Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
May, 2008
Regional Report

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My view of Mt. San Bruno changes with the seasons, but spring is my favorite!

Farewell to Spring!

I look all around and spring is bursting out everywhere. The birdies are nesting and the squirrels are busy. Oh, the glory of the rolling green hills! Can your eyes ever have too much of the colors of spring?

But soon, very soon, my friends, the hills will be turning gold and we will be heading into the dry season. Enjoy these last moments of spring and watch as the hills cling to their last bits of green grass in the shadows and valleys. On top of Mt. San Bruno there is a tiny cap of white something-or-other (I know it's not snow) that blooms just before the mountain goes golden for the summer. I have never made the trek to the top to investigate the identity of this particular patch of flowers. The mountain is steep and I am long of tooth. I imagine that they are alyssum, wild radish, or a particularly thick patch of Queen Anne's lace, but again, they might just be thistles, happy in their crowning position on the mountain. Whatever they are, they are sturdy enough to survive the strong winds and rocky conditions.

The Long, Dry Summer
There are things you can do to prepare your garden for the dry months ahead. Now's the time to encourage the roots of your trees and shrubs to grow deeply. Use a soaker hose. If your trees only receive water from the lawn sprinklers, the roots will only grow a few inches deep. What happens if we have another drought and you have to stop watering your lawn? I watched a beautiful alder slowly die when the owners of the property turned off the sprinkler system for the lawn. I'm sure they regretted the loss of such a magnificent tree but didn't know the cause of its demise.

Watering Aids
If you are on a drip system, make sure everything is working properly. I'm not a fan of drip irrigation. It's too complicated and the first indication you have that the system is not working is whenyour plants die. Personally, I'd rather hold a hose, but keep in mind that my garden is very small. Watering gives me the opportunity to enjoy my garden, pull a few weeds, and accept compliments from the passing neighbors.

All irrigation clocks and timers should be reset for summer. Ideally, you want to water for longer periods of time, less frequently. Your quest is to drive the roots deep into the soil. Allow the surface to dry slightly so the plants know where to go for water. I know people who water their lawns every day. Not good, not good! Depending on the soil conditions, twice a week should suffice. If you encourage the roots deeper into the soil, the lawn will benefit. Also, set your mower blade higher so when the individual blades of grass wilt slightly, they will shade the surface of the soil and impede weed germination.

Check shrubs for proper watering depth by pushing a sharpened metal stake in the soil immediately after watering. The stake will push easily into the ground if the soil is moist. Where it stops, the soil is dry. Shrubs need at least 18 inches of moisture for proper root development.

To keep your flower and vegetable beds from drying out, it's important to use a mulch or soil blanket. Actually, I use both -- a layer of landscape fabric covered by a layer of decorative mulch. The fabric can be easily pulled up at the end of the season.

Hanging Plants
Hanging fuchsias, begonias, and ferns will benefit from an application of hydropolymer. The product I use is called Soil Moist. It is a powder that, when mixed with water, becomes thick like clear Jell-O. You mix it into the soil of hanging or container plants at planting time. The roots will find these little pockets of moisture throughout the planting mix so the plant will not wilt as quickly. It's especially handy for hot weather. I was a slave to my hanging plants before I discovered this product.

Looking Forward
With a little forethought and some hands-on loving care, your garden will remain beautiful throughout the summer months, no matter what the weather throws at us.

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