In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Sunflowers attract people, birds, and beneficial insects to the garden.
If weeds and pests seem to be the things you can count on the most in your garden, it may help to consider some ways to combat them this year and assure they won't return with so much vigor in following seasons. To "sustain" your garden in a positive way, so you can enjoy the fruits of your labors (and not have to keep laboring to keep it nice), concentrate on these approaches:
1. Choose varieties that do well in your locale. Even though your sister's Big Boy tomatoes do well in Riverside, your garden in Venice may do better with Siberia tomatoes. Experiment with varieties you've never tried before, but include your dependable producers.
2. Include plants that attract beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, to your garden. These plants include the Umbelliferae family (blooms that look like upside-down umbrellas): carrots, dill, cilantro/coriander; and the Compositae family (blooms that look like daisies): asters, calendulas, coreopsis, gazanias, sunflowers, and zinnias.
3. Plan and install an irrigation system that fits your garden. Keep sprinklers only on the lawn. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation are more appropriate for vegetables and ornamentals. Cover soaker hoses with a bit of mulch so the rubber doesn't get brittle in the sun. (But remember where they are when you're about to start digging!)
4. Include a timer on your irrigation system, and change its settings according to the weather. Our not-yet-blistering-hot summer doesn't require frequent irrigation yet.
5. Water deeply but not frequently. Make sure water reaches the bottom of the root zone for the specific plants: only 6 inches for lettuce, but 3 feet for tomatoes. Depending on your soil type -- sand, silt, or clay -- you may still need to water only once a month now, and once a week when our daytime temperatures are over 95 degrees. Overwatering is what kills most plants either by drowning them outright or weakening them so much that pests are attracted.
6. Mulch, mulch, mulch! Keep replenishing layers of chipped branches, lawn clippings, and other organic matter in thin layers so it shades the soil, moderates soil temperatures and evaporation, keeps weeds from germinating, and makes it easy to pull the ones that do get started.
7. Visit the garden every other day or so to harvest the plant goodies and also be aware of good and bad insect populations. Don't worry about a few nibbles, but figure out who's doing greater damage so you can decide what to do next.
8. When dealing with pests, use "small guns" first, such as squishing or stomping worms and snails. Sprays -- even insecticidal soaps -- kill some beneficial insects along with the bad guys.
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