» Archive for February, 2012

Spring Salad Greens

Monday, February 27th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Bare root fruit trees, grape and berry vines, and ornamental trees and shrubs are still available and can be planted right away.
    • 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.
    • Thin raspberry canes to 4-6 inches apart. Cut back remaining canes to 3 feet tall.
    • Clean out bird houses. Remove old nesting material and scrub the inside with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.

Spring Salad Greens

The crisp, chilly days of early spring are the right time to start planting early salad greens. These colorful leafy greens love cool, sunny weather and you will be picking them for the table in just a few short weeks.

As well as growing many types of lettuce, add variety to your salad with other greens such as rocket, mizuna, baby spinach and the classic mix of salad greens called ‘mesclun’. Mesclun mix typically includes endive, corn salad, rocket, chicory and various leaf lettuces in different colors – all in one seed packet.

If you’re not familiar with some of these, here are a few descriptions. Curly endive has curled leaves tinged with yellow and green. They are slightly bitter in taste, have a crunchy stem, and add a lot of texture to salads.

Arugula, possibly the best known salad green, forms the basis of many salads. Originating from the Mediterranean, this green tastes more peppery than bitter and is especially associated with Italian dishes like pesto.

Endive has a unique oval shape, soft satiny texture, and slight bitterness that makes it a great addition to any salad.

Radicchio grows as a small, deep-red-purple head, like cabbage. Its bright leaves are colorful in salads and when cooked, the red-purple hue turns brown and what was once bitter becomes sweet.

Escarole is a mildly bitter leafy green that is large and crisp. It is often used in soups and paired with beans, and is popular in Italian cuisine.

Baby beet greens can be grown in the early spring. When the leaves of the beet top are immature, they are tender and slightly spicy. The purplish-red veins are visually striking and can dress up any salad.

Asian salad greens are easy to grow in cool weather. Mizuna is a Japanese mustard green that has a relatively strong pungent flavor when compared to other salad greens. The small jagged edges that make mizuna look like miniature oak leaves add a lot of texture.

Tatsoi has small, rounded leaves with a mild, mustard-like flavor. Their texture is similar to that of baby spinach.

Depending on the exposure and temperatures of your garden site, it may be better to start seedlings indoors or in a cool greenhouse and then plant them out in about a month. When plants are about one inch high, you can begin thinning and eating the greens. Use scissors to cut or snap off the shoots. This will prevent the roots of the remaining plants from being disturbed and give the plants room to thrive.

Greens love cool weather, so take advantage of the sunny spring weather, and start something growing in your garden.

Camellias: A Gift from Asia

Monday, February 27th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Flowering dogwoods and tulip magnolias can be planted now during the dormant season from balled & burlapped specimens.
    • 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.
    • Spring vegetables can be planted now. Start your garden with broccoli, cabbage, lettuce spinach and chard. It pays to grow your own!
    • Primroses, in their rainbow of colors, will light up your flower beds and boxes this winter and spring.
    • Bare root fruit trees, grape and berry vines are still available. The best selection is available now.

Camellias: A Gift from Asia

A gift from the Orient to temperate gardens of the world, camellias have long held a position of esteem in their native lands. In China, Japan and Korea the camellia motif is a familiar decoration on everything from architecture to textiles.

It is known that one species, Camellia sinensis, has been grown for at least 3,000 years — not for its flowers but for its leaves, which are used to make tea. The first camellia arrived in Europe in the 1500s, but not until the 19th century were they imported for public use. Soon after, European nurseries started raising new varieties from seed, offering hundreds of named varieties by the end of the century. There are now over 3,000 named varieties.

The most commonly grown Camellias in California are varieties of Camellia japonica. Their perfectly shaped blooms stand out against their dark, glossy green leaves. Thousands of double camellia hybrids offer a large palette of colors from snowy white and bicolors to the deepest scarlet-red. They bloom over a long spring season.

Camellia sasanqua is an earlier blooming species with smaller, less double flowers. But they are just as showy, producing more flowers than the japonicas. They begin blooming in the fall and continue through the winter. Plants grow in a variety of shapes and sizes and they will tolerate full sun once established.

