Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2009
Regional Report

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Nasturtiums more beautiful than sitting on the bench!

Starting a New Garden?

Consider starting with raised beds. Raised beds provide "growing-only, no-walking" areas that encourage extensive healthy root growth and allow more thorough drainage.

Soil is the beginning, middle, and end of successful gardening. It doesn't just prop up the plants! Healthy soil makes for healthy plants -- and lots of flowers and fruit! "Feed" the soil with lots of compost and manure so plant roots will grow well.

To loosen clay soil and provide slowly-released nutrition, add up to 50% organic matter -- leafy material, straw, grass clippings, and non-greasy kitchen vegetable scraps. Sand will not do the job -- remember that contractors mix sand and clay and water to make cement.

Add compost to sandy soil as well, to enable it to retain moisture soil plant roots thrive.

Keep replenishing a two- to four-inch-thick layer of organic matter on top of the soil to moderate soil temperature, hold in moisture, and prevent weeds from sprouting. The smaller the pieces of mulch are, the more protection they offer. But lay down only a thin layer of fresh grass clippings, so they don't form an impervious layer. Turn it all under in the fall for a rich and friable soil in the spring.

Plant Varieties
Use only varieties that have excelled where you garden, whether it's along the coast, inland, or in the mountains or desert. If the plant description indicates that plants should have full sun, this means a minimum of six hours of direct sun every day. Along the coast, this is especially important since the moisture in the "marine layer" cools things down. Inland, the same plants may need some protection from late afternoon sun.

An average of six hours of direct sun daily is the minimum amount necessary for leaf and rooting crops like lettuce and carrots. At least 8 hours of direct sun is necessary for blossoming and fruiting crops like tomatoes and squash.

Teach your plants to grow deeply for moisture. In spring, for average soils, water deeply only every two to three weeks. By the time that summer's heat arrives, plant feeder roots will be growing deeply for moisture, and the plants won't need watering more frequently than once a week during very hot spells.

One inch of irrigated water will soak down to different depths, depending on how heavy your soil is: 12 inches deep in sandy soil, 9 inches deep in loamy soil, but only 3 inches deep in clay soil. Plant root zones generally reach from 2 to 12 inches down.

Clay soil, because it is so compact, can be watered a little each day for two or three days to allow absorption down that far, rather than a lot of runoff by watering once for a long time. Clay soil will retain this moisture for a much longer period than sandy soil, which is very porous. Soil with a lot of organic matter in it is the best -- it holds lots of water but still allows air in for best plant root growth.

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