» Archive for March, 2008

Japanese Maples

Sunday, March 30th, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Potatoes like to grow in the cool weather of spring. Plant them as soon as possible.
    • Gladiolus bulbs come in every color of the rainbow. Plant them this month for summer flowers.
    • Wildflower seeds can be broadcasted now on hillsides for colorful blooms and erosion control.
    • Flowering magnolias, or tulip trees can be grown in full sun or partial shade, as a lovely accent plant in any garden.
    • Lettuce, cabbages, broccoli, onions and other cool-season vegetables can be set out with no frost protection. They will give you a delicious early harvest.

Lovely Japanese Maples

Japanese maples are beautiful in every season, from the new growth emerging in spring to the wonderful leaf textures through the summer to the bright fall colors and finally the artistic arrangement of their bare branches in winter.

While most small trees are grown for their fleeting flowers, Japanese maples are grown for the beauty of their leaves, which come in a great variety of shapes and colors. For hundreds of years, the feudal lords of Japan bred and selected trees to find ever more beautiful specimens. Today there are hundreds of cultivars of both Japanese and Western origin.

The leaves of the most familiar cultivars look like stars because they are divided into five to seven sharply pointed lobes. On some trees, the lobes are further divided giving the leaves a lovely feathery or lacy appearance.

Leaf colors range from yellow-green to dark green, and from bright red to deep blood red. There are also trees with variegated leaves that are green outlined with white or gold. Red-leaved trees are the most prized. In an otherwise green landscape, a red Japanese maple makes a stunning accent.

Japanese maples are divided into groups based on the shape of their leaves. But generally speaking, they grow either as trees or shrubs.

‘Bloodgood’ is a vigorous lawn tree with deep, dark red leaves that hold their color well. It grows to 15 feet tall and wide, turns bright red in the fall, and is a dependable, sturdy tree.

‘Sango kaku’ is a popular tree for its bright coral red bark in the winter, pale yellow-green leaves in spring and apricot and gold fall color. It can grow to 20 feet in the landscape or be kept at 8 feet in a container.

Many of the smaller mounding types have finely dissected leaves. Typically they grow to 6 feet in the landscape, or 4 feet in a container. ‘Garnet’ is fast-growing with a rich red-orange color that develops best with some sun. ‘Inaba shidare’ is a more upright grower with a cascading form. The deep purple-red leaves retain their color better than others in the hot summer months. Fall color is a brilliant crimson red.

‘Tamukeyama’ has a lovely weeping habit and deep purplish-red leaves in the summer. It does well in hot situations. ‘Viridis’ has green, finely dissected leaves that will burn in hot sun. The golden fall leaves are touched with crimson.

Japanese maples thrive in moist but well-drained, slightly acid soil in sun or part shade. The red-leaved cultivars need ample sunlight to develop their best color. Shade from afternoon sun and protection from drying winds will keep the leaves looking their best. Occasional watering, once a week in dry periods, and a light fertilizing in the spring will keep them healthy and beautiful.

Good under oaks, as background for ferns and azaleas, or as a small tree for patios and entryways, Japanese maples are beautiful landscape trees.

Spring in the Garden

Friday, March 14th, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant potatoes! St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day to plant potatoes, so the season is upon us now.
    • Prune Hydrangeas now by removing old flower heads down to the first new leaves. Don’t prune stems which have no old flowers, and they will bloom first this summer.
    • Mouth-watering strawberries should be planted now for delicious berries this summer. Plant them in a sunny, well-drained bed.
    • Plant sweet peas and larkspur for bouquets of delightful blooms.
    • Lily of the valley is a sweet, shade-loving perennial that can be planted now from “pips” available at the nursery.

Spring’s Leafy Greens

This mild weather is a perfect time to plant some of nature’s finest: the leafy edible greens of spring. With a penchant for growing in cool weather, these nourishing plants provide some of the garden’s earliest produce. The distinct flavors of leafy vegetables such as arugula, radicchio, Mizuna, and others can be an invigorating treat for the palate. Most spring greens are tender enough to use uncooked or very lightly steamed—all the better to showcase their clean, fresh flavors.

Arugula, or Rocket, is an easy-to-grow green known for its spicy, nutty taste. In just 20 days after sowing you can harvest the baby greens; for a full head wait another 10 to 15 days. Sow seeds as soon as the ground can be worked. Arugula can withstand a light frost and the flavor is mildest when the plant matures in cool weather.

