» Archive for August, 2013

Growing Table Grapes

Thursday, August 1st, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Fuchsias will bloom all summer if you remove faded flowers and seed pods and fertilize every ten days with a liquid fertilizer like Miracle Gro.
    • Roses need water and fertilizer to keep blooming well throughout the summer. Watch for pests and treat immediately to prevent infestations.
    • Check for squash, or “stink”, bugs on squash and pumpkins. Hand-pick grey-brown adults and destroy red egg clusters on the leaves. Use pyrethrins to control heavy infestations.
    • Prune rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas to shape them now. If you wait much longer, you will be cutting off next year’s flowers.
    • Birdbaths will attract our feathered friends to your backyard so you can enjoy them close-up. Place them a few feet from a bushy shrub to give the birds protection.

Growing Table Grapes

Grapes have been cultivated since ancient times. Many European grape varieties, brought to California in the 19th century, have provided the basis for today’s thriving grape industry. Home gardeners can still grow some very old European varieties, such as Muscat of Alexandria, but there are some outstanding new varieties to grow as well. Grapes are some of the most versatile and adaptable of all the small fruits.

Grapes make an excellent backyard crop. The vines do not take up much space when trained against a fence or arbor, and there are varieties that do very well in our climate. Even an inexperienced gardener should be able to produce a good crop.

American and European grapes and their hybrids are grown throughout California. Each type has its climatic preferences.

American grapes are distinguished by their skin which slips easily off the soft flesh. They usually have seeds and a strong, distinctive flavor reminiscent of Concord, the best known American grape. They can be eaten fresh and make excellent juice and jelly. Other fine American grapes are Interlaken, Himrod and Golden Muscat, which are all very sweet.

European grapes are firm with nonslip skin and relatively mild flavor. They do better in warmer areas of the state because they need long, hot summers to mature. Thompson Seedless does very well in the Central Valley, but seldom ripens here. But there are some European varieties, like Perlette and Flame, that will do well here.

Most wine grapes are European grapes, so many of them will not ripen here. But you can try Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot or Zinfandel particularly if you have a warm, sunny, southwest-facing slope. Sunlight is the key to producing grapes high in sugars which, after fermentation, become alcohol. These varieties are successfully grown in Redwood Valley, Potter Valley and Ukiah.

Homegrown grapes are not likely to be as large as those found in grocery stores. Commercial growers treat their table grape crops with gibberellic acid, a growth hormone that causes the cells to grow larger and longer than normal.

Grapes will tolerate a wide range of soils. They have deep root systems and therefore need deep but infrequent watering. However, they should not be allowed to dry out. Watering prior to harvest will increase fruit size. Keep weeds pulled or hoed, especially when vines are young.

Grape vines can be grown on fences, trellises or arbors. A standard 8’ x 8’ arbor will support one vine nicely. Grapes can be grown unpruned, forming a thick mass of canes and dense shade. Or they can be carefully pruned to a cordon that runs across the middle of the arbor. Arbors are a nice way to incorporate a grapevine into your landscape design, and they lift the vines up to receive maximum sunlight and air.

Grapes are one of the easiest fruits to grow in our climate and make “good-eating” in the summertime.

Growing a Fall Vegetable Garden

Thursday, August 1st, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Keep flowers and vegetables in peak condition by giving them a midsummer feeding with a fertilizer that is higher in phosphorus than in nitrogen.
    • Dig and divide crowded spring-flowering bulbs and tubers including daffodils, scillas, muscari, and bearded iris.
    • Tree collards make a delicious winter vegetable. Set plants out now to give them time to grow before the winter chill that makes the leaves so sweet.
    • Japanese maples may be pruned now in order to shape them.
    • First-year fruit trees need to be well-watered through the dry weather. If they are neglected the first year, they may never be strong, productive trees.

Growing a Fall Vegetable Garden

Planting a fall garden will extend the gardening season so you can continue to harvest fresh produce after summer crops have finished. Many vegetables are well adapted to planting in the summer for fall harvest.

Many cool-season vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, produce their best flavor and quality when they mature during cool weather. In spring, the temperatures often heat up quickly. Vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, tend to bolt or develop bitter flavor when they mature during hot summer weather.

Growing a productive fall vegetable garden requires thoughtful planning and good cultural practices. August and early September are the main planting times for the fall garden.

Vegetables that have a 60 to 80 day maturity cycle should be planted around August 1. This includes broccoli, cabbage, carrots and collards. Quick maturing vegetables, such as turnips, lettuce, kale and other leafy greens, can be planted in late August or early September.

