» Archive for March, 2011

Early Spring Garden Chores

Monday, March 14th, 2011 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant strawberries now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.
    • Spray for peach leaf curl with copper sulfate. Peach and nectarine trees may suffer from this fungus disease without a protective spray.
    • Pluots are a cross between plums and apricots. Their meaty fruit has a wonderful flavor. Bare root trees can be planted now.
    • Flowering dogwoods and tulip magnolias can be planted now during the dormant season from balled & burlapped specimens.
    • Clematis that bloomed last summer can be pruned now. Wait on spring-blooming varieties until after they bloom.

Early Spring Garden Chores

Bulbs sprouting, buds swelling and the first colors of flowers let us know that spring is just around the corner. Now is a good time to tidy up the garden to get ready for the early show.

Most roses need to be pruned now. Consult a good rose book for how to trim your type of rose since timing and methods vary with individual cultivars. Floribunda, hybrid tea, climbers, shrub and miniature roses are all a little different. Roses that bloom early, like Climbing Cecile Brunner, should not be pruned now. Wait until all of its rose blossoms have started to fade before pruning this rose.

Fruit trees, evergreens, many deciduous trees, raspberry canes and grapevines can all be pruned before new growth begins. Check with your local nursery for specifics or invest in a good pruning book.

It’s time to clean up the perennial beds. Start cutting back the plants that you left standing for winter interest. By now the first green swirls of new growth are appearing on ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum, so you can cut off the spent flowers. The birds have picked clean the seeds from the purple coneflowers, so those attractive seed heads can be snipped off, too. As soon as the first new leaves appear on your butterfly bush, you can prune them back hard to keep the plants compact.

Wait to prune lilacs and wisteria and other spring-blooming shrubs. If you prune them now, you’ll be pruning off the blossoms.

Now is when you should cut back your ornamental grasses. Hand pruners do a good job on smaller clumps, but hedge trimmers are handy for larger clumps. Hold or tie the old growth with twine and cut the grass 4-6 inches from the ground. Compost the old growth and look for new, green shoots to appear in a few weeks.

It’s time to start seeds of spring vegetables. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, chard and spinach can all be started now. Many interesting varieties are available on local seed racks. Start the seeds indoors with bottom heat and bright light then transplant them into 6-packs where they can grow for a month before it’s time to set them out in the garden.

Set out bare-root plants of strawberries, asparagus and onions. The strawberries and onions will produce this year, but it takes two years before you can harvest asparagus. After that, they will produce every spring for the next twenty years.

Add some colorful pansies and primroses to garden paths and containers. These beauties will bloom through April, when it will be time to plant summer flowers. You can also plant larkspur and snapdragons now for early color.

Enjoy the nice days of February by tackling some of these garden chores.

Antique Apples

Monday, March 14th, 2011 by Jenny Watts
    • Bare root season is here. Choose and plant your favorite fruit trees and roses now.
    • Spring flowers and vegetables can be started from seeds now on your window sill. Try pansies and snapdragons, broccoli, cabbage and lettuces.
    • Lilacs and wisteria have beautiful spring flowers. They come in a variety of colors and can be planted now from bare-root plants.
    • Delicious raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, boysenberries and blueberries are all available now for early planting.

Highly Esteemed Antique Apples
Add some taste variety to your apple orchard

        Apples. Red, round, crisp and cool. The list of adjectives doesn’t have to stop there. An apple can be much more flavorful than the few you’ve tasted from the market.

        The orchards of North America have produced well over a thousand named apple varieties, each one with its characteristic color, aura and flavor. These antique apples are worth exploring to rediscover the remarkable variety of flavors hidden inside the modest apple.

        Ashmead’s Kernel is an apple that has been around for over 200 years since its discovery in England. This is widely regarded as one of the all-time best-flavored apples. It is one of the best cider apples and a good one to store for winter eating since it becomes sweet, juicy and aromatic as it ripens a few weeks after harvest.

Cox Orange Pippin is the classic English apple, often regarded as the finest of all dessert apples. Dating back to 1830 in England, it remains unsurpassed for its richness and complexity of flavor. Firm, juicy, and sweet, it is at its best when picked fully ripe straight from the tree.

Originally from Russia, Red Astrachan is a beautiful summer apple with firm, coarse flesh that is very tart. It makes flavorful dried apples, and some old-timers rate this the best for pie.

Spitzenburg was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple. Unexcelled in flavor or quality, the fruit is great off the tree, but flavor radically improves in storage. A perfect balance between sharp and sweet, it is recommended for applesauce, apple butter and baking.

