More Seasonal Projects

Once we begin to list gardening projects for the fall, ideas keep coming.

As always, it is appropriate to pursue priorities only when the weather is inviting, and to work at a pace that supports your enjoyment of gardening. Seasonal projects can add to spring’s reawakening and the garden’s long-term success, but the plants will survive a little neglect, truth be told.

Prune Fruit Trees

If you are fortunate enough to have one or several apple trees, or other fruit trees, in your garden, they are likely to enter their dormant stage in December. During their dormancy, they should be pruned to produce a variety of benefits. The best practices depend on the kind of tree, its age, whether or not it has been neglected, and the specific reasons for pruning. That’s too many variables for this column, but well worth the tree owner’s research. An excellent source of information is The California Backyard Orchard, a website maintained by the University of California, Davis.

While visiting that website for pruning advice, check out the entry on Pests & Diseases as well. After pruning, seasonal spraying will discourage or eliminate pest and disease problems during the growing season.

The University of California always recommends organic methods, of course.

Sow Wildflower Seeds

This couldn’t be simpler…if it weren’t for the birds. But they can be outsmarted.

Purchase wildflower seeds at your favorite local garden center, or from one of mail order nurseries that specialize in California wildflowers.

  • There are hundreds of California native wildflowers, but retailers will stock popular varieties, e.g., Arroyo Lupine, California poppy, five-spot, baby-blue-eyes, perennial flax, Chinese houses, gilia, bird’s eyes, California bluebell, satin flower, godetia, fiddleneck, tidy tips, beach evening primrose. Any combination of these would provide a pleasing display.

The California poppy, our state flower, is a popular and attractive choice, but be aware that it self-seeds freely and can become a nuisance in the garden.

If you have limited space in your garden, consider planting a swath of wildflowers, to simulate a natural growth pattern. Clear the area of mulch and any weeds, and broadcast the seeds in an informal pattern (not in rows!). Rake the area lightly to make the seeds less visible to our beloved birds, and keep them moist with light watering until the rains begin.

If you have a larger area to seed, you have the opportunity to create a wildflower meadow that will self-seed in future years. The method is essentially same, except on a larger scale.

Another timely task in this season is weeding. We’ll explore that need later.

More

We didn’t include any tasks with roses among November’s gardening priorities, because in this part of the year, in the Monterey Bay area, many roses are still growing actively, and even producing blossoms.

Here’s advice from All-American Rose Selections:

“It’s time to do nothing in the rose garden. Well, practically nothing, anyway. We have seen the breathtaking first big, beautiful blooms of summer. And now we marvel at the smaller, but perfect last roses of summer. Enjoy. Roll up the hose. Put away the pruners.”

One rose-related project to pursue without pruning would be prepare to transplant a rose that would do better in another location. (There is at least one such rose in my garden, which is struggling in the shade of an ever-larger Cotoneaster shrub.)

The preparation involves digging a hole in the new location. Dig a hole two to three times as wide as the root ball you expect to have, but only as deep. This will support horizontal root growth without risking excessive settling of the transplanted rose.

Then, wait until January or February, when the rose becomes completely dormant. Soak the new location thoroughly. Then, soak the rose, lift a good-sized root ball from the bed, and plant it in its new location. Water it in.

Perennial Wildflowers and the Year’s Big Show

When we think of native California wildflowers, we usually envision wide swaths of gold or blue blossoms draped over the state’s open spaces. The state’s hundreds of annual wildflowers are great treasures of nature, whether in open fields or private gardens, but our delight with the annuals should extend to California’s perennial wildflowers. Many of these are excellent candidates for the residential garden.

Both the annual and perennial wildflowers offer all the benefits of native plants: having evolved to thrive in our dry-summer climate and native soil, they are both easy to grow and eagerly enjoyed by the native fauna for food and shelter.

Many native perennial wildflowers are valuable assets for the home garden. Here are a few of the most popular:

  • Foothill Penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus) and Bush Monkey-flower (Mimulus spp.) grow well in both full sun and partial shade.
  • Pacific Coast Irises, smaller than the tall bearded irises, include the best-known Douglas Iris (I. douglasiana) and ten other species. These plants hybridize easily in the wild, so they are usually referred to by their group name. Both species plants and natural hybrids are reliable bloomers, as are the many cultivated hybrids. Pacific Coast Irises are difficult to transplant successfully, so are usually propagated in the fall by divisions or seeds.
  • Alumroot (Heuchera spp.), a small, easily grown plant for the shade garden, occurs in sixteen native California species, including H. maxima, H. sanguinea, and H. micrantha. Growers have developed many hybrids with a variety of leaf colors. The flowers are attractive but not the primary attraction.
  • Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea), which prefers moist and shady conditions, produces large triangular leaves and carmine red flowers on stems that rise up to three feet.

Visit ongardening.com for sources of information on many more California native perennial wildflowers.

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The San Francisco Flower & Garden Show opens on Wednesday, March 20th, and continues through Sunday, March 24th at the San Mateo Event Center. One of the nation’s largest and best events for home gardeners, this year’s Show offers 20 gorgeous international display gardens and the 30 small space gardens, 13 seminars each day by gardening experts, and a Marketplace with several hundred vendors offering plants and garden products.

A highlight will be the world’s largest rotating succulent globe, designed and created by Robin Stockwell, in Monterey County. I saw this unique globe in development and I’m confident it will amaze all who see it.

