One of the beautiful gardens I'll feature during my talk.

One of the beautiful gardens I’ll feature during my talk.

On Wednesday, August 7, 2013, I’ll be the featured speaker for the monthly meeting of the Santa Barbara County Horticultural Society.

My talk will be: “Digging the Good Life: Creating Colorful, Water-Conserving Gardens.”

I’ll describe how to create gardens in a number of different styles by using the wide range of colorful and interesting low-water plants that thrive in our mild, wonderful climate. I’ll also note which plants attract beneficial insects and sustain wildlife, and touch on integrating edibles into the landscape.

I’m looking forward to sharing what I know with kindred spirits, and encourage anyone who loves gardening to attend the meeting, which is free and open to the public.

The meeting will start at 7 p.m. on August 7 at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, at the corner of Foothill and La Cumbre Roads, Santa Barbara.


Casa del Herrero

Got spring fever? Itchy feet? How about playing hooky and getting out to visit a community garden?

This Friday, May 11, is National Public Gardens Day.

The fourth annual event, each year set for the Friday before Mother’s Day, is a “national day of celebration that invites communities to explore the beauty of their local green spaces while raising awareness of the important role public gardens play in promoting conservation, education and environmental preservation,” according to organizers.

But cut to the chase. Locally, a host of public and nonprofit gardens that ordinarily charge admission are throwing open their doors to visitors or reducing their rates.

Where to Go

Dwarf coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) spills over a trail at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

In Santa Barbara, you can visit the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden for free on Friday by clicking on this link and printing the coupon. The botanic garden is one of the nation’s oldest, and focuses exclusively on native plants.

Casa del Herrero is discounting its docent-led tours in May and June by 20%. Call 805/565-5653 for reservations. The 1925 Montecito estate, designed by George Washington Smith, is a National Historic Landmark. The garden is a rare, remaining example of the elaborate estate gardens that were designed during what historians call the Golden Age of American Gardens, 1895 – 1940.

Pacific Coast iris at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Lotusland is offering a 20% discount on tours on May 16 and 17. Call 805 969-9990 for reservations. The 37-acre botanical estate garden showcases Madam Ganna Walska’s extravagant ideas of outdoor beauty, lavishly illustrated by subtropical and tropical plants from around the world.

The Huerta Garden at the Old Mission Santa Barbara is cutting its admission price on May 12 and May 19. Call 805 682-4713, x 166 for reservations. As part of the California mission system, the garden has a strong historical bent. It features plants introduced to California during the Mission Era, 1769 – 1836, along with many California native plants.

Completely Free

Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens), sage (Salvia) and California lilac (Ceanothus) at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Master Gardeners of Santa Barbara County are leading free tours at 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. at the following locations: Mission Historical Park and the A.C. Postel Rose Garden, Los Olivos and Laguna Streets; Alice Keck Memorial Gardens, 1500 Santa Barbara Street; and Chase Palm Park, 323 E. Cabrillo Street. You can also pick up tickets for free rides on the 1917 Allan Herschell Carousel at Chase Palm Park at the Carrillo Recreation Center, 100 E. Carrillo Street.

In addition, courthouse docents will lead tours of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Gardens, Anapamu and Anacapa Streets. And the Santa Barbara Zoo, 500 Ninos Drive, will be offering a Horticultural Highlights Tour, free with paid zoo admission.

Further Afield

Another look at Casa del Herrero.

A dozen other public gardens in California, including the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, are participating in Friday’s events.

Across the nation, more than 150 botanical gardens, arboretums and preserves are offering freebies. Visit for more information.

So call in sick with a case of spring fever, and enjoy!

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A ladder makes pruning this peach tree a lot easier.

Sharpen those pruners. It’s time to start cutting in the garden.

Despite a run of warm days, this is the season when many landscape plants are dormant — or as dormant as they’re going to be in our temperate climate.

Making corrective cuts now will boost their health and encourage more buds, flowers and fruit.

First up are roses and deciduous fruit trees.

But other dormant plants will benefit from a shape-up now, too. It’s a lot easier to prune when your shrubs and trees are bare. You can see what you’re doing without contending with a canopy of leaves, and pests and diseases are not likely to be active.


It may seem crazy to cut back roses now. If yours are like mine, they’re still covered in leaves, buds and fresh flowers. But a closer look reveals that they’re tattered around the edges. If you don’t prune, the upcoming growth is destined to become a tangled, thorny mess by summer.

