Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2007
Regional Report

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Leave frost-damaged foliage as insulative protection from future frosts.

Beyond Frost?

As of January 28 each year we're past the average last frost day for our area. This, of course, is somewhat meaningless, given the extent of our land mass and elevations, and the infinite variations of miniclimates. Even so, it's a broad benchmark to work with, a good guess to use as a guide. And we were certainly reminded of this again last month, with our sudden and extreme freezing temperatures following our earlier barely chilly weather. I'd even reverted to gardening in my shorts and a T-shirt again during midday, although I changed back into my sweatshirt and fleece pants when in the garden after 3 p.m.

Timing the Greens
February is when I start seeds of spring lettuce and other leafy veggies. Too often when I was a beginning gardener thrilling with warm winter days, I'd take great efforts to start lettuce seeds all winter long in the hopes of always having some plants mature enough to eat. But, more often than not, the seedlings sown in December and January would bolt and go to seed sooner than I could get many salads out of them. This was because the plants "thought" they'd been through a winter and set seed with the first spring warmth.

Now I make sure my fall-seeded lettuce is producing by Thanksgiving (so I can be eating it all winter), and I wait until February 1 to start the new spring-seeded lettuce. This results in year-round production and a good amount of salads by the time the plants bolt (in late spring for the fall-sown plants, and in late summer for the spring-sown plants). This scheduling is not necessary for veggies like broccoli and peas since we want them to bolt and produce the parts we eat.

Hold the Pruners
As horrid as some of your frost-damaged plants may look, don't even think about neatening things up (except for mushy succulents) until mid- to late February. There are two reasons for this: 1) We may still have more frost, and that dead stuff is a buffer zone of insulation for the rest of the plant. As frost settles, it'll be waylaid by the tangle of dead foliage, and it might not make its way down to the live tender growth beneath. 2) Those frost-killed branches may not be as dead as they look. Wait until new growth appears, then you can trim down to it. Chances are you'll be surprised at how much of the "dead" stuff sprouts. This is especially true with fuchsias.

By late February, the threat of frost is pretty minimal, so you can go whole-hog into cleaning everything up.

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