» Archive for April, 2012

New Books for the Gardener

Thursday, April 19th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Hang up Codling moth traps now to reduce the number of wormy apples in your harvest this year.
    • Attract birds to your yard with bird feeders. Delightful gold finches will be happy to visit your thistle feeders, and rufous-sided tohees will visit seed feeders.
    • Gladiolus bulbs come in every color of the rainbow. Plant them this month for summer flowers.
    • Turn in cover crops now and you will be ready to plant your summer garden in two or three weeks.
    • Plant sunflowers now from seed or plants. Choose either the multi-stemmed kinds for cut flowers or the giants for edible seeds.

New Books for the Gardener

“The Sunset Western Garden Book” has been the “bible” of Western gardeners and nursery folks for over 80 years. With its unique climate zone maps for just the Western states and a special understanding of Western growing conditions, the Sunset Book is THE reference book for most California gardeners.

Newly released is the 9th Edition of “The New Sunset Western Garden Book,” complete with more than 2,000 full-color photographs. This is the first edition that includes a color photograph for every plant in its encyclopedia. And the red type for each plant name really stands out on the page. Over 9,000 plants are described in its pages.

There is an extensive “Plant Finder” section that lists Plants for Slopes, Deer-Resistant Plants, Plants for Shade, and Trees and Shrubs for Containers. It also lists Plants for Waterwise Gardens and Plants for Damp Areas as well as Plants that Attract Bees and Butterflies.

For special effects you can look through sections that list Flowering Trees and Shrubs, Fall Foliage, Plants for Fragrance and even Plants for Moon Gardens!

Flip to the back of the book for down-to-earth gardening information. You’ll learn about soils, how to plant a tree, growing in containers, how to grow herbs and how to design with perennials. There’s a lot of information on choosing and planting trees, “the backbone of the garden.”

There is information on choosing and growing vines, wildflowers, and how to create a wildlife habitat. Watering and fertilizing are covered in detail as well as how to protect your plants from frost, hot sun and midnight marauders.

It has a section on vegetable gardening, which tells you when to plant each kind of vegetable in your climate zone. There is also some information on when to harvest different crops.

If you are primarily interested in fruits and vegetables, Sunset has a new book called the “Western Garden Book of Edibles.” With complete instructions for growing over 190 vegetables, herbs, berries, fruits and nuts it is a very valuable reference book.

In the back of the book are detailed plans and design ideas for kitchen gardens of all sizes. It also has easy-to-follow guidelines for composting and building raised beds, arbors and trellises and garden paths.

The Practical Guide tells you about soil amendments, planting cover crops, starting from seed and using mulches. It also has color photos of many of the most common plant pests and diseases and a few of beneficial insects.

Both books will be fun to sit down with and discover some new plants and gardening tips and they will be nice additions to your gardening library.

Versatile Potatoes

Thursday, April 19th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Tomatoes can be set out with protection. “Season Starter” will protect them down to 20°F and will give them a warm environment during the day.
    • Summer flower bulbs can be planted now. Choose from gladiolus, dahlias, begonias, lilies and more.
    • Flowering magnolias, or tulip trees can be grown in full sun or partial shade, as a lovely accent plant in any garden.
    • Put up hummingbird feeders this month and enjoy these colorful and entertaining birds.
    • Plant artichokes now. Fill a hole with one part humus and two parts soil and set out plants in full or part sun.

Versatile Potatoes

America’s most popular vegetable, the potato, can be boiled, baked, fried, microwaved, steamed, or roasted, with or without their peels. Combined with butter, sour cream, or oil they are rich and addictive, but left to themselves they’re quite low in calories and loaded with nutrients.

Potatoes with a high starch content, like russets, bake well and yield light and fluffy mashed potatoes.  Those with a low starch content, like red-skinned potatoes, hold their shape after cooking, and are great for making potato salads and scalloped potatoes.  Medium starch potatoes are called all-purpose potatoes, and they’ll work in most potato dishes. 

Baking potatoes are high in starch with a coarse, cork-like skin. For baked potatoes, Russet Burbank is the standard. But newer varieties like Rio Grande Russet and Norkotah Russet may give you higher yields. You can also have fine baked potatoes with Sangre 11, a red potato with white flesh, Mountain Rose, a red potato with red flesh, and Yellow Finn, a popular yellow potato. California White is also good baked.