There are several Asian greens that grow quickly in spring and are great for salads and stir fries. ‘Mizuna’ produces low-growing heads of white-stemmed, deeply serrated leaves. Its mildly sweet and spicy leaves add flavor and crunch to mixed salads ‘Tatsoi’ plants form a compact, thick rosette of leaves that are mild in flavor.

Radicchio is a mildly bitter tasting leafy vegetable. It is actually Italian Chicory, and the most popular variety looks like a small head of red lettuce. It is usually mixed into a variety of salads.

Mesclun, literally “mixture”, is the name given to a blend of lettuce, arugula, kale, Swiss chard, beet, and Asian greens. Depending on the blend, the mix may be mild or spicy. Sow seeds as soon as the ground can be worked, and enjoy the first harvest 30 days later, when the greens are only 4 inches tall. Sow successive crops every few weeks to have a continual supply.

Spinach is the classic cool-weather green, germinating in soils as cool as 35 degrees F. Once seedlings are 3 inches tall (20 to 30 days after seeding), thin the plants to space them 6 inches apart; plants mature 20 days later. Spinach comes in crinkled and smooth-leaved varieties.

Sow greens in rows or broadcast the seeds over the top of the raised bed. Cover the small seeds with potting soil or sand so they can germinate more easily. Cover the bed with a floating row cover to keep the soil warm, prevent insects from attacking and keep the bed moist. For all but mesclun greens, thin to the appropriate spacing.

Harvest leaves of your greens as soon as they’re at least 2 inches long. Pick individual leaves to create baby green salads or snip the young plants to the ground. Leave some plants, such as lettuce and spinach, to mature to full size for a larger harvest.

Spring in the Garden

Friday, March 7th, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant peas in well-drained soil for a spring crop. Protect from birds with bird netting or lightweight row cover.
    • Last chance to spray peach and nectarine trees for peach leaf curl before the buds break open. Use copper sulfate powder for the best results.
    • Blueberries make delicious fruit on attractive plants that you can use in the orchard or the landscape. Choose varieties now.
    • Deciduous Clematis vines can be cut back to about waist height, to encourage bushiness, more flowers and a nicer looking vine. Do this in late winter before the new growth starts.
    • Potatoes are now in at local nurseries for early spring planting.

The Primrose Path

What happier choice of blossoms to start a spring garden than primroses? Even the Latin name comes from primus, meaning the first. This is a large family of plants having 400 to 500 species, mostly occurring in the Northern Hemisphere. Some are hardy garden species and others are only for heated greenhouses. Only a few are well adapted to the long, hot, dry summers of most parts of California.

The most popular are the polyantha hybrids, often called “English primroses”, which do very well in this area. Planted in a good location, they will come back year after year, larger and more floriferous each time! Flowers have just about the widest range of colors possible: white, yellow, gold, orange, pink, red, maroon, blue or purple. Planted as a mixture they are a dazzling display for three or four months of the year: January through April.

All primroses have leaves that stay close to the ground and are arranged in a circle and in the center is a flower stems that rise up above the leaves. The ‘Pacific Giants’ make an 8-inch tall stem with a cluster of flowers at the top of the stem. Individual flowers are an inch across and clusters contain a dozen or more. ‘Pageants’ have the same basal leaves with flowers on individual stems rising out from between the leaves to about 3 inches high.

Primroses are best appreciated right at your feet, where you can enjoy their perfection at close range. Plant them along a path for a colorful walkway. Suitable primrose companions for a moist, partly shaded spot include astilbes, ferns, hostas, Japanese iris, forget-me-nots, and Bethlehem sage.

Provide primroses with rich, woodsy soil enriched with compost, humus, peat moss and well-rotted manure. Choose a place in the shade, in a woodland garden, or in a spot that gets sun in the winter and shade from trees in the summer. Make sure you can water them throughout the summer. Under native oaks, it is better to plant them in flower boxes or barrels so that you don’t overwater the oak trees in the summer.

Cut off old flower stems as flowers fade and trim off tattered leaves. Plants will continue to produce new flowers through April. Give them a light feeding after bloom to strengthen the plants, and mulch them through the summer. When the clumps become thick and overgrown, divide them in May, every 3 or 4 years.

If you don’t want to use primroses as perennials, they also make lovely annual bedding plants. They are available during the winter and spring months and make a colorful display.