeds are thoroughly mature so they’ll germinate well and produce strong new plants. If you’re concerned that seed pods will split open and scatter their seed before you harvest it, tie a paper – not plastic – bag over the seed head and then let the plant continue to dry out. This can be tricky if the plant has a long blooming, reblooming, and setting-seed period, when there’s both blossoms, green seeds, and dry seeds on the plant.
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!