Transplant seedlings into well-prepared moist soil in the evening, so they have the cool night temperatures to settle in and minimize shock. In hot weather it is best to shelter newly transplanted seedlings for a few days with shade cloth or row covers.

You can start seeds of leaf lettuce, bok choy, spinach, Swiss chard and roquette or arugula now. These are fast-maturing crops that will be ready before frost. Although most seeds will germinate quickly in the warm summer soil, some, such as lettuce and spinach, will not germinate well if the soil temperature is above 85°F. Shading the soil with a board or a light mulch will keep the soil cooler, enhancing germination. Remove the temporary shade when you see sprouts emerging.

There are many kinds of lettuce to choose from on seed racks that will give you color and variety in your salads. Swiss chard comes in green, red or “rainbow”, a mixture of colored stalks.

Root crops, such as beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas and turnips, can be left in the ground through the fall. Green onions, chives and radishes can also be planted through September for harvest in the fall.

It is important to rotate your crops from year to year. Do not plant the same crops in the same place that they were planted in the previous year because the soil will be weakened through continual loss of the same nutrients and the plants will also attract the same insects and diseases to that part of the garden.

Before planting your fall crops, turn over the soil and mix in some fertilizer to replace what earlier plants have used up.

A major benefit of a fall garden is that it gives you fresh vegetables long after most of your summer crops have been harvested and killed by the frost. So start your fall garden now to extend the productivity of your garden.

Summer Beauty in the Shade

Thursday, August 1st, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Fountains create the sound of moving water that is restful and cooling on the patio or in the garden. It also masks unwanted sounds.
    • Feed annual blooming plants and hanging baskets every two weeks for prolific bloom. Keep dead flowers pinched off.
    • Remove suckers on rose bushes. These vigorous canes emerge from below the bud union and should be cut off as far down as possible.
    • Cut back leggy annuals by half and feed to encourage a longer bloom season.
    • Impatiens will give you instant color in shady areas and continue blooming right through the fall.

Summer Beauty in the Shade

The big, round, pink flower clusters of the well-known hydrangea have decorated summer gardens in California for decades. These long-blooming bushes are ideal for shady areas of the garden, as they bloom for most of the summer.
From their home along the rivers of China and Japan, hydrangeas were brought to Europe by plant collectors in the 1800s and now are popular in many parts of the world.

The name Hydrangea gives us a clue to the main needs of this plant. It comes from the Greek word Hydro, meaning water, indicating its need for plenty of water in the summertime. Hydrangeas prefer moist, humus-rich soil with good drainage. So when planting, add peat moss and compost to the soil.

Hydrangeas cannot tolerate hot sun. It will burn their leaves quickly. Plant them where they receive only early morning sun. The north side of a building is usually a good location. They need regular watering and should not be allowed to dry out. Plants wilt if they get too dry but will recover soon with a thorough watering.

Pink hydrangeas can be made to turn blue by making the soil more acid. This is done by working aluminum sulfate into the soil around the plants in March. Flowers may turn blue naturally here where the soils are acidic under conifers. It you want to keep the flowers pink, apply lime around the plants in the springtime.

Hydrangeas are deciduous shrubs which lose their leaves in the winter. They can be pruned when dormant by removing spent flowers down to a healthy pair of buds. This should be done in spring when they first start to show new growth.  

There are many kinds of hydrangeas besides the common one. The lace-cap hydrangea has flower heads that are made up of a cluster of small flowers surrounded by a ring of large ones. They may be white, pink or blue and add a dramatic touch to the shade garden. Some have variegated leaves which add color in shady areas.

There are several new cultivars including ‘Endless Summer,’ ‘All Summer Beauty,’ and ‘Glowing Embers.’ They add some variety to the sizes and colors of standard hydrangeas.

Hydrangeas grow quite large on the coast, but usually stay under five feet here. They give us some of our best summer color. Good companion plants include hostas, astilbe, columbines and bleeding hearts. Planted with pink, lavender or white impatiens around their base, they will bring life and color to your yard all summer.

Hydrangea paniculata is the most cold-hardy hydrangea. It is a big shrub growing 8-10 feet tall. Large creamy-white flowers, which are borne in 6- to 12-inch tall flower spikes, are produced in mid-summer. They take more sun than the regular hydrangeas, but like protection from the hot sun in our climate.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ blooms continuously for many weeks, with flowers that change color as they mature. They begin creamy white but turn pink two weeks later and then become strawberry red or even burgundy, retaining that shade for about 3–4 weeks. They are spectacular in fresh and dried arrangements.

Light up your garden with some of these summer beauties.