» Archive for March, 2009

Pansies for Spring!

Friday, March 20th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Spring vegetables love cool, moist weather and don’t mind a little frost. Set out lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, onion, spinach and Swiss chard starts now.
    • Sweet peas, with their memorable fragrance, can be planted now from nursery starts for wonderful bouquets later this spring.
    • Thin raspberry canes to 4-6 inches apart. Cut back remaining canes to 3 feet tall.
    • 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.
    • 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.

Smiling Pansies

The happy faces of pansies are a delight in the garden or in a bud vase on the table. Developed from three wild species, the modern pansies have large flowers, beautifully marked “faces” and a wide range of colors. They add color to the winter and spring garden over a long season.

Pansies are one of the earliest flowering plants, blooming right alongside your spring bulbs. They are low-growing annual flowers that are nice for borders and look very pretty in containers of all kinds. Their heart-shaped, shiny green leaves cover the ground and the flowers rise above them on six-inch stems.

The flowers, up to three inches across, come in almost all colors of the rainbow: violet, purple, blue, pink, red, orange, yellow, white and many exciting bi-colors. Fill an entire bed with pansies for a dramatic spring effect! They also are great in window boxes and containers.

The “old fashioned” pansy has many new varieties to bring early color to your pots and garden beds. Breeding improvements in recent years have produced hybrids that bloom longer, show better weather tolerance, and display a wonderful range of colors and patterns. Seed companies release new varieties yearly.

Pansies have become more popular as gardeners have seen how well they preform through wet, wintery weather. They are unaffected by a covering of snow, and pop right back when the snow melts.

The Delta Series is a group of spring flowering pansies with flowers measuring 2.5″ – 3″ across. They are both very heat tolerant and winter hardy, and offer many pretty bi-colors with faces as well as solid colors. Delta Pure Mix has solid colored flowers in bright yellow, red, blue, white and other colors.

Matrix pansies are vigorous plants that are bred to provide abundant large blooms over a long season and add vibrant color to any landscape setting. They branch quickly and resist stretching so they look their best all through the spring.

Pansies are good companions for spring-flowering bulbs. By choosing colors that compliment the bulbs you can create some very pretty living bouquets. Blooming over a longer season than the bulbs, they will fill in and provide color as the bulbs are finishing their cycle.

When you plant your pansies, water them well but don’t fertilize them for a week or so. They need time to settle in before they can absorb fertilizer. Enjoy some pansies in vases indoors. The more you pick them, the more they bloom.

Springtime isn’t complete without pansies’ smiling faces in the garden.

Spring Vegetable Garden

Friday, March 13th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant potatoes! St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day to plant potatoes, so the season is upon us now.
    • Pansies and violas will fill your spring flower beds with their bright faces in many shades of blue, yellow, red, pink and purple.
    • Last chance for bare root fruit trees. This is the most economical way to plant an orchard. Apples, pears, Asian pears, peaches, plums and pluots are still available in bare root, so choose your trees now.
    • 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.

Colorful Beets, from Top to Bottom

Beets are among the most healthful vegetables you can grow; both the roots and the greens are good sources of vitamins. Beets come in a bright array of colors, from garnet red to red-and-white striped to deep gold to creamy white. But the real hidden treasure is that the entire beet, from its robust and flavorful root to its buttery green top, is sweet and delicious.

You can choose from a variety of root flavors, colors, and shapes. If flavor were judged solely on sweetness, the hands-down winner would be the all-white beets. This close relative of the sugar beet contains 11 percent sugar, about twice that of red beets.

But sweet, flavorful red varieties are the favorites. ‘Detroit Dark Red’, ‘Bull’s Blood’, and ‘Pronto’ are good all-purpose, sweet-tasting beets.

For a color variation, try ‘Golden’, with bright yellow flesh and a sweet potato-like flavor, or ‘Yellow Intermediate’. The latter is technically a mangel, which is a very sweet, nutritious and long-keeping type of beet.

The heirloom ‘Chioggia’ features red-and-white, candy-striped flesh with a rosy pink skin and sweet flavor. Its leaves are prized for raw or cooked greens.

Not all beet roots are large and round. ‘Cylindra’ and ‘Forono’ have cylindrical, purple-red roots that are ideal for gardens where space is limited. They are a great shape for making fast, uniform slices. ‘Forono’, previously known as ‘Cook’s Delight’, is an excellent variety for slicing, freezing, canning or pickling. It has superior flavor when it is young. Beet leaves make an excellent substitute for spinach, Swiss Chard, or other leafy green vegetables. They can be tossed in salads or used in quick stir fries.