Start by chopping off the top in order to reduce the bush to about 3 feet tall.

Don’t worry about where you make the cuts. This is just the first round. Snip off any remaining flowers. Then strip the leaves and any suckers at the base by hand, using a downward tug. Watch out for thorns. Heavy, elbow-length gauntlet gloves provide good protection.

Use hand pruners to cut smaller branches, such as these rose canes.

Next, stand back and evaluate the framework. Cut out dead or shriveled canes all the way to the base of the bush; old canes that are thicker than your thumb; and new canes that are distorted or smaller in diameter than a pencil.

Roses — like so many other plants — benefit from plenty of air flow through their centers. They also need sunlight to penetrate their crowns to initiate new bud growth, which results in better flowering.

So next, cut out any canes that cross over the middle.

Then shape what’s left. On shrub roses, keep pruning until five to seven canes remain. Trim the canes to 18 to 24 inches tall, varying the heights so that the bush will bloom with a more natural look. On hybrid tea roses, keep at least three to five canes. Depending on who’s providing advice, those canes can be trimmed 18 to 36 inches tall.

Finally, nip back any side branches that cross or rub against other branches or canes.
Make all your cuts just above an outward-facing bud. This encourages new growth to flare out, rather than tilt back toward the center of the bush.

Deciduous Fruit Trees

For all deciduous fruit trees, start by pruning any dead or diseased wood. Then remove rubbing or crossing branches.

Use loppers to cut branches 1 to 2 inches in diameter.

Be sure to make clean cuts next to lower, heavier branches. Fruit trees are prone to diseases that can get their start in stubs that are left long enough to die back, while cuts close to larger branches protect and heal by producing new bark and wood.

Next, know how your particular fruit trees produce fruit.

Apple and pear trees, for instance, bear fruit on fuzzy, nubby spurs that emerge on branches at least a year old. Those spurs flower and fruit every year, so should be kept from one year to the next.

The only winter pruning of an apple tree — other than a light shaping for aesthetics — should be to remove dead or diseased wood, rubbing or crossing branches, and any remaining limbs that interfere with sunlight reaching the center of the tree. Sucker growth should be removed whenever it appears, at any time of year.

Pear trees require a heavier hand, as they produce tall, upright whips that should be headed back during dormancy. Thin the whips so that air and sunlight can penetrate the canopy. Then cut back the remaining whips by two thirds, to maximize the size of the fruit and to keep it in the lower arms of the tree.

Plum trees bear on long-lived spurs that take several years to form. In the meantime, just as with pear trees, thin each year’s new, upright whips so that they’re spaced about one foot apart. Then cut back those remaining whips by two thirds.

Peach trees bear on year-old wood. They also require the heaviest pruning of all because each branch bears fruit only once. As such, the trees should be cut back by more than one half each year.

Start by removing dead, diseased and rubbing branches. Then cut out any branches that have produced peaches.

Next, thin the branches so that all of the new, twiggy growth from last year ends up being spaced about a foot apart and the silhouette of the tree looks like an upside-down umbrella. Then head back the twiggy growth by another third.

This last step is necessary to pump the tree’s energy into the remaining fruit buds, which optimizes the size of the fruit. Otherwise, those full-length, new whips will bear more fruit, but of much smaller size.

Nectarine trees are related to peaches and bear fruit on year-old twiggy branches as well. Follow the same steps, except the twiggy branches can be left closer together, spaced about 8 inches apart.

Groom Grasses and Other Plants

By now, your big, billowy ornamental grasses are likely to be ragged visions of their former selves. If you haven’t already, cut them all the way to the ground. Use a weed whacker, machete or even kitchen scissors. There’s no point in leaving more than an inch or two of the past year’s foliage above ground, as new stalks will sprout from the crowns, not the stems.

Small, cool-season grasses, including the various blue fescues, may still be actively growing, so wield a lighter hand. Use a stiff rake to comb out the desiccated stems, or trim taller blades with a brush mower with the blade set on high.

Use a hand saw to cut branches 2 to 3 inches in diameter or larger.

Also take a look around your garden with a critical eye toward dead flowers and leggy growth. Pinch, nip and tuck wherever necessary to rejuvenate the plants and to pull them away from walls, windows and eaves.

