» Archive for April, 2015

Waterwise Landscaping

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • May Day is the perfect time to celebrate spring and to brighten someone’s day with a basket of flowers.
    • It’s time to put out oriole feeders. You can also attract them with fresh orange halves.
    • Flower seeds can be sown directly in the garden now. Cosmos, marigolds and zinnias will give you beautiful flowers all summer.
    • Plant the vegetable garden this month, but remember that late frosts can still nip tender young plants.
    • Beautiful African Violets will decorate your indoor spaces with their masses of flowers in all shades of purple, blue and pink.

Waterwise Landscaping

Waterwise landscaping is an approach to landscaping that emphasizes water conservation. By using plants that are more drought tolerant your landscape will be able to survive through long dry periods with a minimum of water. Using native and Mediterranean plants, a well-designed landscape provides diversity and beauty with minimum maintenance.

Water efficient landscaping includes grouping plants together with similar water requirements, watering just to meet the plant needs and using decks and patios to enhance your enjoyment of the yard.

To create a landscape that uses minimal irrigation, the secret is to use tough, drought-tolerant plants that will grow in the amount of sun or shade available in a particular site. You can use plants that like more moisture along north and east facing slopes and walls. Don’t mix plants with high and low water needs in the same planting area.

Shrubs that will grow well in these conditions include rockroses, California wild lilac, lavenders, rosemary, manzanitas, mugo pines and junipers. In addition, common shrubs like forsythia, barberry, Oregon grape, cotoneaster, Philadelphus and lilacs can get by with occasional summer watering. These will give you a variety of sizes and textures to fill large spaces and tumble over rocks and down hillsides.

Add color to the setting with some of the many perennials that tolerate these conditions. The following plants are very drought tolerant. They should survive with a monthly irrigation once established, but you may choose to irrigate them twice per month from June through August for additional flowering.

Reliable, easy-care yarrows have flat clusters of colorful flowers and finely divided, fern-like foliage. Smaller varieties, like ‘Pomegranate,’ are low growing with 18-inch flower stems while ‘Moonshine’ grows to two feet and ‘Coronation Gold’ can reach four feet tall. They bloom through early summer.

Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, has large, showy daisy flowers that bloom from early to late summer. Some exciting new varieties have flowers in bright reds and yellows with names like ‘Hot Coral’ and ‘Cheyenne Spirit.’

Red Valerian is a well-known plant in many older gardens, where its rosy-red flowers on tall, floppy stems bloom continuously from late spring through summer. It reseeds readily and is easy-to-grow.

Sedums are often overlooked but these succulents are excellent in sunny spots with well-drained soil. From the low-growing ‘Cape Blanco’ with its attractive silver-gray foliage, to the 24-inch tall ‘Autumn Joy’ with its large domes of bright pink flowers, sedums contrast beautifully with more delicate plants.

Very large areas can be planted with a wildflower mix. Now is a good time to broadcast these seeds. The mix may include California poppy, lupine, purple coneflower, and gaillardia.

There are many more plants that will survive with watering just twice a month, which I will share next week. By designing your landscape with drought tolerant plants, you can make the most of our precious water resources.

A Beauty in the Shade Garden

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Thin fruit trees now while fruits are still small. Thin apples to 6 inches apart and peaches to 4 inches apart. On Asian pears leave 1 fruit per spur.
    • Wisterias are large, vigorous vines that are blooming right now with their long clusters of purple, pink or white fragrant flowers. Give them a strong arbor to climb on.
    • Hang up Codling moth traps now to reduce the number of wormy apples in your harvest this year.
    • Spray roses every two weeks to keep them healthy and prevent leaf diseases. Neem oil is a safe alternative to chemicals.
    • Peony cages are like tomato cages except they are shorter and wider. Set them around your peony plants now to hold up the beautiful, large flowers when they bloom.

Impatiens: A Beauty in the Shade Garden

It is sometimes difficult to design a shade garden with lots of color. Most plants do not flower well in too much shade. But Impatiens are easy-to-grow and flower in shady areas all summer long.

Impatiens came originally from Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania. In the 1950’s, hybridizers began working with Impatiens to improve plant qualities. New varieties were introduced in the 1960’s as this new bedding plant began to catch on. Now Impatiens are the most popular bedding plant in the country.

Common names for Impatiens, like ‘Busy Lizzy’ and ‘Touch-me-not’, hint that this plant is indeed “impatient.” When the seed pods are ripe and full, the slightest touch will cause them to burst open and scatter their seeds in the wind.

Hybrid Impatiens come in a full range of colors. Flowers are up to two inches across completely covering the 12 to 18 inch plants. Colors include red, white, orange, coral, pink, rose, lilac, lavender-blue and burgundy as well as picotee bicolors, which are striped or splashed with white. There are also double-flowered varieties known as “rosebud” Impatiens.

For flashy flowers and bold foliage, it’s tough to beat New Guinea Impatiens. They are more vigorous than the regular Impatiens with 2-3 inch flowers and very large leaves that are often variegated with cream or red. The extra large flowers with overlapping petals give a lush tropical appearance to the plants. Flowers come in brilliant colors, from hot pink and bright orange to red. Plants grow 1 to 2 feet tall by summer’s end in rich, moist soil. They grow well as container plants and will take more sun than other Impatiens.

