» Archive for April, 2015

Amazing Artichokes

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Tomato and pepper plants 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.
    • Lettuce, cabbages, broccoli, onions and other cool-season vegetables can be set out with no frost protection. They will give you a delicious early harvest.
    • Spring feeding of trees and shrubs can begin now. Mulch with manure or apply fish emulsion or commercial fertilizers.
    • Last chance to plant asparagus roots this year. This delicious vegetable will keep producing for up to 20 years.
    • 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.

Amazing Artichokes

Artichokedom’s truest and grandest claim to fame is that a young starlet named Marilyn Monroe was crowned the first Queen of the Artichokes in Castroville, California in 1947. The somewhat spontaneous event got both artichokes and her career off to a great start.

California artichokes originally came from Italy. They are actually a thistle plant which is cultivated for its edible flower buds. A full sized plant covers an area four feet in diameter and grows four to five feet tall. The long, arching, spiked leaves are silver-green in color and make the artichoke look like a giant fern. The buds, if allowed to flower, are up to seven inches across and are a beautiful violet-purple color.

The artichoke thrives prefers temperate climates – never too hot or cold. The Salinas Valley of California, where winters are relatively frost-free and summers are cool and moist with fog, is an ideal growing area. It also has deep, fertile, well-drained soils which promote maximum root development for artichokes, which do not like overly saturated soils.

But artichokes are very adaptable and also grow well in Willits. Choose a site that gets full sun or part shade where they won’t shade smaller plants and where you can leave them undisturbed for several years.

They should have rich, well-drained soil so dig a large hole and add a couple of shovelfuls of organic matter and some bone meal. Set plants 3 feet apart, and feed with fish emulsion or other organic fertilizer through the spring.

Artichoke plants need to stay moist during the growing season, so use a thick mulch in the summer to help retain moisture. In the fall, remove the dead leaves then mulch with manure and enjoy their tasty buds the next spring.

The size of the bud depends upon where it is located on the plant. The largest are “terminal” buds produced at the end of the long central stems. The medium buds grow on the sides, and the babies at the base. Harvest artichokes before the buds start to open when they are still green and tight. The harvest season continues until hot weather comes on, in our climate, and you may get a few more in the fall.

Artichokes should be divided and replanted every 5 to 7 years when they become crowded. One plant per artichoke eater will usually produce plenty of tender buds.

The traditional variety of artichoke, grown in Castroville, is called ‘Green Globe.’ It has large green heads with thick fleshy scales. A new variety, ‘Emerald’, is a very productive, thornless variety. It has buttery flavored ’chokes with a large heart and conical shape. It is much more tolerant of both heat and cold, and is adapted to both coastal and inland valley conditions.

Enjoy this tasty delicacy right out of your own garden.

Dazzling Dahlias

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 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.
    • Plant sunflowers now from seed or plants. Choose either the multi-stemmed kinds for cut flowers or the giants for edible seeds.
    • Gladiolus bulbs come in every color of the rainbow. Plant them this month for summer flowers.
    • New rose bushes may have been damaged by the cold weather last week. Prune back dead shoots and new growth will come out to replace it soon.
    • Put up hummingbird feeders this month and enjoy these colorful and entertaining birds.

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, ‘Playa Blanca,’ produces an endless supply of white, 4 inch flowers all summer long. The cactus dahlia ‘Purple Gem’ produces excellent 4-6″ cut flowers in a rich purple from midsummer to mid-autumn.

‘Kelvin Floodlight’ is a bright yellow dinnerplate dahlia with flowers up to 8”-10” across on a four foot bush. ‘Garden Wonder,’ a bright red dinnerplate dahlia, has huge 8”-10” flowers that create an eye-catching summer show and bloom until the first frost.

‘Rosella’ is a decorative dahlia that has vivid magenta, double blooms on a 3-4 foot bush from July to frost. They are excellent for cut flowers and borders.

Dahlia 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 2 to 2 feet apart, smaller types, 12 inches apart. Mix in some composted 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.

Flowering Cherries

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Wildflower seeds can be broadcasted now on hillsides for colorful blooms and erosion control.
    • For blue hydrangeas, apply “Hydrangea Bluing Formula” or aluminum sulfate around the plants this month.
    • Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and other cool season crops should be planted now for delicious spring harvests.
    • Prepare for planting season! Turn in cover crops and do a soil test if your garden had trouble last year.
    • Potatoes like to grow in the cool weather of spring. Plant them as soon as possible.

Lovely Flowering Cherry Trees

One of the most beautiful sights in the spring is the profusion of flowers on the flowering cherry trees. These trees have been cultivated over the centuries in China and Japan, and the Japanese have named over 120 varieties. There are about 50 varieties grown in this country, but many of them look very much alike.

The flowers are either single or double, white or pink, and on most varieties they appear before the leaves. The branches can be either upright or pendulous.

All flowering cherries need good drainage. If your soil is heavy, then planting them on a mound or in a raised bed is critical. They like full sun and some summer watering.

The most popular of all flowering cherries is ‘Kwanzan.’ The large, double deep pink flowers are over two inches across with 30-50 petals and are borne in clusters. The tree grows about 15 to 25 feet tall with upright branches in a vase shape. The new leaves are a coppery bronze, adding to the colorful display of this tree. It does not bear fruit.

‘Akebono’ cherry tree, also known as ‘Daybreak’ flowering cherry, produces abundant single pink flowers that gradually fade to white as they open. The upright-spreading crown eventually becomes an umbrella-shaped tree, 25 feet tall and wide. Glossy, dark green leaves turn bright yellow in fall. Small fruit is enjoyed by the birds.

The pink flower buds of ‘Shirotae’ open to fragrant, white semi-double flowers. Its name means “snow white” and it is considered the finest of all the double white Japanese cherries. It has a strong horizontal branching habit and grows to 20 feet tall and 25 feet wide. The variety ‘Mount Fuji’ has pure white flowers with a sweet fragrance. The new leaves are bronze, turning green in summer and yellow to orange in the fall.

The weeping flowering cherries are especially beautiful when given room to grow. They have graceful branches that sweep down to the ground, which creates a rounded form. They bloom very heavily and early.

Weeping cherries are available as high or low-headed trees. A high-headed tree is grafted at five to six feet and will bloom with a profusion of double, rosy pink flowers. They can grow to 15 feet. The low-headed variety is grafted at 30 inches and has single pink flowers. It will make a lovely six-foot mound. Be sure not to top these trees as it ruins their graceful form. These trees are grafted onto upright rootstock, and any undesirable upright shoots arising from the understock should be removed.

The flowering cherry is the quintessential symbol of spring in a Japanese garden. Flowering cherries make an outstanding focal point for any garden.