Wait until March or April to cut back tropical and subtropical plants, such as bougainvillea, cannas, citrus trees and palm trees. Leave them alone until all danger of frost has passed and spring temperatures have begun to warm up.

In addition, assign pruning of taller trees to a certified arborist, who will use proper pruning equipment and climbing techniques, and know just where to make cuts to ensure the overall health and beauty of your trees.

Guides to Pruning Fruit Trees

For information about how to prune specific fruit trees, turn to: “The Home Orchard: Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees,” by Chuck A. Ingels, Pamela M. Geisel and Maxwell V. Norton, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication 3485; or “How to Prune Fruit Trees” by R. Sanford Martin, Martin Bio-Products, which is often carried in nurseries.

Seeds of Wisdom

A dead-looking branch may be quite alive underneath. Flex the branch or scrape the bark with your fingernail or a pocket knife. If the branch has give, or if there’s green beneath the bark, it still possesses life.

Visit Joan’s website at, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

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Stormy Weather - climbing

If your idea of the perfect rose is a long-stemmed beauty with stately, overlapping petals, then this year’s introductions may come as a surprise.

Of the 15 new roses that are sure to be the most widely available in 2012, there’s only one classic hybrid tea rose. Instead, most are shrub roses in one form or another, designed to be planted throughout the landscape, rather than isolated in a formal rose garden.

As for the ever-important flowers — rather than formal and elegant, these newcomers trend toward clusters of loose, frilly petals, with some of the concoctions scarcely looking like roses. Two specimens making their debut are the first-ever of their kind. Several others combine crazy colors, including one called Ketchup & Mustard. Thankfully there are a handful of demure pastels as well.

Regardless of the style, breeders continue to emphasize disease resistance. Indeed, the 2012 All-America Rose Selections winner, Sunshine Daydream, is the first garden rose to receive top honors under a new “no spray” requirement.

Hybrid Tea

Sugar Moon - hybrid tea

These traditional roses bear long-stemmed flowers and grow upright, typically reaching 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide.

The lone hybrid tea rose making its debut this year is a vigorous rebloomer called Sugar Moon. Its white, long-stemmed flowers produce a strong, sweet, citrus and rose scent.

Pointed buds open to reveal 5-inch full, classic flowers composed of 35 petals apiece. Disease resistance is ranked as very good, and the dark, glossy green leaves are a nice contrast to the bright white of the flowers.


These shrub roses bear clusters of flowers above lush, full leaves, and generally grow 3 to 4 feet tall and wide.

Two new floribundas, bearing distinctive red eyes, represent an entirely new look. While most modern roses are offspring of China roses (Rosa chinensis), these new shrubs are hybrids of Hulthemia persica, which is a thorny, sprawling bush that blooms once a year and is native to dry, windswept lands in Iran and Afghanistan.

Eyeconic Lemonade - Hulthemia hybrid

Eyeconic Pink Lemonade - Hulthemia hybrid

What has captivated rose breeders is the red blotch at the base of each petal, which, surrounding the center of the flower, gives the look of a red eye. Breeders have spent decades attempting to conquer the rambling habit of the species, introduce repeat blooming and produce a consistent, visible eye.

This year’s two Eyeconic hybrids are the first hulthemias to become commercially available.

Eyeconic Lemonade bears 4-inch flowers that are bright yellow with a medium-red inner ring. Each flower is composed of 10 to 12 petals, and there are three to five flowers per stem. The bushes are dark green and grow 4 1/2 feet tall and wide.

Eyeconic Pink Lemonade bears 3 1/2-inch flowers that open in a pale shade of melon orange with a red ring, then mature to shell pink with a purple ring. The flowers are composed of 8 to 10 petals, with five flowers per stem. It grows only 3 feet tall and wide.

Both Eyeconics are said to bloom continuously, rather than in waves. They are self-cleaning, so don’t require dead-heading. It will be interesting to learn, given their geographic origin, whether they are drought-tolerant as well.

Ketchup & Mustard - floribunda

Equally distinctive, but in an entirely different way, is Ketchup & Mustard. Its two-toned petals are yellow on their back sides and red within.

It’s love-it or hate-it combination when the pointed buds open and the petals curl back, revealing that bright red and deep yellow reverse. The 3 1/2-inch formal, spiraled flowers bear about 25 petals. They bloom above apple-green leaves.

