» Archive for February, 2010

Flowering Plums Announce Spring!

Sunday, February 28th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Last chance to spray peach and nectarine trees for peach leaf curl before the buds break open. Use copper sulfate wettable powder for the best results.
    • Broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other cool season vegetable plants can be set out now for a spring crop.
    • Flowering dogwoods and tulip magnolias can be planted now during the dormant season from balled & burlapped specimens.
    • Asparagus will provide you with delicious, low-priced spears for years to come if you plant them now from dormant crowns.
    • Fragrant daphne is an early-blooming shrub that will delight you with its strongly scented blooms each spring. Plant it in well-drained soil.

Flowering Plum Trees

Some of the showiest flowering trees in the springtime are flowering plums. Their pink flowers, which are coming into bloom right now, are always a pleasant sign that spring is on the way.

These trees are widely planted throughout California. Their reddish purple foliage, which appears after the flowers are through, remains colored throughout the entire growing season. All varieties are deciduous, dropping their leaves in the fall.

Flowering plums are small trees, growing 20-25 feet tall. They are densely branched and should be thinned to remove crossing branches after they bloom. They should not, however, be “headed” or they will just become more thickly branched. “Thinning” cuts remove whole branches down to where they meet a larger branch; “heading” cuts remove the end of a branch, leaving a stub.

The Blireiana plum has beautiful, large, fragrant, double pink flowers that bloom over a long season. The tree grows to 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide with long, slender branches. The leaves start out reddish purple, turning to greenish bronze in summer. It is a choice ornamental tree for the lawn or patio, as it produces little or no fruit.

Krauter Vesuvius is the best known variety for its dark reddish purple leaves in the summer. It is known as the “purple leaf plum”. Its flowers are a lovely, light pink and are smaller than those of the Blireiana. It grows to about 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide with an upright branching habit. It produces a good crop of small fruits in summer which can be quite a mess around paved areas.

Crimson Pointe™ is the first and only columnar shaped, purple leafed, ornamental plum on the market. This deciduous tree has glossy bronze foliage, that turns a deep merlot-burgundy color in summer. It produces showy white flowers and dark purple fruit, and will eventually reach 20 feet tall and 5 feet wide. It is good for a side yard or other narrow area or can be planted in a single line to draw the view toward a focal point.

Flowering plums are tough trees that take hot dry weather and tolerate drought. They will grow in any type of soil, and prefer a sunny location. They are a good size for most yards, adding beauty as well as some shade to the landscape.

If you are looking for a small, ornamental, flowering tree the flowering plum may be the tree for you.

Asparagus: A Homegrown Delicacy

Sunday, February 28th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Primroses, in their rainbow of colors, will light up your flower beds and boxes this winter and spring.
    • Plant seeds of broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other spring vegetables now.
    • Spray for peach leaf curl with copper sulfate. Peach and nectarine trees may suffer from this fungus disease without a protective spray.
    • English daisies are an early-blooming perennial with showy red, pink or white flowers just in time for Valentine’s Day! They will bloom all spring in partial shade.
    • Bare root fruit trees, grape and berry vines, and ornamental trees and shrubs are still available.

Asparagus Time

Each year, when spring rolls around, the asparagus bed comes to life. Around April 1st, the rich green spears start poking their heads up out of the bare soil, reaching for the light. Every day a few more points appear and anxiously we await the harvest of one of our favorite crops.

Asparagus takes a lot of work initially, but it is not difficult to maintain an established bed. Plants can live for 20 years and produce many pounds of spears, so it is important to start them off right.

Soil should be rich, loose, well-drained and located in full sun. Add plenty of well-rotted manure or compost and rock phosphate dug deeply into the soil: double-digging will greatly benefit asparagus.

Start by transplanting 2-year-old roots into your garden. Dig a trench 12 inches deep and place roots 18 inches apart, spreading out the roots around a small mound.

Set roots deep enough to cover the crowns with 2 or 3 inches of soil. Initially, cover them with only one inch of soil. When shoots begin to come up, add soil around them until the trench is filled. Then add a four to six inch layer of mulch to keep the weeds down, and maintain the high soil-moisture content necessary for best production.

