My first summer priority in the garden centers on weeding, and my regular resolution to walk around with a weed identification book. My desire to know the names of garden plants extends to the weeds that know so well how to grow under all conditions, and without nurture.
One new arrival is the Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum), which is a relative of several desirable plants, including potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. It is common throughout California.
This weed grows up to four feet tall. UC’s Integrated Pest Management website describes its leaves as follows: “The first true leaves are spade shaped with smooth edges and the lower surface is often purple. Later leaves are increasingly larger, egg shaped, dark green, often purple tinged, with a smooth to slightly wavy edge, and covered with short non-glandular hairs and some glandular hairs.”
The plant produces small, star-shaped white flowers that develop in blackberries about one-quarter inch in diameter. Some varieties have edible berries, but their taste is not good enough to offset risking that you have a different variety in your garden.
To its credit, the Black Nightshade pulls up easily.
Another member of the Solanaceae, the tomato, is also flourishing in my garden. This year, I planted two cherry tomato varieties from Love Apple Farm, chosen at San Francisco Flower & Garden Show. A volunteer from last season, ‘Sweet Million’, popped up, so with minimal watering, I have an abundant harvest of cherries for salads and casual snacks outdoors.
Then, a friend gave me a seedling of a Black Krim (Solanum lycopersicum), a heirloom tomato from Russia. This plant needs consistent moisture. If the soil is allowed to dry out between watering sessions, the fruit has a tendency to crack.
Tomato fanciers relish its “rich, salty flavor,” so I’m watching for the fruits to ripen enough for a taste. When fully ripe, the tomatoes are a dark reddish purple or brown (not truly black) and with dark green around the top, or shoulder.
Another priority for the summer is mulching, which is actually a good practice for any season, whenever the soil is uncovered. Mulching discourages weeds, slows the evaporation of moisture, creates a good environment for soil microbes, and protects the soil from erosion.
Organic mulches are available in garden centers in bags of 1.5 or 2 cubic feet. For larger gardens, chipped material from a tree service is a low-cost alternative. Such material is coarser than commercial mulches, and consequently lasts longer.
A tree service will drop a load of chips on your property without charge, if you can receive it on their schedule. Another option is load a yard or two of chips into your truck, at the service’s premises. Call ahead!
A responsible tree service will not bring or offer chips from diseased trees, but otherwise the chips will be from a randomly chosen pruning project. All chips are good in the garden, but some are more aromatic than others. Think eucalyptus!
Finally, during these warm summer months, we can anticipate significant rainfalls this winter, based on the meteorologists’ assessments of the El Niño ocean conditions. Potentially heavy rains won’t completely end our drought, but it could help a lot.