Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2007
Regional Report

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Nemesia comes in many colors and thrives in garden beds, hanging baskets, and pots.

Winter Garden Color

Unlike our unfortunate friends on the East Coast, here in California we can garden to our little hearts content all throughout the winter months. As a matter of fact, there is enough pruning and raking to keep us all busy until spring. But, it's not those kinds of chores I want to talk about here, it's the pleasant task of adding color to the drab winter landscape.

Have you been to a nursery lately? The benches are bursting with all kinds of winter-blooming annual plants, just begging for a home. Pansies, calendulas, stocks, primroses, schizanthus, cyclamen, snapdragons, Icelandic poppies, and violas in every brilliant hue imaginable are ready to plant right now. This collection of vibrant annuals will carry us through the rest of the winter and continue to be beautiful until the soil starts warming up sometime around mid-March.

Cool-season plants require shorter daylight hours and lower temperatures than their heat-loving relatives. Although there are new varieties of pansies that will tolerate heat, they still perform best when planted in cool soil conditions. Even though the days are beginning to lengthen, it's still not too late to plant colorful containers or add a splash of brilliance along a path.

Cool-Season Growing
The soil in which you plant winter-blooming annuals should be very fast draining to prevent root rot problems and fungus disease. Add organic compost to improve existing garden beds or use fresh, top-quality potting mix for containers.

When planting cool-season annuals, make sure to plant closer than the label directions advise. The plants will not grow as quickly while the soil is cool, so spacing the plants tightly together will ensure a dazzling display. If the weather is overcast or rainy, you may need to treat for fungus disease, especially when plantings are tight. Although the compact plantings look great, they don't allow for much air circulation between the plants. Use sulfur to control fungus disease and pick off the infected foliage and flowers.

Fertilizing every other week with half-strength liquid fertilizer that encourages flowering, such as 0-10-10 or 15-30-15 formulations, will keep your plants blooming.

Deadheading is mandatory to keep winter annuals blooming. Carry a small container and pluck faded blooms as often as twice a week.

Last, and perhaps most important, don't forget to apply snail bait. Use an organic product such as Sluggo. Snails and slugs are voracious and can destroy your hard work overnight. Copper tape around the base of a container will prevent hungry mollusks from crawling up the outside of the pot and reaching their goal. Fresh fireplace ashes spread around a garden bed will also detour them from their mission of destruction.

With so many varieties available and so little effort involved, isn't it about time to make your East Coast relatives jealous? "Hey cousin Penny, I planted primroses this morning and they look so nice out there in the sunshine!"

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