If we lived elsewhere in the country our only gardening tasks would be perusing seed catalogs, cleaning and sharpening tools and dreaming of warmer days. But we live in southern California, and we can garden year round. With the holidays behind us we are free to put our creative energy into the landscape. January is a slow month job-wise, but garden tasks done this month will reap big rewards later in the year. It's the promise of the New Year and it's surprises that make this season so special.
The most important jobs are deciduous fruit tree and rose maintenance and bare root planting. If time permits, you can still plant annuals and veggies or start a new garden the lazy way.
Maintenance of roses and deciduous fruit trees consists of three parts, prune, clean and spray. First prune roses and deciduous fruit trees. Deciduous fruit trees must be pruned after all the leaves are off and before the buds start to swell. Roses do not need to be pruned hard in our delightful climate. I do not have the space here to describe the intricacies of pruning, it would takes pages! Consult your favorite book or attend a demonstration at a local nursery. Pat Welsh's Southern California Gardening has an excellent description of the pruning both fruit trees and roses and Sunset has a complete how-to book devoted to the subject.
Next, after you have pruned your roses and fruit trees, clean up under them. Compost all the left over leaves, but trash any diseased litter. Make wells, check and repair the irrigation system to each plant. Top dress with mulch or compost, being careful not to cover the trunks. Use the trimmed limbs to make a rustic trellis (see Sunset, January 2000, pg 76) and longer rose trimmings can be used to thwart midnight invaders, and dogs and cats.
The last step is to apply a dormant spray to kill the mites, scales and various fungi that can cause so much trouble later in the year. Spraying now will reduce and often eliminate the need to spray later in the year when all the good bugs i.e. bees and ladybugs, are out. Horticultural oil (trade name Volik Oil) is one type of product that can be used now. Oil kills the bugs that are overwintering in the trees and roses. Lime-sulfur or fixed copper is necessary to kill the fungi that cause leaf curl and other diseases on peaches and nectarines. Leaf Curl causes abnormal leafs, warty fruit and if not treated for several years, can a kill a tree. The kind folks at the UC Cooperative tell me not to use lime-sulfur on apricots. You can mix fixed copper and oil or purchase a ready-made combo product. Spray only on calm, cool days with protective gear on. That includes goggles, gloves, waterproof boots and clothing. If it rains within the 48 hours after you have sprayed, sorry, but you will have to spray again. Wait until next month to feed the roses and trees. If this entire chemical spraying is too over whelming, just call Elfin Forest local Jack Olmsted at Plant Tek and go out to the movies or spend some time with your family. Plant Tek can be reached at 471-6420.
January is the big month for bare root planting. Bare root is just that; a plant that comes with no clothes! Bare root is less expensive and you have a better selection. Plants available bare root include roses of all kinds, berries, deciduous fruit trees, some ornamental trees, wisteria, artichokes and asparagus. Be careful with fruit trees! Only buy low chill varieties or you will not get fruit. Remember the Mediterranean climate we enjoy does not stay cold long enough for most stone fruit, except for the low chill varieties. It's too early to plant tropicals, wait until May or June.
Other plants that can be planted now include camellias and azaleas, annuals such as foxgloves (poisonous, but beautiful), primroses, pansies, johnny-jump-ups and other violas, sweet peas and calendulas. Veggie-wise you still have time to plant peas, broccoli, cabbage, parsley, cilantro, celery and swiss chard from six packs. From seed you can plant lettuce, peas, beets, radishes and turnips. You cannot miss with home grown lettuce, it's the winter equivalent of the tomato. Lettuce needs plenty of nitrogen or it will get bitter.
If you are like me and have been eyeing a plot of ground and dreaming of a garden, now is the time to start using the lazy gardening techniques. This is the not so difficult way to get a new garden ready to plant by March, the second best time to plant in Southern California. First, you have to remove all the weeds and what not. The really lazy gardener hires a worker to do this. The creative lazy gardener cons family and friends to do this and feeds them afterward, at a restaurant. The almost lazy gardeners does it themselves, but takes a day or two off from the gym. After the area is clean, sprinkle it with gypsum to loosen up the ground and make digging easier. Apply gypsum at a rate of 2 to 5 pounds per 100 square feet. Let the rains water it in. Hire someone to turn the ground when it is moist to touch, but not wet. Wait, let it rain some more and wait for next month's garden greetings!
When the rains do come, clean out the garden shed, clean and sharpen tools, read gardening literature, shop catalogs or on- line for seeds, plants and garden art, or start a gardening journal. Make or purchase an owl box or a hawk perch so our local birds of pray will get the gophers and other rodents for you. I love to go to the local bookstore and sit and read the new gardening books and magazines with a warm cup of tea or coffee. It's the perfect medicine to recharge my batteries after the hectic holidays. Next month the lazy gardener will return and I'll address citrus. I'm also doing research on the Red Gum lerp Psyllid, a pest of Eucalyptus and sudden oak death. Happy New Year to all, keep gardening and loving each other.