The shrub is round, bushy and offers good disease resistance.

Koko Loko is a classic-looking rose in terms of its fully double flowers, which are composed of 30 to 35 petals apiece.

But its coloring is most unusual, with light chocolate flowers aging to a pinkish lavender. It forms a full, bushy shrub with deep green leaves and has above-average disease resistance.

Orchid Romance - floribunda

Orchid Romance bears pretty, frilly, old-rose flowers that open pink, then fade to a lighter shade with a hint of lavender. Each fragrant, cuplike flower bears an amazing 75 petals, with three to five flowers per stem. The bushes are upright, growing 4 1/2 feet tall and 3 feet wide, and are very resistant to black spot, powdery mildew and rust.

Tangerine Streams also bears cup-shaped flowers, but in a sunny combination of orange, yellow and apricot. Each 3-inch flower is composed of 25 petals, with one to five flowers per stem. The shrubs resist mildew and rust, and grow 3 1/2 to 4 feet tall.

Tequila Supreme is multi-colored as well, but in darker copper and bronze tones. The cuplike flowers are similar in shape, size and petal count to Tangerine Streams. But the flowers are one to three per stem and the shrubs grow taller, reaching 4 to 4 1/2 feet.

Thrive! presents a wild rose look, with only 7 to 8 petals on each 3-inch, fire engine-red flower. Five to 10 flowers bloom on each stem, all at about the same height. The vigorous, bushy shrubs grow 4 1/2 feet tall and 3 feet wide, and have very good disease resistance to black spot, and excellent resistance to rust and mildew.


Basically floribundas on steroids, these shrub roses can reach 5 to 10 feet tall. They bloom prolifically and produce clusters of flowers on short or long stems, depending on the hybrid.

Sunshine Daydream - grandiflora

The new Sunshine Daydream bears rounded, cup-shaped, pastel yellow flowers above dark-green, glossy foliage. The 2012 All-America Rose Selections winner was tested in 21 gardens across the country under the group’s “no spray” rule and offers excellent disease resistance.

A vigorous bloomer, it bears 25 petals on each 3 1/2-inch flower, produces one to eight flowers per stem and grows 5 to 5 1/2 feet tall and 4 feet wide.


David Austin English shrub roses combine the shapes and fragrances of old roses with the colors and repeat blooming of modern roses. Both newbies for 2012 are smaller than many older David Austins, and are good choices for the fronts of planting beds or even containers.

Skylark - English

Princess Anne - English

Princess Anne bears dark pink, ruffly flowers that stand up much like a water lily. The clusters of plump, double flowers mature to purple-lilac, providing a multi-colored effect over a compact, bushy shrub that reaches only 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide.

Skylark bears semi-double, apple and clove-scented flowers that open deep pink, then relax to reveal a small, white center while aging to lilac-pink. Skylark grows 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide as well. But its habit is lighter and the flowers feel somewhat airy, perched on taller stems.


These petite versions of full-sized roses feature diminutive flowers and foliage.

All a' Twitter - miniature

All a’Twitter bears pure orange flowers above clean, green foliage. The small, 1 1/2-inch double flowers bear a light fragrance, are composed of 15 to 20 petals apiece and retain their sparkling color as they age. I tested one in a pot on my patio last year and it was the perfect foreground plant to a Satsuma tangerine underplanted with white sweet alyssum.

Itty Bitty Pink bears scads of tiny, 3/4-inch bubblegum pink flowers on bushy plants that reach only 1 1/2 feet tall and wide. The cuplike flowers retain their coloring as well. Itty Bitty Pink offers very good disease resistance and is a great, long-blooming edging plant along a walkway or patio.


Stormy Weather - climbing

These roses produce lateral branches to train on a fence, trellis or arbor.

The new Stormy Weather looks a lot like a wild, rambling rose, bearing clusters of smoky purple, open-faced flowers with yellow centers. The 4-inch flowers are composed of 15 to 20 petals apiece and carry a moderate spice scent. It is a mid-sized climber, producing canes that grow 6 to 8 feet long.

Seeds of Wisdom

The new year kicks off bare-root season. Roses are dormant, which makes them easy to transport without soil attached to their roots. They’re also easy to plant. In January and February, you’ll find the biggest selection and the best prices.