Asparagus need plenty of water, especially the first growing season. Keep the soil wet at least 8 inches deep.

In July, side-dress the plants with 5-10-10 fertilizer or compost, and cultivate lightly into the soil. Keep the bed well weeded as the crowns are getting established, and maintain a thick mulch through the summer.

In the fall place a 3-inch layer of manure around the plants. Or, if you’d rather, remove the mulch and apply a balanced fertilizer at about 2 pounds per 100 square feet then replace the mulch.

Leave the dried tops until spring when they can be broken off and composted. An important part of asparagus culture is allowing the ferns to mature during the first and second year. This green foliage is needed to promote strong roots. Vigorous top growth in one season is the best assurance of good yield the next.

Harvest begins when the plants are three years old. The first harvest will last only a week or two. In later years, cutting may continue for 6 to 8 weeks.

The first spears will push their way up when we are still having frosty nights here in Willits. So be sure to protect these tender shoots from frost.

There are different varieties of asparagus and you may want to try more than one. ‘Mary Washington’ is the most popular variety with heavy yields of long, straight spears with tight tips. The sweet, tender spears have gourmet flavor and a 60 day cutting season.

UC 157 is a hybrid developed at UC Davis. It has deep green, smooth cylindrical spears, and early spring production. This variety produces higher yield than older standard varieties.

‘Jersey Knight’ Asparagus is a variety that grows only male plants. The stalks are much larger , and they yield 3-4 times more top quality asparagus than any other variety.

‘Sweet Purple’ has deep-burgundy spears and a higher sugar content than green varieties. The spears are generally larger and much more tender than standard varieties.

Homegrown asparagus is really a delicacy. There is little comparison with the store-bought vegetable of the same name. So do yourself a delicious favor, and plant an asparagus bed this winter.

Intriguing Witch Hazel

Sunday, February 28th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant strawberries now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.
    • Roses should be pruned if you haven’t done so already. Remove all old leaves on and around the bushes and spray with Neem oil to prevent early pest and disease problems.
    • Blueberries make delicious fruit on attractive plants that you can use in the orchard or the landscape. Choose varieties now.
    • Bare root fruit trees are now available. Choose one tree or a whole orchard and get them planted while the weather is good for digging.

Winter-blooming Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is a must-have shrub for fragrance and color in the winter garden. At a time when few plants are blooming, witch hazel adds sparkle to the landscape with its unusual, spidery flowers.

This North American native is very hardy, and can be grown as a single or multi-stemmed shrub. It is vase-shaped, growing 8 to 10 feet tall and spreading about 8 feet wide.

New branches are slightly fuzzy and brown, turning silver-grey as they age. Coppery new growth in spring and attractive gold fall color rounds out this shrub’s seasonal interest.

Witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis, grow in full sun or partial shade, and, although they can be grown in all kinds of soil, they prefer moist, well-drained conditions. Little pruning is required except to tidy their shape by removing unruly branches during flowering.

The name witch hazel probably originated from the early settlers’ practice of using the plant’s forked branches for water divining and to make brooms. Hazel refers to the similarities between witch hazel and the true hazelnut trees.

Several named varieties are best known in nurseries. ‘Arnold Promise’ has clear yellow, fragrant flowers with petals that look like tiny party streamers. ‘Diane’ is one of the most brilliant varieties with bright red flowers. ‘Jelena’ has coppery-orange flowers and brilliant red fall color. They bloom from late February to March.

Witch hazel can be planted in a mixed shrub border or used for height in the back of a perennial border. It is great as a transitional plant between tended gardens and wilder natural areas. While this plant is not deer resistant, it has evolved along side deer and browsing won’t harm the plant, but can actually create a fuller shrub. Young plants may need to be protected.

Consider planting witch hazel where you can enjoy the fragrance mid-winter, such as in an entry garden or near a path or patio. Plant it with hazelnut, blueberry, huckleberry and hellebores for interest throughout the winter.

Witch hazel extract, taken from the leaves, twigs and bark, is used medicinally. It has been used for centuries to treat skin ailments. It is still a common ingredient in soaps, face washes and shampoos.

Check out this unusual, low-maintenance shrub now, when you can see their unique flowers.