» Archive for April, 2009

Sunflower Time

Friday, April 24th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Begin spraying roses now for insect and disease problems. Neem oil is a good product for a less toxic solution.
    • “Topsy Turvy”®Tomato and Pepper Planters are a fun and convenient way to enjoy these popular vegetables hanging right outside your kitchen door.
    • Put up hummingbird feeders this month and enjoy these colorful and entertaining birds.
    • Turn in cover crops now and you will be ready to plant your summer garden in two or three weeks.
    • Plant summer-flowering bulbs now. Glads, dahlias, begonias and lilies will bloom this summer if planted soon.

Enjoy radiant Sunflowers this summer

Sunflowers, with their warm yellows and spicy reds, add a touch of sunshine to any flower bed. With a variety of sunflowers in your garden, you can enjoy their colorful blooms from mid-summer until frost.

The common sunflower is native to North America and grows 6 to 8 feet tall. But there are many varieties that have been developed from it ranging in height from 18-inch-tall dwarfs to 5-foot-tall multi-flowered varieties to the 12-foot giants.

It used to be that “sunflower” meant the Mammoth sunflower. This plant grows 7 to 12 feet tall and each plant produces one flower up to 20 inches across that hangs its heads with the weight of its seeds.

The bountiful crop of edible seeds, high in healthy fats, protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins, are loved by people, birds and animals. You can begin to harvest sunflower seeds as soon as the center flowers turn brown or the backs of the heads turn yellow.

You can start sunflowers indoors right now, and plant them out when danger of frost has passed. Or they can be seeded directly in the ground next month. They are simple to grow in ordinary garden soil. They grow quickly and are fun for children to watch.

Sunflowers love the sun. The faces of the flowers follow the sun, from east to west, each day. So plant them where you can enjoy their colorful flower heads. Remember that they will grow very tall, so don’t put them where they will shade other sun loving plants. Be prepared to stake them if necessary.

‘Sunspot’ is a dwarf sunflower with a large, 10-inch, nodding heads of seeds on bushes only 2 feet tall. Bright, golden yellow petals surround brown centers which are filled with tasty seeds. ‘Teddy Bear’ makes big, rounded, fluffy, golden yellow sunflowers, 5 inches across, on sturdy 3-foot stems.

Another group of sunflowers make 5- to 6-foot-tall, branching plants. ‘Autumn Beauty’ has 5- to 8-inch flowers in deep yellow, gold, brick-red, burgundy and bicolored flowers. It has multiple flowering branches that bloom over a long period. ‘Evening Sun’ has multicolored blooms in yellow and gold with bands of mahogany and red.

Other similar varieties include such intriguing names as ‘Tiger’s Eye’, ‘Moulin Rouge’, and ‘Velvet Queen’, to name a few of the varieties available on local seed racks. They offer all possible combinations of reds, yellows and browns and make stunning bouquets of 4-6 inch flowers.

Besides a bounty of blooms, the ripening heads of sunflowers draw lively goldfinches, colorful towhees and friendly blue jays as long as the stalks stand. So light up your summer beds with colorful sunflowers.

Summer Bulbs

Friday, April 17th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Petunias can be planted now. Their bright flowers will bloom all summer in hot, sunny locations and they will take a light frost.
    • Tomatoes and peppers can be set out now, but be ready to cover them if cold weather returns.
    • Fertilize established roses now and begin spraying them for insect and disease problems. Neem oil is a very effective, less toxic spray that works against both insects and diseases.
    • Bleeding hearts are charming perennials for the shade garden. Look for them now for a special accent.
    • The average date of the last frost in Willits is May 12. So protect young flowers and vegetables on clear, cold nights.

Dazzling Dahlias

Diverse and versatile, dahlias are prized for their bright-colored, summer blooms. They are one of the most varied of the summer flowering “bulbs”, and are actually tubers. Although native to Mexico, dahlias are very adaptable.

They come in simple, daisy-like flowers; cactus flowers with rolled petals that give them a spiky look; smaller pompon flowers with many petaled, globe-shaped blooms; and decorative dahlias with large, fluffy blooms of many pointed and twisted petals. Flowers range from 2 inches to more than 8 inches across and come in a rainbow of colors. Plants range from 8 inches to 4½ feet tall, and bloom for months.

‘Harlequin’ Dahlias have small flowers, 2-3 inches across, with a single layer of outer petals and a burst of shorter inner petals that surround the eye. Their long-lasting blooms are bicolored or solid and come in many colors.

