April Garden Planner
Spring is the best season in San Diego gardens. Warmer weather beckons everyone outside to delight in flowers, fragrance, and flitting birds and butterflies. Gardeners wrap up planting and mulching tasks to keep gardens glorious and productive summer through fall. For inspiration, join fellow garden lovers on what has become a rite of spring here: garden tours around the county now and into May.
Getting Warmed Up
Take advantage of the warm growing season to expand harvests from your veggie garden. Grow classic Genovese-type basil and sweet bell peppers along with slicing tomatoes for a personal pizza garden. For salsas, tuck in some fiery jalapeño peppers. Handsome eggplant bears pretty lavender flowers, while a couple of zucchini vines handily feed a family all summer. If space is available, plant an artichoke with its dramatic silvery leaves on a plant 4-feet-plus tall and wide. Explore more options in the Master Gardeners’ cool and warm season vegetable planting guide that also includes recommended planting times along the coast and inland. Visit mastergardenerssandiego.org and click on “Resources.” Another good guide is Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles.
Those Pesky Pests
Spring weather is a boon for garden pests. Some, like psyllids that attack eugenia hedges and eucalyptus trees, appear before their natural predators make a seasonal comeback. Another common spring pest is aphids, tiny soft-bodied insects that feed on new growth. Flick them off affected plants with your fingers or a blast of water. Avoid using powerful insecticides that kill beneficial insects that prey on pests. Find more information at ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES.
With concern over the impact of climate change and El Niño/La Niña conditions, gardeners need to know more than the daily forecast. In The Gardener’s Guide to Weather & Climate (Timber Press, 2015), British science writer Michael Allaby shares insights into how to adapt gardens to survive and thrive.
North County-based Altman Plants delights fans here and across the country with must-have introductions from its extensive breeding program. Here are five newcomers; Altman’s Renee O’Connell created all but ‘Mint T ruffles.’ Find them at Oasis Water Efficient Gardens, Waterwise Botanicals and other specialty nurseries and big-box retailers. They also can be ordered online at altmanplants.com.
1. ‘Colorshift’ Echeveria — These ruffled rosettes are garden chameleons. Depending on the light, foliage glows with silvery mauve, aqua or violet. Vermillion flowers on arching stems draw butterflies and hummingbirds. It grows fast in bright light and well-draining soil.
2. ‘Sahara’ Echeveria — Bold rosettes more than 20 inches wide recall desert dawns with their ruffled, silvery blue leaves edged with rose. Cheery flowers are sunrise orange. It handles full sun inland.
3. ‘Andromeda’ Echeveria — Large rosettes with silvery violet-blue leaves and rosy pink edges resemble a swirled galaxy — hence its astronomical name. Large, bright orange blooms are otherworldly too.
4. ‘Bordeaux’ Kalanchoe — Dusky red-burgundy foliage on this hybrid is eye-catching, especially in winter, when the color deepens and apricot-pink flowers bloom. For the best color, provide bright light to full sun.
5. ‘Mint T ruffles’ Cotyledon — A hybrid of an African native that thrives in xeric environments, ‘Mint Truffles’ is an easy-care addition to water-wise gardens. It spreads freely without becom-ing leggy and likes full sun and very porous soil. Tubular orange flowers brighten in late fall to early winter.
Garden-tour season hits high gear. First up is the San Diego Horticultural Society event on April 2, showcasing nine gardens centered in Carmel Valley and Del Mar. Tickets are limited and must be purchased in advance (sdhort.org). The weekend of April 2-3 also features the Garden Native Tour of 17 private and four public gardens in East County, from the Lake Murray area and Santee to Jamul (gardennative.org). The annual walk-by of front-yard gardens in Oceanside takes place on April 10 (bvaudubon.org). Then comes the April 23 Point Loma Garden Walk with 11 gardens (pointlomagardenwalk.com). Next month are the Mission Hills Garden Walk on May 7 (missionhillsgardenclub.org) and La Jolla Secret Garden Tour on May 14 (lajollahistory.org). Sadly missing are the long-running Encinitas Garden Festival & Tour and Friends of East County Arts Garden Tour, both on indefinite hiatus. And the Fallbrook Garden Club holds its tours in odd-numbered years, so you’ll have to wait until 2017 for that one.
The Rise of the Rose
As spring’s first buds appear, rose lovers cut bouquets and deadhead spent flowers. Both tasks stimulate blooms. Make the cut above a growth node on a five-leaflet stem, pointing outward about midway on the cane. Cut too high on the cane and new roses will have weak stems, while a too-low cut will slow reblooming. Feed bushes lightly with an organic or all-purpose fertilizer and water deeply. Repeat after each bloom cycle to keep roses flowering throughout the year. Learn more about rose growing and view varieties that do well in San Diego County at the San Diego Rose Society’s annual Rose Show, April 16-17 at Liberty Station in Point Loma.
Citrus Outside the Box
Now is an ideal time to plant bountiful, ornamental citrus trees. If you’re already growing lemons, oranges and limes, branch out with more unusual citrus family members. Some to try include kumquat, small trees that produce dainty, oval sweet-tart fruits eaten skin and all; ‘Moro’ blood orange, 12- to 15-foot trees bearing oranges with red-blushed skin, flesh and juice; Australian finger limes, shrubby trees in demand for oblong fruit with tart juicy “vesicles” that resemble caviar; and ‘Golden Nugget’ mandarin that yields snackable, seedless fruits on patio-perfect, 3-foot trees. Like all citrus, these need full sun, well-draining soil and regular feedings. Look for them in area nurseries or order from Northern California’s Four Winds Growers (fourwindsgrowers.com).
Don’t Swat the Small Stuff
Balmy weather after a wet winter is sure to bring a bounty of mosquitoes, including expanding populations of two non-native newcomers linked to dangerous diseases. Yellow fever and Asian tiger mosquitoes are well established in South County coastal areas and likely to spread north in coming months. Instead of waiting for them to invade your personal space, make your yard inhospitable by eliminating standing water. Check plant saucers, gutters, buckets, birdbaths and other items than might hold water to be sure they are empty. Add larvae-eating mosquitofish to backyard ponds. Find more suggestions at sandiegocounty.gov/content/sec/deh.html.
And don’t forget to:
• Transplant tomato seedlings into containers or the ground as soon as night temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees. Take care not to crowd them.
• Add supports for tomato plants now; waiting could result in root damage.
• Learn more about sustainable gardening at the organic edible and ornamental display garden created by San Diego Master Gardeners at The Flower Fields. Information is at theflowerfields.com.
• Join the Tomatomania Farm Raiser on April 9 at the Encinitas Unified School District Farm Lab, where the sale of heir-loom and hybrid tomato plants benefits the school’s 5-acre garden. Get details at tomatomania.com.
• Attend the 91st annual Coronado Flower Show, April 16-17. Information is at coronadoflowershow.com.
• Add flowers like marigolds, cosmos, zinnias and daisies to cutting gardens for spring and summer bouquets.
• Thin marble-size fruit forming on apple, plum, nectarine and peach trees. Reduce clusters to one fruit, and leave 4 to 6 inches between each one.
• Plant summer-blooming bulbs (such as cannas and irises) and tubers (such as dahlias and tuberoses). Easytogrowbulbs.com, based in Oceanside, has a good selection.
• Keep ants off fruit trees by using a sticky barrier such as Tanglefoot on the outside of a protective wrap around the trunk. Bait to destroy ant nests.
• Enjoy blooming wildflowers. Reports on bloom peaks and locations are available from the Theodore Payne Foundation hotline: 818-768-3533.