Friday, April 30, 2010

Spring Is A Good Time To Divide Plants

From The Fresno Bee, April 29, 2010, by Elinor Teague:

Agapanthus, daylilies and heuchera (Coral Bells) are some of the clumping plants that need dividing every few years when the root systems become crowded and flower production slows. Spring is the best time to divide theses plants. We often put plant division at the bottom of our spring chore list, but we're lucky to have a few extra cooler spring days this year to finally get the chore done.

The technique is simple. Wet the soil and the root system of the plant thoroughly; then use a spading fork (not shovel or spade) to work around the clump and lift it free from the soil. The tines of the fork will slide under the roots rather than cutting through them as do shovels and spades. If you don't have a spading fork, you'll need to insert the shovel further away from the plant to keep as much of the root system intact and undamaged as possible. The roots of heuchera can be pulled gently apart, but the underground tubers of daylilies and agapanthus should be cut apart with a very sharp knife or pruning saw. (I use my mother's Ginzu knife for this).

Place the new sections in damp soil at the same level they previously grew. Big sections will need to be placed further apart than smaller sections; leave at least 8 to 10 inches between agapanthus sections and at least 6 to 8 inches between newly replanted daylily and heuchera sections. Water the transplants thoroughly and sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of bone meal or "bulb booster"-type food (any brand will do) over agapanthus and daylilies or a couple of tablespoons of an acid-type food over shade-loving heuchera.

You may have noticed that some of your spring-blooming bulbs have also become crowded over the years. In milder climate zones, bulbs can be lifted (again with a spading fork) and stored over the summer in a cool, dry place until they are replanted in fall. Few of us have cool outdoor spots for bulb storage in the Central Valley. Our spring-blooming bulbs can be lifted, divided and replanted in late spring after the foliage is nearly completely dead. (We can wait until fall, but it's tricky to find the buried bulbs when they have no foliage). When burying the bulbs, make sure to place them at the maximum recommended depth; usually the hole should be three times deeper than the bulb size--a 2-inch tulip bulb should be buried six inches deep. Burying bulbs at the proper depth helps to protect them from our summer heat. A couple of tablespoons of bone meal or bulb food placed in the new hole will boost the bulb's vigor.

Bearded iris, in glorious full bloom now, are dormant from July until October. Wait until later in the summer or early fall to divide them.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Garden Checklist

From The Fresno Bee, April 29, 2010:

Celebrate spring by giving a basket of flowers or vegetables to someone special.

Tasks--Pull weeds and hoe often.
Pruning--Remove dead branches from shrubs.
Fertilizing--Feed bedding plants with all-purpose fertilizer high in phosphorus.
Planting--Plant summer vegetables at two-week intervals to prolong harvest; lily of the Nile (Agapanthus), alstroemeria; fortnight lily (Dietes); cantaloupe, chard, chayote; bougainvillea; vinca (Catharantus) lisianthus (Eustorna).
Things to Ponder--To water hillsides, set emitters on upper side of slope.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bell Peppers

Bryce-We love bell peppers--can't get enough of them really. So, as the weather turns warmer, these plants will begin to skyrocket.

It's an America native crop really, and adds a great flavor to many dishes. (We use them for salads or stir-fry). Bell pepper fruits come in many colors including white, yellow, orange, red, purple, and chocolate brown. Many peppers are compact growers, making them excellent for growing in tight spaces.

Peppers require a long season to mature and in most climates should be started indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost date. Transplant seedlings into the garden when soil temperatures are at least 60 degrees, about two weeks after the last frost date. Peppers grow best with air temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees, though they will tolerate more heat. If it's over 100 degrees, however, it's good to provide some shade. We use an old white sheet and stretch it over the garden so the harsh light gets diffused.

Use a sharp knife to cut off the fruits when they are either full size or fully colored. Take care not to break the brittle branches. If kept harvested, peppers will continue to produce until frost. Store peppers in the fridge and they will last about a week. Ripening continues after harvest.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Water, water everywhere

Bryce: Supplying water to root systems when it's needed is the single most important thing gardeners do for plants.

Hand watering: Use a garden hose with a spray head on the end. It is a simple watering method that involves no previous soil preparation or equipment installation. But it is time-consuming and leads to under-watering because most gardeners do not have the patience to water for as long as is needed.

Furrow irrigation: works best when you are watering rows of plants: it is often used in vegetable gardens. Furrows beside plants are filled with water and left to soak in. Plant foliage stays dry when furrow irrigation is used, which helps minimize disease development.