Bedding dahlias include ’Figaro’ Mix with green leaves and ‘Redskin’ Mix with dark foliage. They are compact and uniform with double flowers that are ideal for borders as well as containers.

The larger dahlias are particularly showy in the garden. The cactus dahlia, ‘My Love’, produces an endless supply of white, 6 inch flowers all summer long. ‘Kevin Floodlight’ is a bright yellow dinnerplate dahlia with flowers up to 8”-10” across on a four foot bush. ‘Thomas Edison’, a deep purple dinnerplate, is a heavy bloomer, with up to 15 huge flowers per plant.

The tubers are planted in spring after the air and soil have warmed. They grow in full sun on the coast but need shade during the hottest part of the day, inland.

Dahlias like well-drained, fertile soil. Space roots of larger dahlias 3 to 4 feet apart, smaller types, 12 inches apart. Mix in some composted steer manure at planting time.

For tall varieties, drive a 6-foot stake into the hole just off center, then plant the root next to it. Place the root horizontally about 2 inches from the stake with the growth eye pointing up, and cover with 3 inches of soil. Water well to settle the soil. When the sprouts show up, in about three weeks, top-dress with fertilizer. Use as a background screen or hedge plants for a striking accent.

As the plants grow, tie each stalk loosely to the stake with soft tie material. Dahlias begin blooming two to three months from planting and continue until frost. Pinch tall-growing plants at 4 to 6 inches to encourage branching.

Dahlia’s are ideal for cut flowers, borders and containers. Their fancy flowers with their wide variety of shapes and colors will add a burst of color and life to your summer garden and home decor.

Saving the Bees

Friday, April 10th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias provide lots of beautiful flowers for the shady spring garden. Choose them now.
    • Spring feeding of trees and shrubs can begin now. Mulch with manure or apply fish emulsion or commercial fertilizers.
    • Prepare for planting season! Turn in cover crops and do a soil test if your garden had trouble last year.
    • Dahlias come in a wide variety of colors and shapes. Plant the roots now for flowers this summer.
    • Hang up Codling moth traps now to reduce the number of wormy apples in your harvest this year.

Protecting Our Pollinators

More than 75% of flowering plants are pollinated by insects, birds or bats. Some plants need a specific pollinator, and others can be pollinated by a variety of insects. Most fruits and vegetables are pollinated by insects. With many of our pollinators in decline, it is important for gardeners to protect pollinators in order to insure good yields and good quality food.

We can protect pollinators by avoiding pesticides and providing food, water and nesting sites in our backyards and gardens. Bees and other beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings and parasitic wasps are easily killed by insecticides. Targeted insecticides, such as Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), and soaps, oils or botanicals minimize damage to pollinators.

Since bees are major pollinators, you can help them by planting a bee garden. Bees like flowers, sunlight, warm temperatures and open spaces. Honey bees visit many different kinds of plants, while native bees are more particular.

  Since native bees are around all through the growing season, it is important to plant flowers that bloom successively over the spring, summer and fall. By grouping the flowers that attract bees together, you are more likely to draw bees to your garden. Gardens with ten or more species of attractive plants will attract the largest number of bees.

Wildflower seed mixes can provide forage in open areas. Perennials and annuals can be chosen so that there are always flowers in bloom. Some common plants that attract bees are cosmos, dusty miller, bachelor’s button, black-eyed susan, blackberries and sedum.

Choose several colors of flowers.  Bees have good color vision to help them find flowers and the nectar and pollen they offer.  Flower colors that particularly attract bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.

Herbs such as borage, catmint, mints, feverfew and yarrow attract bees. In open areas you can plant shrubs and trees like redbud, California bay trees, coyote brush, Ceanothus, white sage, and tan oaks. Native asters, penstemon, wood sorrel and California poppy are good bee plants.

Protecting pollinators has many advantages. Many of the same plants that feed bees, birds and butterflies also provide refuge for ladybugs and lacewings. You can have both better pollination and fewer pests feeding on your garden. California poppy, coriander, fennel, sweet alyssum and yarrow will attract these beneficial insects.

Weeds can also provide nectar resources for bees and butterflies, and should be tolerated whenever possible, and when they are not a fire hazard. Allow cover crops, on fallow fields and in orchards, to bloom before plowing them under.

Let your garden be a little “wild” with a variety of plants to make a bee-friendly garden.  What’s good for the bees is good for our fruits and vegetables and a good thing to do for the planet.