Impatiens are easy to grow in partial shade. In too much sunlight, they will have small leaves and few blooms. They also do not perform well in deep shade, where there is no hint of sunlight for any part of the day, but thrive in filtered shade along with begonias, ferns, foxglove, hydrangeas and fuchsias. The plants will tolerate morning sun, but by noon they need to be in the shade or the summer sun will cook them.

Impatiens do best when given a well-prepared, relatively fertile soil. They prefer moisture, but can take some drought. Never let the soil dry out completely. They will wilt and drop their blooms if they get too dry, but they won’t die without a fight. Mulch around the plants to preserve moisture in the soil. In partial shade, with minimal water, your Impatiens will shine.

Moss baskets look wonderful planted with Impatiens. As they grow, they completely surround the container with flowers. They are excellent in window boxes and make wonderful drifts of color bordering lawns and pathways.

Covering themselves with flowers all summer, Impatiens are perhaps the most useful summer annual for shady gardens.

Delicious, Homegrown Tomatoes

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 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.
    • Plant summer-flowering bulbs now. Glads, dahlias, callas, cannas and lilies will bloom this summer if planted soon.
    • 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.
    • Enjoy the bright yellow colors of goldfinches outside your window by putting up thistle feeders for them.
    • When you plant your tomatoes, put a handful of bone meal in the bottom of the hole to help prevent blossom-end rot on the fruit later on.

Delicious, Homegrown Tomatoes

There are still a few things in the world you cannot buy: one of them is the full flavor and juicy texture of a vine-ripened tomato. Perhaps that is why the tomato is the most widely grown vegetable in American gardens.

Mendocino County has many different climate zones. Inland we have areas like the Willits valley where summer nights are generally cool, with temperatures often falling into the 40’s, which slows down the growth of warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers. We have a short growing season here because spring frosts can occur through May, and a killing frost usually arrives in October.

Ukiah is a different story with warmer summer nights and a longer growing season. By choosing the right varieties for your local climate, you can count on delicious, juicy tomatoes this summer.

Short-season varieties like ‘Early Girl,’ ‘Champion,’ ‘Heartland,’ ‘La Roma,’ and ‘Oregon Spring’ are popular in the Willits area. You can always try a few of the longer-season varieties like ‘Beefsteak,’ ‘Beefmaster,’ ‘Brandywine,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ and ‘Giuseppi’s Big Boy’ if you have a good, warm spot for them.

Then there are the midseason favorites like ‘Ace 55,’ ‘Better Boy,’ ‘Big Beef,’ ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Park’s Whopper’. Planting several different types will give you lots of delicious fruit for fresh-eating and canning.

Tomatoes are divided into two types. Determinate varieties grow on strong, stocky bushes that don’t need staking. All the fruits on a plant ripen at about the same time, making these good canning tomatoes. ‘Ace 55,’ ‘Celebrity,’ ‘Homestead,’ ‘Heartland,’ ‘La Roma,’ ‘Patio,’ and ‘Oregon Spring’ are determinate varieties.

Most tomatoes grow on vines, and these varieties are called indeterminate, which means that they would keep growing indefinitely, if frost didn’t kill them. They need strong stakes or cages to hold the plants up off the ground.

For variety, be sure to include yellow and orange tomatoes in your garden. Many of them are low in acid, which some people prefer, and all of them are colorful in salads. ‘Golden Jubilee’ is the standard, low-acid tomato. But try ‘Lemon Boy’ for its bright, lemon-yellow fruit and ‘Hillbilly’ or ‘Pineapple’ for a red-and-yellow slicer that is sweet and fruity. ‘Green Zebra’ is a small green-striped fruit with a tangy flavor.

“Cherry” tomatoes are nice in salads. Try ‘Yellow Pear,’ with small, pear-shaped fruit, and ‘Sungold,’ a bright apricot-orange with tropical flavor. ‘Black Cherry’ is sweet and rich-flavored, and ‘Jelly Bean’ has grape-shaped fruits with sweet flavor. ‘Large Red Cherry’ and ‘Chadwick’s Cherry’ are large cherry tomatoes and ‘Supersweet 100’ bears large clusters of small, sweet red fruit that are disease resistant.

Good paste tomatoes are seedless (or nearly so), meaty, and on the dry side. Look for ‘Roma,’ ‘La Roma,’ ‘San Marzano,’ or ‘Myona’ for sauces and sun-drying.

Many of these varieties are considered heirlooms: open-pollinated varieties that are over 50 years old. These include ‘Black Cherry,’ ‘Brandywine,’ ‘Chadwick’s Cherry,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Giuseppi’s Big Boy,’ ‘Hillbilly,’ ‘Mortgage Lifter,’ ‘Pineapple’ and ‘Yellow Pear.’

Tomatoes are such an important ingredient in so many types of cooking. Don’t be without your home-grown favorites this summer.