December 2001 Holiday Greetings From the Garden
by Nancy Reed
Sunset has numerous items, many available at local home improvement and bookstores. I have had a subscription to the monthly magazine for over 20 years and much to the chagrin of my husband, I never toss one out! The gardening section includes a monthly to do list, construction projects and new trends, tools and plants. Sections on travel, home improvement and cooking also make this my favorite mag. The Sunset Western Garden Book is the bible of many a southern California gardener. It was completely revised and updated this year. Sunset also has the Western Landscaping Book and Problem Solver to round out the trio. Sunset can also be reached at www.sunset.com and at 800-526-5111.
My personal favorite is written by Del Mar treasure Pat Welsh. Southern California Gardening, a month-by-month guide is simply the best book for southern California gardening on the market today. The month-by-month format, down to earth explanations and simple solutions are invaluable. The book has an easy to read format, excellent index and in-depth discussions not found anywhere else. Gardening is addressed from an organic point of view, but not to the exclusion of chemicals if necessary. Better living through chemistry is no longer an appreciate motto. But, chemicals are useful if used sparingly after organic methods fail. I have had the pleasure of attending several Pat Walsh lectures; if you ever get the chance to hear Pat Walsh, do not pass it by. Pat Welsh’s Southern California Gardening, a month-by-month guide is avail be at Barn’s and Nobel and Armstrong’s.
The next two books are included for variety; I have not had the chance to read them in dept. Robert Smaus, of the LA Times has a week-by-week gardening guide. Bruce and Sharon Asakawa’s California Garden’s guide is a new and has had much good press. Both are avail be at Barn’s and Nobel.
Now if you have any time left to garden this month you can plant bare-root roses, berries and vines, plant camellias and bulbs that have been chilled. Keep planting cool season flowers and veggies (see list from previous Chaparral). Prune natives, raspberries, and grapes and fruit trees. Water if no rain, turn off the sprinkler’s if it does. Start compost and mulch trees and to stop weeds.
Lastly, I wanted to thank some very special folks who make life worth living. Becca, my lab is my friend and constant companion. She doesn’t dig the yard up and sits with me for hours while I work and garden. My horse Classic, who has given me hours of joy I thought I’d never experience. Not to mention tons of manure for compost. My best friend Suzanne helps me garden, decorate and have fun. She is always there for me. My daughter Danielle is a joy. It is a privilege to be her mother. And my husband Jerry, who makes it all possible. Jerry puts up with me getting’ dirty whenever possible, stealing his truck and returning it dirty, and lets me dream big. Thank you Elfin Forest for your beauty, rural nature and friendliness. Happy holidays to every one, may God bless and keep your gardens green.
By Nancy Reed
October is the best planting month of the year in southern California. If you moved here from another climate, this may appear to be a very strange southern California tradition. But the soil is still warm from the summer, which encourages root growth. The winter rains are on the way, which provide some magic nutrient not in our imported water. Plants put in now may not look like they are doing much over the winter. But the root system is growing at a furious pace preparing for a trumpet spring show.
You can plant just about any permanent landscape plant now except tropicals (too cold), bare-root (too early, wait until winter) and ground cover (wait one more month). So go crazy, put in trees, spring bulbs (some need to visit your refer first), perennials, annuals, vines and shrubs of all sorts. California pepper trees (Schinus molle) are an Elfin Forest staple and no wonder these are tough but beautiful shade tree with bright red berries in the fall and winter that can be used for holiday decorating. Once established peppers need only small amounts of water. Oaks are also an excellent tree choice. My native coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia) are dropping acorns as I write. For planting, collect acorns and place them in a bucket of water, plant the acorns that sink. For more information check out www.californiaoaks.org, click on “Oak Tree Care” and down load “How to Collect, Store and Plant Acorns.” Or call the University California Extension 510-643-5428 and ask for “Living Among the Oaks.”
Many winter annuals have special smells. Sweet peas are, well, sweet. Stock has a heavenly spicy fragrance. Snapdragons have a dedicate aroma often missed. All are easy to start from seed, which gives you a tremendous variety of colors to choose from not available in 6 packs. Other easy to start from seed annuals are poppies, candytuft, Johnny-jump-up, nasturium and linaria (one of my favorites).
Now is also the time to plant winter vegetables. Lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, peas, carrots, celery, kale, spinach and cilantro are just a few. I buy 6 packs of all but lettuce, cilantro and carrots. My family has had a love affaire with the mild lettuce mixes available from most seed companies. Our two favorites are from Shepard’s and Renee’s Seeds. Winter veggies tend not to have the pests that summer veggies have. But just like summer, winter veggies are better than their store bought cousins for both flavor and nutritional value.
Before any planting prepare the area with compost. Our soil in Elfin Forest tends to be rocky, clay and deficient of iron. The addition of compost will help all of these conditions except the lack of iron. Many organic and non-organic preparations are available for adding iron to your soil. You need not spend a fortune on compost. With all the horses in Elfin Forest and the free manure available from the egg ranch in Harmony Grove you have no excuse not to use it! The horse manure needs to be aged a few weeks first or it will burn the plants. Most horse owners will be happy to give you manure if you ask. I’ve had no burning with the free manure on Harmony Grove.
Please feel free to e-mail me your experiences gardening in Elfin Forest to Nancy@elfinforest.net How do you keep the bunnies at bay? Do you have a plant that loves our climate or one that didn’t? Do you have a snail recipe that doesn’t injure the wildlife? Now go and get dirty, it’s good for your body and soul.
(click for large photo)
Move the flowers below and the hummingbirds will follow them.