Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Patrol for Budworms
Budworms take all the fun out of growing two of the bay area's most hardy blooming plants. Both petunias and geraniums are susceptible to the ravages of budworms. In order to enjoy their abundant blooms, start your vigil against these caterpillars. At the first sign of damage, spray Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). Mix only the amount you will use and spray only the affected plants. Remember, butterflies start life as caterpillars.
Fertilize Tuberous Begonias
The secret to growing magnificent tuberous begonias is the big fertilizer switch. Use 22-14-14 to get the plants up and growing. The high amount of nitrogen produces lush, green foliage. The moment you see buds forming, switch to 15-30-15 or 0-10-10. This will help produce an abundance of those incredible flowers. Tend your plants in the morning hours to avoid spreading powdery mildew. Also keep in mind that tuberous begonias don't need nearly as much water as people believe. A thorough soaking once a week will suffice, depending on the type of soil they are planted in.
Look Closely for Tomato Hornworms
Tomato hornworms look like aliens from another planet! The creepy, eye-like markings along both sides of the creature give the eerie feeling of being watched. The green color makes the 4- to 6-inch-long caterpillars very difficult to spot on tomato plants. Look for chewed leaves and black droppings and you are apt to find a tomato hornworm not too far away. You can spray them with Bt, but actually, I find these creatures intriguing and just let them be. Kids love them.
Fuchsias bloom on new wood. If you keep the branch tips pinched back, the plant will produce two new stems for every one you pinch off. That means twice as many flowers! Remove the last two sets of leaves after the blooms have faded from each stem. Fuchsias are heavy feeders, so pour on the fertilizer and keep the soil moist.
Caring for Rhododendrons
This is the ideal time to prune and shape rhododendrons and azaleas before they begin to set their buds for next spring. Cut rangy plants back to bare wood if necessary. Fertilize the plants with a high-acid fertilizer after pruning to encourage maximum blooming.