Basin irrigation: Watering basins are used mainly around trees and shrubs. A ridge of soil is built to contain the water, either from a handheld hose or a bubbler head on a sprinkler system. A few basins can be filled quickly with water, but if many plants are irrigated by hand in this manner, watering may become time-consuming. Plant foliage stays dry when water basins are used.

Sprinklers: Both hose-end sprinklers and underground installed sprinklers irrigate a large area at once. They are most effective when used to water heavily planted areas. Sprinklers are wasteful if they are used to irrigate spar sly planted areas. They are hard to control in windy areas and they wet plant leaves.

Drip irrigation: Drip irrigation systems apply water slowly, allowing it to seep into the soil. They are left on for many hours at a time, often for four to sixteen hours per day. Many types of delivery systems are available. If they are properly operated, they will do the best watering job because they keep the soil at a relatively constant state of moisture, without the wet-to-dry fluctuations of other methods. They do not wet the leaves.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Right Site

A successful garden begins with selecting a site where vegetables, herbs, and fruits will thrive
  • Choose a site that receives eight to ten hours of full sunlight a day.
  • Ensure that soil is well-drained.
  • Choose a reletively level spot or build terraces across sloping land.
  • Avoid planting near trees; in addition to creating shade, trees compete with plants for water and nutrients.
  • Protect plants from danaging winds by planting them in a location bordered by a structure that blocks wind.
  • Avoid low areas that may harbor frost that will nip spring seedlings and late-season crops.
  • Site the garden for convenience: close to a water source, and close to the house and kitchen, if possible.

Hoplia Beetles

The hoplia beetles can be seen damaging light colored flowers (specifically here-- my apricot-colored roses and light-colored irises) in gardens throughout the valley. They show up each year, when we have the first flush of roses, irises and other flowers blooming, but the beetles don't last long--usually a few weeks from April into May.
You can see that they do a lot of damage. The best way to get their populations down is to shake the beetles into a container of soapy water, where they will drown. If you continue to do this, then there will be fewer females that will lay eggs, which means less beetles to contend with next year.
The adults chew the light-colored flowers (but, not the leaves) of several different kinds of flowers. The females will lay their eggs in the soil around where they have been feeding. Only one hatching per year takes place, so if you can clip off the effected flowers, shake the beetles into soapy water, or tolerate some flower damage, then they will soon be gone. Insecticides are not very effective and will usually kill off the honey bees and other beneficial insects. For more information, see the University of California Integrated Pest Management website here.--Gard'n Judy

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Garden Checklist

From The Fresno Bee, April 22, 2910:

There is much beauty in the late spring gardens of the central San Joaquin Valley.

Tasks--Water and mow lawn. Set mower blades higher to shade out weeds and keep roots cool.
Pruning--Pinch new growth on flowers and shrubs to encourage a compact shape.
Fertilizing--Fertilize, remembering that a little used more often is better than a lot at one time.
Planting--Plant annuals and perennials for seasonal color; yarrow (Achillea), dianthus from seed; dahlia; beans, beets, corn; abutilon; floss flower (Ageratum), amaranthus, strawflower (Helichrysum).
Things To Ponder--Do a special container planting of red, white and blue flowers to celebrate Independence Day on July 4th.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cover Crops

Bryce: As a soil conditioner, cover crops are hard to beat! They will grow during the cold winter months giving you a moist crumbly humus that improves the soil by 4%. Protecting the surface layer of the soil where the beneficial activity of bacteria, fungi, and earthworms takes place, cover crops also keep the soil from blowing or washing away, baking dry, or compacting under heavy rains. They also help soil absorb more water, put nutrients INTO the ground, and aerate the subsoil. Planting in succession (ex: buckwheat, then more buckwheat, then annual rye) can rid your garden of perennial weeds by shading them out. What to plant: LEGUMES: Alfalfa, Beans, Clover, Fava Beans, Peas, Soybeans, and Vetch. GRAINS: Barley, Bromegrass, Buckwheat, Millet, Oats, Rye, Sudangrass, and Wheat.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


These are my peas that I planted in February. On the right are Sugar Ann peas (from seed that I saved last year), and on the left, a new one for me--Estancia peas. The Estancia have less leaves and more tendrils, which looks kind of strange! Estancia has not started blooming yet, but should within a few days. The Sugar Ann peas are already blooming. It will be interesting to taste the difference in the two kinds of peas!

Spring Rain

picture taken today

Spring Rain

Rain, wind blowing hard,
Trees and birds tossed to and fro,
Raindrops soaking all.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Favorite Time of Year!