White Winter Pearmain is a very old apple, perhaps dating back to 1200 A.D. This high quality, all-purpose apple has a rich, almost sweet flavor. It is a vigorous, healthy tree and the fruit keeps well.

        The dark, waxy skin of Arkansas Black encloses a golden flesh that is juicy, and crisp with a nice aroma.  It is a late apple that keeps for many months, and is excellent for cooking and making desserts.

Hudson’s Golden Gem is perhaps the finest eating russeted apple with crisp, breaking, sugary flesh and a distinct nutty flavor that resembles the Bosc pear. Fruit is conical, elongated, yellow and russeted, and it is quite disease resistant.

“Heritage” apples, also called heirloom or antique apples, are the old varieties that have stood the test of time, generally for over 50 years. Some well-known heirlooms are Yellow Newton Pippin, a snappy, tart apple famous for cooking and excellent dried; Rome Beauty, prized for its baking qualities; Golden Delicious with mild, sweet, distinctive flavor.

Braeburn, a late season apple that is very popular now; Mutsu, a bright green, all-purpose apple; Pink Pearl, a pink-fleshed, highly aromatic fruit; Gravenstein, famous for sauce and baking; and York, an excellent keeper with fine quality for dessert use.

Tantalize your taste buds with one of these old-time favorites.

Blueberries from your Garden

Friday, March 4th, 2011 by Jenny Watts
    • Primroses, in their rainbow of colors, will light up your flower beds and boxes this winter and spring.
    • Spray fruit trees with a dormant oil spray. Spray from the bottom up, including the undersides of limbs and the ground around the tree, to prevent early spring insect infestations.
    • Lilacs and wisteria have beautiful spring flowers. They come in a variety of colors and can be planted now from bare-root plants.
    • Asparagus, whose delectable spears are even sweeter when home-grown, are available now for planting. Prepare a fertile bed for these long-lived vegetables.
    • If you’re short on space in your orchard, you can plant 2 or 3 varieties of the same fruit in one large hole. This will allow cross-pollination among apples, pears, plums, cherries and Asian pears.

Luscious Blueberries from your Garden

Blueberries can be grown in many parts of the United States, however different types of blueberries are better for different climates. Northern Highbush and Southern Highbush blueberries do best in the Willits area.

Northern Highbush blueberries grow 4 to 6 feet tall and have clusters of white bell-shaped flowers in spring, rich green foliage that turns deep red in the fall, and abundant crops of sweet blue berries in midsummer. They are the best known and the largest, sweetest and juiciest blueberries you can grow. These varieties, however, are native to Canada, Michigan and other northern climes. They prefer cool summers, where they have the best fruit quality, but are worth growing in our area in partial shade.

Southern Highbush blueberries have an earlier ripening season and grow 5 to 8 feet tall by 5 feet wide. They are all self-pollinating, although the yields and the berries will be larger if two varieties are planted together. Southern Highbush are specifically hybridized for superior fruit, soil adaptability, heat tolerance and low winter chilling.

These varieties are suitable for areas from Florida to California because of their low chill requirement and heat tolerance. This makes them particularly suitable for coastal areas of California as well as the inland valleys. They grow in full sun or partial shade, and are grown commercially in the Central Valley. Attractive blue-green foliage remains evergreen in mild winters or turns yellow-orange before falling in cold climates.

Blueberries need mostly sun and rich, acid soil that is high in organic matter. A pH of 4.8 to 5.0 is ideal. When planting, add lots of peat moss, equal to 50% of the planting hole soil. Dig a wide hole and add a couple of cups of soil sulfur per plant.

They don’t like strong nitrogen fertilizer, but you should feed them after they are established with regular light applications every six weeks, beginning in April and ending in July or August. Use an acid plant food with at least 10 percent nitrogen. Make the first feeding as soon as growth starts in the spring. Spread the fertilizer around the plants 6 to 12 inches away from their crowns, and water it in.

Remove all blossoms the first two years and allow only a small crop to mature the third season. This will help the plants establish faster.

Blueberry roots are shallow and should not be disturbed. Mulch the plants with 4 to 6 inches of sawdust or compost, but keep it away from the base of the plant. This will keep down weeds and retain moisture. Keep replenishing the mulch all summer. Plants should be kept moist all through the growing season.

A wonderful feature of many varieties is their outstanding fall color, hot, luminous reds, pinks, and oranges that really light up with fall rains. It’s nice to plant them where you can enjoy their colorful foliage. Blueberries are very nutritious and are a wonderful addition to your diet as well as your garden.