Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2004
Regional Report

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A temporary tent made from newspaper and bamboo will shade your new winter annuals from the heat of the sun.

Hot Winter Blues

Winter is right around the corner, even though our best summer weather is just beginning. Hasn't it been a dreary summer? Fog and wind, repeat as necessary.

We all know that fall is prime planting time for shrubs, trees, and permanent landscape plants. But it also is the best time to start your winter color garden, if you have the nerve to pull out your summer beds and containers just when they are looking their best. Primroses, pansies, stocks, snapdragons, calendulas, and even exotic looking annuals like nemesia perform best when planted while the soil is still warm. Roots grow best in warm, moist soil, and strong roots mean healthy plants.

Protecting New Plants
There is a trick to planting cool-season plants in the heat: they must be protected from the sun. What happens is that the roots on newly planted plants aren't able to pull up water fast enough to prevent the foliage from wilting. The gardener sees a wilted plant, so the natural thing to do is to water. Unfortunately, if the soil is already moist, the additional water causes the undeveloped root system to rot so that the plants can't pick up water to deliver to the foliage. The gardener sees that the plant is still wilted and waters again. It's a vicious cycle. This is why it's so important to check the soil with your fingers before watering. If the soil feels moist to the touch, wait a day or two before you water.

So what do you do if the plants are wilting and the soil is moist? The answer is to provide shade. The new plants will only need to be protected until the roots begin to grow -- probably within three to five days. I have used temporary shade tents made of newspaper, bed sheets, or floating row covers. They don't look very nice, but they are just a temporary -- not a permanent -- solution. The most important thing is: no matter what material you use to create shade, there must be adequate ventilation. If heat stays trapped inside the tents, your new little plants will cook.

Newspaper tents are the easiest to make, but they blow away in the wind. I make a frame to support the newspaper from bamboo stakes pushed into the ground in an "X" on both ends of a planting row, with a cross piece to support the paper. The bamboo frame allows for ventilation on either end of the tent. Usually when it's really hot, there isn't a puff of wind; but on normal summer days the wind will pick up in the afternoon and carry the newspaper tents far afield. Use clothes pins to secure the newspaper to the frame.

Other Planting Tips
1. Plant early in the day or late in the afternoon and never plant into dry soil.
2. Always water as soon as you have finished planting.
3. To avoid damaging the roots, don't apply any fertilizer until you see new growth .
4. Always feel the soil with your fingers prior to watering.

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