I love when my Valencia orange tree blooms! The scent is heavenly, and if I am lucky, it is warm enough outside to open the windows, and have nature's perfume fill the house! My navel orange, tangerine, and lemon trees are blooming, too. Now is the time for the first citrus feeding. The second one will be in 4 weeks; and, then last feeding 4 weeks from that. This will help you to have sweet fruit NEXT year.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Let's Play: What's My Soil?

Bryce: Spectacular yields depend first and foremost on soil. Many people ask me about what kind of soil they have--so I thought I would post a catch-all to answer most of these questions.

If it looks: hard baked, crusty, perhaps even deeply cracked when allowed to dry out...
And it feels: harsh and rock hard when dry, sticky, greasy, or rubbery when wet...
And it is: hard to work, slow to absorb water, forms lumps if worked when wet...
It's: CLAY
And it needs: substantial additions of organic materials to break up the compaction and open channels for aeration and drainage. Use: compost, manure, leaf mold, rice hulls, peat moss, course sand, saw dust, and wood chips.

If it looks: loose and friable, full of mineral particles...
And it feels: grainy and gritty, crumbly and won't hold shape when squeezed...
And it is: easy to work, low in nutrients because nutrients have been leached out...
And it needs: large amounts of organic matter to hold water and nutrients within the range of plant roots, green manures to build structure.

If it looks: Very dark brown, full of matter in varying stages of decay...
And it feels: like moist peat moss when squeezed...
And it is: Easy to work, slow to decompose, low in minerals...
It's: MUCK or PEAT
And it needs: layers of gravel or drainage tiles to improve drainage, lime added as needed.

If it looks: full of crumbs of various sizes, quite porous...
And it feels: Spongy, compacting readily into a ball when squeezed, but falling apart readily when prodded...
And it is: easy to work, very productive, well drained yet able to retain moisture...
It's: LOAM
And it needs: regular infusion of organic matter to maintain its already excellent fertility and structure.

What kind of soil do you have? Take a cup of soil and water. Mix them in a glass and let everything settle for several hours. Measure the height of each main component (sand, silt, clay, and organic matter) and divide each by the overall settled column. It may take awhile to get the right kind of soil, but your plants will reward you with a bountiful harvast.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Bryce: Capable to normalizing every problem soil, it can bring to life sand dunes or rock-hard red clay, to patches of slick, shiny wax gumbo or to hard-scrabble, high-limestone earth with barely a trace of topsoil. By heating organic wastes to 160 degrees F, the composting process deactivates weed seeds and reduces levels of plant pathogens and toxic substances, producing a sweet-smelling crumbly humus.
Becuase compost releases its nitrogen slowly, it creates lower concentrations of nitrates in nitrate-storing leafy vegetables like lettuce than chemical fertilizers with an equivalent amount of N-P-K (an important plus since high nitrate levels in food have been linked to cancer). unlike chemical fertilizers, compost attracts earthworms, which feed on organic tidbits and return them further enriched to the soil in the form of castings.
This is my compost pile--we have a small back yard, so I squeeze in what I can. The wonderful thing about a compost pile is that a lot of our trash (paper products, vegetable matter, scraps [not meat]) all go into it, reducing my carbon footprint on the dump, and giving back to my garden what the vegetables take out of it. There's not much to do--I turn it every once in awhile (the more you turn it, the faster you get compost) and in a couple of months, I take it out, sift it, and add it to my garden beds.
Since I've been doing this for a few years, I have deep rick black soil and the plants LOVE it! The kids think it's neat too. I use bales of straw because they are cheap, insulate well, look nice, and eventually, when they are broken down, go into the compost pile! What's not to like!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Garden Checklist

From The Fresno Bee, April 1, 2010:

A freshly mown lawn can be so satisfying with its well-trimmed edges and sweet fragrance.

Tasks--Remove thatch and aerate warm-season lawns (Bermuda, zoysia, St. Augustine) to allow better water penetration.
Pruning--Azaleas and camellias as they finish blooming.
Fertilizing--Acid-loving plants, annuals.
Planting--Plant annual summer herbs and vegetables at two-week intervals for successive crops; from seed: floss flower (Ageratum), sunflower (Helianthus), impatiens; asparagus, beets, chard; acacia trees, horse chestnut trees (Aesculius), catalpa, trumpet vine (Campsis); alstroemeria, columbine (Aquilegia), false spriea (Astilbe), deer fern (Blechnum spicant), dianthus.
Things to Ponder--When choosing plants in cell packs from the nursery, be sure roots are not protruding from the bottom of the container.