To grow sweet, tender beets plant them in cool, moist weather in the fall or early spring. Work aged manure or compost into the top 8 inches of the soil. Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep and 1 inch apart. Thin seedlings to stand 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart 10 to 14 days after emergence. A month later thin plants to about 4 inches apart. For beet greens only, sow seeds 1/2 inch apart in all directions. No thinning is necessary.

Beet roots are ready to harvest in 40 to 55 days, when they are the size of golf balls. Greens can be harvested as soon as they are large enough to eat, when the leaves are 4 to 6 inches long. To harvest, pull-up the entire plant.

For best quality beets, keep the soil moist at all times. Mulch the plants if the weather is hot or dry. If you have trouble with flea beetles, cover your plants with a floating row cover like “Remay”.

Young roots taste great lightly steamed, shredded and sautéed in butter, or pickled. Baking is ideal for any larger roots you missed, and beets small and large can be roasted to bring out their delicate, yet earthy flavor. Enjoy these delicious, nutritious vegetables fresh from your own garden this season.

It’s Arbor Day!

Saturday, March 7th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and other cool season crops should be planted this month for delicious spring harvests.
    • Asparagus will provide you with delicious, low-priced spears for years to come if you plant them now from dormant crowns.
    • Prune wisteria trees and vines by cutting out unwanted long runners and removing old seed pods. Don’t damage flower buds that are clustered at the end of short branches.
    • Fragrant daphne is an early-blooming shrub that will delight you with its strongly scented blooms each spring. Plant it in well-drained soil.
    • Potatoes can be planted this month. Plant red, white, yellow and russet for a variety of uses and flavors.

Celebrate Trees!

Luther Burbank, California’s famed horticulturist, was a legendary figure in his own time. Born in Massachusetts, on March 7, 1849, he made his home in Santa Rosa for more than fifty years and it was here that he conducted many plant breeding experiments that brought him worldwide fame. His life’s labor produced hundreds of plants and trees that have contributed to the natural splendor and food production in our state.

In 1909, seventeen years before he died, the state legislature designated Burbank’s birthday, March 7, as Arbor Day in California. And every year since then, school children and others have celebrated the event by planting trees.

The idea of an Arbor Day began in Nebraska in 1872 when J. Sterling Morton convinced the Nebraska state board of agriculture to set a day for tree planting and name it Arbor Day. Since then, most states have declared an Arbor Day which is appropriate to their climate. National Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April.

The value of trees can hardly be overstated. Trees solve problems by cooling the house in the summer, reducing the force of the prevailing winds, screening out undesirable sights and reducing noise. They improve water and air quality, provide habitats for animals and plant life and prevent flooding and erosion. In addition, trees have many aesthetic advantages offering pleasant fragrances, beautiful colors that change with the seasons, fruit in abundance, and even a place to hang a swing.

Shade from trees can reduce room temperatures in poorly insulated houses by as much as 20 degrees in summer. To be most effective, trees should be planted on the west and southwest sides of the house to block the hot rays of the western sun. If you plant a deciduous tree which will lose its leaves in the fall, it will let in light in the winter months when it is most desired.

Trees and large shrubs make excellent windbreaks if they are properly chosen and pruned to do the job. The most effective and safest way of planting a windbreak is to combine trees and shrubs over a considerable distance to create a wedge which lifts the wind up and over the tallest trees. Bushy shrubs are planted on the windward side and among the trees with the tallest trees nearest the house. Such a wind break will greatly reduce the wind-chill factor and thereby reduce the cost of heating buildings.

Trees also make the most attractive screen between you and the neighbors, whether they are just next door, or 20 acres away. They can block bothersome glare from artificial lights and make your home environment more to your liking.

For beautiful spring flowers, consider a beautiful weeping flowering cherry with double pink flowers, Krauter Vesuvius flowering plum with its red leaves and light pink flowers or one of the flowering crabapples with flowers ranging from white to pink, red or purplish-red.

Autumn Fantasy Maple with its brilliant fall color makes an excellent, tall shade tree. Purple Robe Locust offers dark pink flowers in spring and a fast-growing, full tree for shade in summer. Fruitless Mulberry and Raywood Ash are also fast-growing trees for summer shade, and flowering pear trees are beautiful in spring, summer and fall.