Boiling potatoes are waxy and low in starch. They have a thin, smooth skin and are high in moisture and sugar, but low in starch. Many red potatoes are delicious boiled. Red La Soda is a classic boiler with sweet white flesh, and Sangre 11 is excellent for boiling and ranks high in taste tests. Red Gold has delicate yellow flesh and unique flavor. Modoc has bright red skin and is early maturing. Red Chieftain has dark red skin and white flesh and is slow to turn green in storage. Yellow Finn and Yukon Gold are also good boilers.

For mashed potatoes, look to Russets, of course, or Yukon Gold. Or try some of the reds like Mountain Rose, Red Pontiac or Red La Soda.

Salad potatoes need to hold up to boiling, so you can use Yellow Finn, Red Norland, and Red La Soda for salads. Colorado Rose, a red potato with white flesh, is also good for salads. All Blue, a blue potato with blue flesh, will add color and interest to your summer salads.

“All-purpose” potatoes are moister than baking potatoes and will hold together in boiling water. They are particularly well-suited to roasting, pan frying, and using in soups, stews, and gratins. They can be baked, mashed, and fried, but will not produce the same results as the bakers. Yukon Gold, Red Pontiac, California White and French Fingerlings fall into this category. Carola is a new yellow skinned potato with yellow flesh that is becoming very popular for its versatility and flavor.

Fingerling potatoes are gourmet potatoes that are more widely available now. There are many varieties of these small, finger-shaped potatoes, but they all tend to be low in starch, and great for roasting or making potato salads. Look for French Fingerlings, Russian Banana and Rose Finn Apple.

Try some new varieties and enjoy the many flavors of the versatile potato.

Easter Flowers

Monday, April 9th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant sunflowers now from seed. Choose either the multi-stemmed kinds for cut flowers or the giants for edible seeds.
    • Evergreen candytuft is a hardy perennial with bright white flowers set against dark green foliage. They bloom now and make a fine border plant.
    • 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.
    • Plant sweet peas for bouquets of delightful blooms.

Look What’s Blooming for Easter!

The cold, wet weather has certainly slowed down gardening activities, but many of the early bloomers in the garden are doing their best to remind us that spring is not far away.

Daffodils are real troopers in this weather. Day after day, they hold their flowers up high against the weather beckoning the sunshine. A drift I saw at the base of a clump of white birch trees was especially cheerful. Grape hyacinths make a carpet of blue in my garden where they are impervious to the weather.

Forsythia branches covered with bright golden flowers standout in the garden, and so do the leaves of variegated Euonymus, which look particularly bright yellow at this time of year. Purple wallflower, Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’, now adds its bright mauve flowers to the springtime palette. And the slender, green stems of Kerria japonica are about to burst forth with their double yellow “Japanese rose” flowers. Is it any wonder that purple and yellow are “Easter colors”?

The Tulip Trees or saucer magnolias are coming into their glory. Their pink or purplish red blooms are 4-inches across or more, and they cover the branches of this beautiful small tree.  For the month that is in bloom it is extraordinary. 

Viburnum ‘Spring Bouquet’ is living up to its name, and is so beautiful right now, that you want to stop and see what that glorious plant is. This hardy, evergreen shrub should have a place in every garden. One of its close relatives, Viburnum burkwoodii, has fragrant white flowers that appear in early spring from dense clusters of 4″ pink buds. The upright, multi-stemmed shrub has an open habit that is very lovely in the shade garden.

Some varieties of Rosemary are now in full bloom. Their bright blue flowers are very attractive set against the dark green, aromatic leaves. Given good drainage, they are one of our toughest and most versatile plants.

Camellias are an old-fashioned shrub that has stood the test of time. Some older specimens, which were probably planted when the houses were built, are as tall as the eaves. Their perfectly formed red, pink or white flowers cover the plants in April and are an invitation to come enjoy their singular beauty.

Dainty azaleas are just beginning to bloom. These profuse flowering shrubs can be used as a low hedge, in borders or in massed planting for an impressive color display. The flowers come in pink, red, white, purple and lavender and cover the evergreen leaves while they are in bloom. It’s best to plant hardy varieties in our climate.

Eastre, the Teutonic Goddess of Fertility, is rich with promise and potential life. At this time of new beginnings, we look forward with hope to a bountiful growing season ahead.