The SF Flower and Garden Show is a must-see event for learning about many aspects of gardening and landscaping, bringing home desirable new plants and garden accessories, and simply enjoying time in the company of other avid gardeners.

For more info, see the feature article in today’s Herald and visit http://www.sfgardenshow.com/.

Enjoy your garden!

Wildflower Season

We are approaching the early spring period (March and April, particularly) when the annual wildflowers display their blossoms for our viewing pleasure.

To be frank, however, this display is not intended for our eyes, but rather to attract bees and other pollinators so that the plants could set seeds. It’s really about reproduction, right there in the open.

But never mind, we can freely enjoy this extraordinary display and need not feel the least bit voyeuristic.

Viewing our native wildflowers provides a unique experience, an annual celebration of floral beauty, and an opportunity to appreciate nature’s bounty.

Several ways to appreciate wildflowers come to mind, each with strong points:

Gardening with Wildflowers

California native plants are fine candidates for residential gardens, and wildflowers bring all the associated virtues: tolerate drought, play well with other flora and fauna, etc. They also look great, thrive in the Monterey Bay soils and microclimates, and self-seed freely. Their bloom periods are no longer than needed for reproduction, but with planning the gardener could select species for a longer display.

Viewing Wildflowers in Captivity

Monterey Bay area gardeners and nature lovers can enjoy the 52nd annual wildflower show, a gift of the Pacific Grove Museum and the Monterey Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. This extraordinary show, the largest of its kind in the Northern and Western Hemispheres, will present more than 600 species and varieties of wildflowers that are native to California’s central coast. The cut flowers are short-lived, of course, so plan your visit during the period from Friday, April 19th to Sunday, April 21st, from 10:00 to 5:00 each day. The show is free to Museum members and CNPS members; others are asked to donate $5.00. This unique show ranks as a world-class opportunity to enjoy and learn about our native wildflowers.

Visiting Wildflowers at their Homes

Wildflowers are most spectacular in vast multi-colored sweeps in the wild. Fields of wildflowers have delighted and impressed viewers, dating from reports by the earliest explorers, notably including the naturalist John Muir, who wrote in 1916, “Looking eastward from the summit of Pacheco Pass one shining morning, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld. At my feet lay the Great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich-furred garden of yellow Compositae.”

There are many possible field trips to the wildflowers in March and April. In the Monterey Bay area, these sites include Garland Park, the Pinnacles National Park, Fort Ord, Point Lobos State Reserve, and many others.

More

The website of the California State Parks provides comprehensive guidance to Discover Spring Wildflowers in California State Parks.

The indispensable resource for local viewing in Dr. Rod Yeager’s website, Wildflowers of Monterey County. Look also for his book, Wildflowers of Central Coastal California.

For nature lovers ready to travel farther afield, find wildflowers in ten western U.S. states in the AAA’s website on Wildflower Resources.

For John Muir’s writing about California wildflowers, visit the Sierra Club’s website, Quotations About California Central Valley Wildflowers.

Visit the wildflowers this year!

Wildflowers for the Cultivated Garden

If you see some of California’s wildflowers in the field or at the wildflower show in the Pacific Grove Museum (April 19-21), you just might be inspired to add a few to your own garden. In this column, we offer some thoughts for such a project.

First, the season when wildflowers are in bloom is the time to choose your favorites and begin plans for your garden. The early bloomers are already appearing; wildflower season will continue through about August. Many opportunities exist to spot those that would please your eyes and enhance your home landscape.

When selecting wildflowers for the garden, consider plants that are small, neat and refined, and suitable for the sunny or shady site where you would place them.

Most annual wildflowers grow best in full sun. An early bloomer, Baby Blue-eyes (Nemophila menziesii) is a popular choice for February. Each bowl-shaped blossom has five azure blue petals and a white center with dark blue flecks or streaks from the base. The plant grows about six inches tall.

The blossoms of the related Fivespot (N. maculata) have five white petals, each with a blue-purple spot at the tip. It grows to about twelve inches tall, and blooms in the early spring.

Other good choices for a sunny garden include Baby Lupine (Lupinus nanus), Foothill Poppy (Eschscholzia caespitosa), Canchalagua (Cenaurium venustum), and Wind Poppy (Stylomecon heterophylla). Taller annuals include Desert Bluebells (Phacelia campanularia), Bird’s Eyes (Gilia tricolor), Globe Gilia (Gilia capitata) and Farewell-to-Spring (Clarkia ssp.). You may well find additional wildflowers to enjoy.

California annual wildflowers are best planted from seed. Some garden centers will present some potted seedlings, but mail order nurseries will offer a wider selection and lower prices.

For a bed of about 133 square feet, ¼ to ½ ounce of seeds, depending on size, will be enough. Sources for small inexpensive packets of seeds for specific plants (not mixes) including the following:

  • Larner Seeds, which also offers a $4.00 booklet, “Notes on Growing California Wildflowers”(www.larnerseeds.com)
  • The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants, which also offers a weekly Wildflower Hotline (www.theodorepayne.org)
  • Seed Hunt, which is located in the Pajaro Valley in the Monterey Bay area (seedhunt.com).

Annual wildflower seeds may be sown at any time before the beginning of the rainy season, i.e., about mid-October. Clear the area of weeds, sow the seeds and rake them in lightly, mostly to make them difficult for birds to find. The seeds will remain dormant during the dry season, and should not be watered at that time. They will germinate naturally when wet with rain.

Several desirable California native wildflowers are perennial plants. We will explore good choices among those plants in this column next week.