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).
Coffee grounds fill the space inside the tree's watering berm.
That unseasonable warmth got roses blooming.
Hardenbergia vine can be counted on to bloom during January and February when not much else is in color.
Chasmanthe is the other January/February dependable.
Even cuphea has been in color for almost a year!
"Cheddar" cauliflower was true to its name.
Tatsoi provides mildly-flavored greens all winter and through first summer heat - raw in salads, tossed into soups, or sauteed as a sidedish.
Bulbine bloomstalks elongate and stay in color all through Spring, Summer, and Fall.
We do certainly seem to be having a real winter, finally, and lasting for longer than a couple of days! Hoorah! My husband always gets a kick out of my attitude toward whatever weather’s happening: hot is wonderful for ripening tomatoes, cold is great for fruit trees’ chill hours, moderate and dry is fine for working in the garden. But, now our wet drippiness is truly a gift to the garden as a whole, after all these years of drought and the driest February which should have been our wettest month. So I go outdoors, stretch out my arms, turn my head up to the sky, and relish every individual drop, knowing that the garden is equally appreciative in absorbing all the moisture.
Coffee Grounds as Nutritional Mulch Two years ago, following a not-very-vigorous pea crop, I started mulching my bed with coffee grounds I’d picked up at Starbucks following some publicity about the company’s eagerness to give them away to gardeners. Because coffee is acidic, I’d assumed that the grounds would be great for acid-loving plants like camellias, but not much else. And, I figured I’d have to compost them before using them. But when the quantity of grounds that I could pick up went beyond my few acid-loving plants and threatened to overload the compost pile, I did some additional research. I found that the grounds were more of a middle-of-the-road provider of a broad range of nutrients, and that they didn’t need to be composted first. They could be applied directly to the garden soil. This revelation made me shift into high gear, figuring I could help the entire garden with only the expense of gas to pick up the grounds a couple of times a week. So, I found about a dozen Starbucks, Peets, and Trader Joes in a local area that I was potentially willing to drive to pick up grounds. After approaching each store with my proposal, and some false starts, I established good relationships with the management and employees at three Starbucks and one Trader Joe’s. I’d call them in the morning of any day that was convenient for me, and they’d save grounds for me to pick up later that day. The first mass application went into that pea bed, turning in a two-inch layer of grounds into the top 4 inches of soil and compost. That next year’s peas were strong and plentiful, so I knew they were benefiting from the grounds. Onto the rest of the garden! Since last Spring, all the raised vegetable beds and all the fruit trees have their two-inch layers. The vegetable beds were done by September and have been beautifully productive all through the fall and winter. We’ve just finished supplying the fruit trees, filling the space inside their watering berms a good two feet beyond their trunks with the grounds to foster nutrition to the root zones whenever the tree was watered.
Figs are the best trees to begin your pruning since you can hack branches off and still get a lot of fruit.
Be careful of the new pink buds on boysenberry branches and coming up from the crown.
Rose pruned down to 3 feet height, leaving only strong canes.
Purple hardenbergia "waterfall" if pruned no later than August.
This time of year is supposed to still be winter with its cold weather and therefore the annual time for pruning deciduous fruit and nut trees. But, of course, we barely had a couple days where the air temperatures went below 50 degrees, and now these weeks of over-80 degree weather have the fruit trees and roses blooming. So, do I prune or not? The short answer is YES, but hurry to accomplish the task. In fact, I feel this is the best time for beginning gardeners to prune, since they can actually see the buds and therefore determine where to cut.
Remove crowded or crossed branches,
Open the center of the plant for good light exposure and airflow,
The height or width of the tree can also be reduced for easier harvest.
Take care to not leave stubs or to overprune in any single year, as this encourages excessive new foliage and less fruit.
Pruning cuts that are under one-and-a-half inches across don't need protective covering.
Larger cuts can be painted with an off-white interior latex paint that has a matte finish, not a glossy one. Glossy means it’s oil-based and will clog tree pores.
Black asphalt substances or dark-colored paint, especially on south-facing surfaces, will concentrate the sun's heat, baking and killing the tissue that the tree is trying to heal.
Citrus Pruning citrus trees requires a different approach -- basically, remove only dead branches. Remove entire branches at the trunk. Heading branches back--cutting off only portions--will remove wood that would have blossomed and set fruit this coming season and stimulate more bushy growth.
Berries Cane berries are most easily pruned when all their leaves have fallen off and the buds have just begun to fill out and show their light pink color. The dead canes and the plant structure are then quite apparent, and the thorns are more easily avoided. When clipping away all the dead growth, be careful to not injure the new pink shoots at the crown. Then prune each strong cane from the root crown just above its point of attachment to the top horizontal support of the trellis. Prune side shoots just after the third strong bud. Spread and re-anchor the upright canes evenly along the trellis in order to keep the area open for good ventilation and promote the even spread of developing foliage. This pruning and trellising procedure will encourage strong growth of fruiting vines but not of unnecessary foliage. Although cutting down all dead and growing vines at the soil level in a clean sweep is an easy approach, it encourages weak bushy growth with only a few berries setting very low on the plant. An acceptable variation of this easier approach would be to clean-cut half of the berry vines every two years. Then, you'll always have a year-old patch to bear fruit the following summer, and can clear the other patch by clean-cutting.
Grapes Prune grape vines after all the leaves have dropped to make sure it’s fully dormant. The choice of pruning approach depends on the specific varieties and trellis structure you have. Generally, grapes will bear on second-year growth, so prune to encourage this. Pencil-sized grape cuttings with four nodes can be used to start new vines. To identify which end is which, cut the bottom (root end) of the cane flat and the top (foliage end) at a slant. Bury the lower two nodes in the soil or potting mix in a container. Don't be concerned if new foliage doesn't appear from the upper nodes until very warm weather, as the strong root system develops first.
Roses Prune established roses even if they have not lost all their leaves. Remove crowded or crossed branches Open the center of the plant for good light exposure and airflow. This may take just flicking off some emerging buds pointed into the interior of the plant with your fingernail. Prune branches straight across just above a bud that faces outward or toward a side that needs filling in. Remove any leaves that have dead or diseased portions, and destroy (don't compost) them. Wait to prune climbers and old-fashioned roses with a single bloom cycle in the spring until following that bloom.