Yes, these are both Koko Loko floribundas.

Tangerine Streams - floribunda

Tequila Supreme - floribunda

Thrive! - floribunda

Itty Bitty Pink - miniature

Visit Joan’s website at, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

Also please note: If you see an ad below, it has been posted by WordPress to keep the site free. I receive no income from the ad, nor do I have any control over its content.

Julia Child floribunda rose

Beauty or beast?

Roses may be one or the other, depending on the time of year. Now, they’re undeniably the beasts of the garden. Whether already established or about to be purchased, they can look downright pitiful, truly nothing more than a few thorny sticks in the ground.

Yet give them a few months, and they’ll soar right back to the top of the beauty chart. They’ll stay there, pumping out luscious flowers until next winter, at which time they’ll tumble back into beastly land again.

While it may be easy to ignore your roses during their down time, it’s what you do now that will set the stage for how well they perform later in the year.

Act Now

Digging in.

In colder climates, roses go dormant over winter, so it’s easy to cut away on what essentially look like dead plants.

But on the Central Coast, roses often hang on. This year in particular, I’m having a tough time getting motivated to prune my existing roses because most are in the midst of a small — yet still impressive — cycle of bloom.

However, if I don’t rejuvenate the shrubs, they won’t fare well later on. Several years back, a neighbor neglected to prune her Iceberg roses. By mid-summer, the bushes were rangy, lost their vigor and looked plain awful.

Here are the steps to take:

• Strip the leaves, trying to avoid the thorns.

• Cut off old canes that are thicker than your thumb.

• Cut off skinny, new canes that are misshapen or smaller in diameter than a pencil.

• Cut off canes that cross over the middle.

A completed Iceberg rose.

On a hybrid tea, keep pruning until you’re left with three to five canes that flare out from the base. Trim those canes to 18 to 36 inches tall. On a floribunda or grandiflora, keep five to seven canes and cut them 18 to 24 inches tall. Vary the heights to give the bush a more natural look.

After pruning, rake away all dead leaves and detritus. Check your irrigation or rebuild your watering basins. Then apply a fresh layer of mulch an inch or two out from the stems. Wait to apply fertilizer until you see about 3 inches of new growth, which will probably be toward the end of March.

Cut just above outward growth.

Regardless of the type of rose, make sure your cuts are just above outward-facing buds.

This stimulates new branches to grow out from the center. Sunlight can then penetrate the crown, which encourages more buds to break dormancy, which improves flowering.

New Roses

While roses can be planted just about any time of year on the Central Coast, bare-root season provides the least expensive plants and the greatest selection.

It’s also when new roses make their debuts.

Dick Clark grandiflora rose

Walking on Sunshine floribunda rose

Topping the must-haves for 2011 are two All-America Rose Selections winners, Dick Clark and Walking on Sunshine. While plenty of growers tout “best of 2011” plants, the AARS program merits consideration because the nonprofit association tests roses in 23 gardens across the country for two years before naming winners that are easy to grow and offer disease resistance, vigor and at least a little fragrance.

Dick Clark is a medium-tall grandiflora that bears double, classically formed bi-colored flowers in cherry red and creamy white on tall, upright stems. The flowers are quite similar to Double Delight, a phenomenally popular — and fragrant — hybrid tea introduced in 1977. But Double Delight hasn’t been particularly disease resistant. If Dick Clark proves stronger, it may become a serious rival.

I tried Dick Clark in my own garden last year. The flowers were lovely. But the bush had two strikes against it: the bed was too shady and the snails adored it. This month I’ll be transplanting it to a sunnier bed and plan to sprinkle Sluggo — a nontoxic snail bait — more frequently.

Dick Clark was hybridized by Tom Carruth and Christian Bedard and introduced by Weeks Roses.

Walking on Sunshine is a 4-foot tall floribunda that bears clusters of three to five bright yellow flowers on stems 16 to 20 inches tall. I haven’t seen the round, full flowers in real life yet, but they’re said to fade to a lighter yellow, providing a multi-toned look.

Walking on Sunshine was hybridized by Keith Zary and introduced by Jackson & Perkins Wholesale.

Susan Williams-Ellis shrub rose

Other notable new roses include five English roses from David Austin Roses. All are modern varieties that improve on the style and fragrance of antique roses.