Camellias grow naturally in forest settings, where the forest floor is a thick, soft carpet of decaying leaves and twigs and the soil is loose and crumbly. Since California is much drier than eastern Asia, we need to modify our natural conditions to grow camellias well.

Fortunately, camellias are quite adaptable. Given a rich, humusy soil to live in, their care consists mainly of watering and fertilizing. They need protection from hot sun and strong winds, and do best with morning sun and afternoon shade. The roots should stay moist, but not soggy, at all times. A natural mulch kept around the plants will keep moisture in and improve the soil. Use bark, wood chips or oak leaves.

The first year, plants need only be watered and mulched. After that, you can fertilize with a commercial fertilizer formulated for camellias, or with cottonseed meal. Be sure the soil is moist when you apply any fertilizer. When in doubt use less, as camellias can be damaged or killed by too much fertilizer.

Unlike other flowering shrubs, camellias need no annual pruning to stay healthy and attractive. You can maintain their shape by taking two or three leaves with the bloom when cutting flowers. If a plant is not as bushy as you would like it to be, cut out last year’s growth in late spring and several branches will start below the cut.

Clean-up is important for healthy camellias. Remove faded flowers before they fall, especially any that have brown petals, an indication of petal blight.

Treat your camellias well and they will give you beautiful blooms each spring, and grow to be beautiful, large landscape plants.

Small Fruits for the Garden

Monday, February 27th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Pansies, with their bright faces, are impervious to cold weather. They even bloom under the snow. So plant some now for spring color.
    • Clematis that bloomed last summer can be pruned now. Wait on spring-blooming varieties until after they bloom.
    • English daisies are an early-blooming perennial with showy red, pink or white flowers. They will bloom all spring in partial shade.
    • 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.
    • It’s bare root season, which means you can save money on fruit trees, grapevines and berry vines by planting them now. A wide selection is still available.

Small Fruits for the Garden

Wonderful fruits come from the home berry patch. In addition to fresh eating and luscious pies, cobblers and strawberry shortcakes, berries are easy to freeze and can be made into delicious jams and colorful juices.

Small fruits come in a wide assortment of colors, flavors, shapes and sizes. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, currants, gooseberries, blackberries and grapes give us an enormous variety to choose from. Not only are they colorful and tasty, but most small fruits are easy to grow. They are very productive and most kinds bear a year or two after planting.

Grapes are one of the oldest fruits in cultivation. With just a few vines you can harvest enough fruit for delicious, fresh grapes, grape juice, grape jelly or raisins. Plant early, mid-season and late varieties for an extended harvest. Grapes must be pruned to get top production from your vines, and now is a good time to begin that job.

Raspberries and blackberries and their many cousins, are usually referred to as the brambles. They are frequently treated as gourmet fruit, not because they are hard to grow, but because they don’t ship well. But they are easy to grow in our climate, so choose some of your favorite cultivars now and start your own bramble patch.

The bush fruits include blueberry, currant, gooseberry, huckleberry and lingonberry. What you don’t eat fresh can be made into delicious sauces, conserves, pies and other desserts, or frozen for later use.

There are three types of blueberries: Northern highbush, Southern highbush and Rabbiteye. Northern highbush are the most popular home-garden blueberries. They will do best in locations with some ocean influence in the summer. Southern highbush and Rabbiteyes are ideal for warmer climates.

Currants produce generous quantities of tasty fruit with very little maintenance. Gooseberries are wonderful for preserves and refreshing summer wines. They will grow in full sun or partial shade. Huckleberry is native to our redwood forests and makes tasty little fruits that are delicious in pancakes!

The favorite home-grown berry is, of course, the strawberry. Picked ripe from the garden, they are rich and flavorful. Fresh strawberry shortcake, strawberry ice cream and strawberry pie are just some of the ways to use them. The plants are inexpensive and bear a full crop within a year of planting.

Berries of all kinds are available for planting now.