Susan Williams-Ellis bears pure-white pompom flowers with an impressive 135 petals per flower.

Kew Gardens shrub rose

Kew Gardens also blooms in white. But with only five petals per flower, it looks much like a wild rose, with its yellow centers fully exposed.

The Wedgwood Rose blooms in soft pink, and sends out long, arching canes best corralled on a trellis or wall.

Tam o’Shanter bears deep pink flowers on long, arching branches as well.

Tam o'Shanter

Lady of Shalott bears plump, cup-shaped apricot flowers.

Still more 2011 introductions to look for include Adobe Sunrise, a compact floribunda that bears fully double, salmon-orange flowers hybridized by Meilland International.

Lady of Shalott

Pink Home Run is an entirely disease resistant shrub rose that blooms continuously. If it’s anything like its parent, the deep red-blooming Home Run, you won’t even need to dead head it. It was hybridized by Tom Carruth and Christian Bedard.

And Icy Drift, also hybridized by Meilland International, is an abundant-blooming, spreading plant that bears clusters of small, 3/4″ to 1 1/2″ white, double flowers from spring until frost.

Choosing New Roses

The Wedgewood Rose

From a practical standpoint, disease resistance and growth habit are the most important considerations when selecting new roses. By paying attention to both, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief in the long run.

However, those concepts are often forgotten when browsing all the different and beautiful flower colors and styles. But when narrowing your selections, do try to bring those factors back into play.

Equally important is the quality of the roots. On a bare-root rose, the roots should spread out evenly from the stem and have some flex. If they’re shriveled, brittle or extremely lopsided, choose another plant.

Seeds of Wisdom

If you can’t plant your bare-root roses right away, keep their roots moist by placing them in a plastic bag with damp paper towels, sawdust, sand or mulch, then loosely tie the bag to the base of the stem.

Visit Joan’s website at, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

Time to enjoy!

It’s a new year. And with it comes an opportunity to approach your garden with a fresh eye.

Month by month, here’s what to expect on the Central Coast during the gardening year.


January kicks off bare-root season.

Roses, deciduous fruit trees and even a few perennial vegetables, including asparagus and artichokes, can be planted this month and next. Bare root plants are dormant: all you’ll see is a twiggy stick or two, attached to spidery roots.

For roses, select varieties that do well in cooler, coastal climates. For edibles, choose types that are low-chill, which means they don’t need more than a few hundred “chill hours” below 45 degrees between November and March to set fruit and grow properly.

An Anna apple, from bare root.

Be sure when planting bare-root that your soil is dry enough to work. That may be tricky with our recent, drenching rain. If you miss the window now, you’ll get a second chance in spring, after nurseries pot up their bare-root stock and sell the plants in traditional containers.

Existing roses and deciduous fruit trees need pruning, too. Clean up and clear out twiggy, broken or crossing branches to prepare for new growth, blooms and fruit in the coming year.

In the vegetable garden, there’s time to plant another few rounds of fast-growing lettuce, spinach and leafy greens. But it’s too late for broccoli, cabbage or other bigger, cool-season crops.

Camellias, azaleas and other hardy shrubs can go in now. But don’t plant if the soil is too wet. If you can’t resist a particular new plant, temporarily pot it up, then transplant it in spring.

If temperatures drop dramatically, protect any frost-sensitive plants by keeping them well watered. Also cover them with a bed sheet or lightweight plastic at night. Remove the cover in the morning to avoid trapping daytime heat, which can turn the space underneath into a hothouse.


Plant Dahlias at the end of the month.

If temperatures haven’t warmed, February in the garden is nearly a carbon copy of January, with bare-root planting and bare-root pruning continuing in earnest.

Don’t prune any plants other than those that are dormant, such as your roses and deciduous trees. Ignore any old, leggy growth on perennials, such as Mexican sage, lavender and the like. Even though it’s unsightly, that scraggly stuff will help insulate the plants if frost persists. You can trim them toward the end of the month, once the threat of frost has passed.

Also toward the end of the month, start planting summer-blooming bulbs, such as tuberous begonias, caladiums, calla lilies, dahlias, gladiolus and Mexican tuberose. Check that the soil is workable, as these bulbs don’t like to sit in chilly, wet dirt.


Plant succulents, such as rock purslane (Cistanthe grandiflora).

With March comes spring. The danger of frost ebbs, the soil warms up and dries out, and wriggly earthworms appear.

At the beginning of the month, plant annuals and hardy perennials, shrubs, vines and trees. By the end of the month, you can turn to citrus, tropicals and succulents, which need warmer days to get going.

Longer days and increasing temperatures will send weeds into high gear. Remove them as fast you can — or at least their tops, so they don’t set seed.

Adjust your irrigation controller, which should have been set to rain delay or dialed back to infrequent cycles over the cooler, wetter months.


By April 1, your first tomatoes can go in the ground. In fact, last year I planted my first tomatoes March 31, and those eight plants outperformed three later plantings by a landslide.
Start seed of other summer vegetables, such as peppers, eggplant and zucchini. But wait for warmer nighttime temperatures before transplanting them into the garden.

Celebrate Earth Day mid-month by setting up a compost pile, freshening mulch in your planting beds or taking a vow to reduce or eliminate the use of herbicides or pesticides in your garden.

Catch up on planting roses or deciduous fruit trees that you missed during bare-root season.


Despite any May gray, this is a glorious month for planting everything from bright summer color in patio containers and hanging baskets to sowing pumpkin seeds directly in the ground in your vegetable garden.

More structural plantings can go in as well. Plant foundation shrubs to plug gaps or serve as hedges. Plant shade trees on the south and west sides of your house to reduce cooling costs during summer.

California meadow sedge

May is also an excellent time — it’s not too cold and not too hot — to install a sod lawn. To conserve water and time tending the swath, don’t carpet your entire yard. Instead, lay down sod only where you truly need it for children or dogs to romp.

Or replace your existing, thirsty turf with a lumpy, no-mow grass, such as our native California meadow sedge (Carex praegracilis) or blue sedge (Carex flacca). Red fescue (Festuca rubra), which forms flattened drifts in the shade, requires a little more water. But it grows well on slopes that are difficult to mow.


Sow corn now.

Keep planting those vegetables. Sow big-seed veggies, such as corn, pumpkins and melons, directly in the ground. Even with any June gloom, night-time temperatures should be sufficient to move peppers and eggplant outdoors. Sow sunflowers, too. Look for the pollenless types if you plan to harvest the cheery flowers for indoor arrangements.

Plant annual herbs in pots or in the ground. Basil, borage, chamomile, parsley and summer savory are happy just about anywhere. Caraway, cilantro and dill should be grown in the ground only, as all three send down tap roots that aren’t content in shallow containers.

Check or revamp your irrigation system in advance of summer heat. If you have sprinklers in a planting bed of mixed heights, the taller plants may be blocking the spray. If so, retrofit the system with drip tubing and emitters that snake their way through the plants and apply water at ground level.


Moptop hydrangeas.

By July, any new plantings should be humming along and you can turn your attention to nipping and tucking around the edges.

Trim any wayward growth or crossing branches on trees and shrubs. Shear or dead-head spent flowers on perennials to encourage repeat blooming.

Tune up your summer roses by cutting them back by one-third to a half after they’ve finished their July bloom cycle. This will force new growth for bigger flowers in fall and again just before Christmas.

The June gloom is likely to be a distant memory, so increase the frequency of your irrigation — especially for hanging baskets and containers, which dry out faster than plants in the ground.


A new raised bed filled with a fluffy blend of existing soil and well-aged compost.

Other than keeping after errant weeds, harvesting summer edibles and making sure your plants are well-watered, there’s not a lot to do.

Indeed, this month may be our closest equivalent to the down time that eastern gardeners enjoy during snowy months. Although instead of curling up next to the fireplace with a warm beverage and a handful of gardening catalogs, we’re likely to be at the beach, on vacation or simply spending time outside, enjoying our gardens.

From that standpoint, August is a good time to re-think your outdoor space. If you’re so inclined, install a bench, water feature or outdoor lighting.

Or take on a construction project, such as building a raised bed, trellis or arbor.


Our native redbud (Cercis occidentalis) with French lavender and hairy canary flower (Dorycnium hirsutum).

September starts off slowly. But as the days become noticeably shorter toward the end of the month, my favorite time of the year in the garden begins.

Fall planting brings with it the potential to truly change the character of a garden, providing an opportunity to plant sweeps of ground covers, perennials, shrubs and trees — with the best choices being California natives or plants hailing from other Mediterranean climates that are naturally adapted to our cycle of warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters.

Even if you make only a few changes or additions, these plants will be off to their best start when planted in fall.


Or you can honor the season by slipping in a few South African bulbs, such as naked lady (Amaryllis belladonna), baboon flower (Babiana), Chasmanthe, Crinum, Freesia, wand flower (Ixia), chincherinchee (Ornithogalum thyrsoides) or Velthemia, which will bloom in late winter or spring.

As for watering: dial it back for everything except your newly planted plants.


Let the fall planting frenzy continue.

Also begin setting out cool-season vegetables, such as beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kohlrabi, leafy greens, leeks, radishes and Swiss chard.


The nights are growing nippy and the days are even shorter. But there’s still time to squeeze in quick winter color by planting pansies, violas, cyclamen, primroses and sweet peas in beds or along walkways right around your house.

At the end of the month, harvest bright berries and colorful fallen leaves for holiday decorations.


Broad flagstone stepping stones keep feet out of the mud on rainy days.

With the advent of winter rains, the window for planting may be coming to an end. But you’ll likely be facing piles of leaves and other detritus. Put the remains to good use by setting up a compost pile. Use a store-bought bin, or construct one out of four 4″x4″ redwood posts, slats and a tarp.

Check your winter vegetables for slugs and snails. Use a non-toxic bait, such as Sluggo, to keep the pests under control.

If you have dirt walkways that dissolve into mud every winter, lay down flagstones or rough-textured mulch at least 3 to 4 inches deep to keep the muck off your shoes.

Set your irrigation controller to rain delay or turn it off entirely if we have another wet winter.

Seeds of Wisdom

While we can usually tackle specific tasks during specific months, much of what we accomplish in our gardens is ultimately dependent on the weather.

This past year, who would have expected such a cool summer, followed by a dash of record-breaking heat, then a thorough dousing of rain? That unpredictability requires a certain dose of flexibility when gardening from one season to the next.

Visit Joan’s website at, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

There’s sad news for the horticultural world today. Park Seed, Park Seed Wholesale and Jackson & Perkins have filed for reorganization in bankruptcy court.

All three companies have been significant players in the gardening world for more than a few lifetimes. Park Seed was founded in 1868; the wholesale division in 1870, and Jackson & Perkins in 1872.

The following press release arrived this morning, which explains that the three companies have three months to prepare restructuring plans. In the meantime, they will stay open and continue to conduct business.

“On Friday, April 2, 2010, the Geo. W. Park Seed Company, Inc., Park Seed Wholesale Company, and the Jackson & Perkins Company voluntarily filed to reorganize under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the District of South Carolina. Customers should not be affected by the filing. Park Seed/J&P’s Greenwood, SC, business office, Garden Center, Call Center, and websites are open and functioning normally. Shipping and receiving areas are continuing their daily operations, delivering products to gardeners around the country as their hardiness zones open for the Spring.

According to a company spokesperson, “The horticulture industry is challenging and highly seasonal in the best of times. As the general economic situation declined starting in 2008, demand for luxury, non-essential purchases dropped sharply. All of our brands experienced significant decreases in sales for core products, including roses, perennials, and garden-inspired gifts. This created cash-flow issues that worsened with each passing season. Despite deep cost-cutting and numerous attempts to execute supplier payment programs on our own, we simply could not meet our short- and long-term operating cash requirements. Seeking court protection and restructuring is clearly our best option for returning to a position where we can focus on delighting our customers and resuming sound relationships with our supply chain partners.”

The companies are currently functioning as a “debtor in possession,” under the leadership of a court-appointed Trustee. The companies have 120 days following the filing to prepare a plan that contains a new capital structure for the company and that treats all creditors equitably. The Park Seed Company/Jackson and Perkins management team is confident that this experience will ultimately strengthen the business and lead to long-term success.”

Also noted in the release:

The Geo. W. Park Seed Company, Inc. ( has been providing innovative, top-quality gardening products to generations of American gardeners since 1868.

Founded in 1872, Jackson & Perkins is America’s premier name in roses and garden-inspired gifts (

Park Seed Wholesale has everything needed to run a small to medium-sized greenhouse, nursery, or growing operation. Since 1870, Park Seed Wholesale ( has been known for delivering world-class products with downhome, friendly service.

Visit Joan’s website at, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

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