October Garden Planner
Keep water conservation in the forefront as fall planting season gets underway. Monitor water needs, especially for everything newly planted. As summer wanes, underplant perennials and shrubs with spring-blooming bulbs and replace spent edibles and annuals with cool-season plants. All this effort now pays beautiful dividends in spring.
After a few simple steps at planting time, bulbs are carefree garden performers. If purchased in advance, they can be stored in a cool, dry location. Remember to chill tulip, hyacinth and crocus bulbs in the refrigerator for six to eight weeks before planting, keeping them away from apples or other fruits that give off ethylene gas. Assess each bulb’s summer water tolerance when locating them in the garden; some South African beauties must stay dry when dormant. As a rule of thumb, plant bulbs twice as deep as their height. For a natural look, plant in drifts; toss the bulbs on the ground and plant where they land.
Ready, Set, Switch
Warm-season vegetable gardens make way for cool-season edibles over the next several weeks. Ready beds by removing spent summer growers and any dropped fruit or leaves. Dig the bed to loosen compacted soil, and refresh it with compost or other organic material. At the same time, check irrigation to eliminate clogs or broken lines. Area nurseries should have a good selection of cool-season seedlings — peas, chard, Brussels sprouts, kale and more — to plant as temperatures cool. For fun, involve youngsters in this process by letting them plant a row of fast-growing carrots or radishes. After planting, monitor moisture to be certain new crops don’t dry out. Some will be ready to harvest for holiday meals.
San Francisco’s Plant Right, a nonprofit dedicated to stopping the spread of environment-damaging invasive plants, makes it easy for conscientious gardeners to select lookalike options that do no harm. Here are some of the worst culprits
to avoid and plants to take their place.
Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) — Recently flagged as invasive, this golden ornamental grass disperses thousands of seeds around cultivated landscapes and into the wild. Opt for other showy grasses like ‘Blonde Ambition’ blue grama with its tipsy seed heads, pink muhly with its cloud of pale, airy flowers and bold clumps of autumn moor grass.
Green fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) — Another clumping grass with burgundy-tinted seed heads, this rampant spreader has taken over many roadsides, meadowlands and pastures. Better choices are sterile hybrids like ‘Rubrum,’ ‘Fireworks’ and ‘Fairy Tails’ and the handsome California fescue native grass.
Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) — This bush with golden pea-like flowers is one of the state’s worst problem plants, named invasive in half of California’s 58 counties. Some yellow-flowering alternatives are native California flannel bush, rock rose and perennial yellow daisy bush (Euryops).
Periwinkle (Vinca major) — This vigorous vine sprouts from even tiny cuttings, especially if they land in moist areas where they quickly crowd out native vegetation. While not as invasive, Vinca minor also is best avoided. Manageable spreaders include scented star jasmine and, for small areas, blue-blooming Serbian bellflower and hybrid geraniums like ‘Roxanne.’ Another drought-
tolerant alternative is ceanothus.
Highway iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis) — So many plants are commonly labeled iceplant that this well-known invasive sometimes is still planted. Ask for a noninvasive iceplant by its botanical name: Delosperma cooperi, with purple flowers, or Drosanthemum floribundum, with pale pink flowers. In coastal areas, native beach strawberry is another good choice.
SOW A SALAD BOWL
Growing fresh lettuces is an option even if your gardening space is only a balcony or small patio. All that’s needed is a wide container with holes in the bottom for drainage. Cover the holes with window screening and fill with good-quality potting soil. Wet the soil before sprinkling the sur-face with your favorite salad makings — leaf lettuce, arugula, mesclun, etc. Place in a sunny spot and keep the soil moist. Begin harvesting once the leaves are 6 inches high. Snip only the outer leaves and the plants will keep sending up new ones. When these flag, simply replant.
PROPER TREE INSURANCE
Get new garden plants, especially big-ticket trees and shrubs, off to a good start by putting them in the ground properly. Water the plant in the container, saturating the soil. Dig a hole as deep as the container height and twice as wide. Slip the plant out of its pot, inspecting roots and loosening any that are tightly circling the root ball. (Be aware of exceptions like bougainvillea that don’t like their roots disturbed.) Return enough soil to the planting hole so that the plant sits level with the ground. Refill with soil, patting to reduce air pockets, until the hole is two-thirds full. Water and then finish adding soil. Create a basin around the base of the plant; then water until the soil is thoroughly moist. Complete with a layer of mulch.
Bargains, selection and expert advice draw hundreds of plant lovers to annual sales
this month. Three of them are held at San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas, starting Oct. 3-4 with the San Diego International Orchid Fair, featuring fall-blooming varie-ties. T wo weeks later, Oct. 17-18, the garden presents its fall plant sale, with selections from dozens of specialty and local growers. On Oct. 24-25, the focus shifts to succulents with a show and sale by the Palomar Cactus and Succulent Society. Details for all are at sdbgarden.org. Two other stellar events are the native plant sale sponsored by the San Diego Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (cnpssd.org) on Oct. 17 and the fall sale and show presented by San Diego Orchid Society (sdorchids.com), which runs Oct. 23-25. Both are at Casa del Prado in Balboa Park.
Take steps now to make the most of any rain this season. Start by cleaning rain gutters, removing any leaves and other debris. Check drains to ensure they are clear. Also take steps to reduce runoff from your property into storm drains by redirecting downspouts into garden beds (which also benefits plants) or routing runoff into a gravel and rock-lined depression that slows water so it percolates into the soil. There’s still time to take advantage of rebates for rain barrels. In a downpour, they can collect hundreds of gallons in a short amount of time.
Abundance can turn into waste unless you know how to prepare and preserve your homegrown bounty. James Beard Award nominee Andrea Chesman helps gardeners make the most of the edibles they harvest by sharing her knowledge of pickling, canning, drying, freezing and much more in her book The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How (Storey Publishing, 2015). This “field-to-table” resource also presents expert advice on yogurt making, bread baking and meat curing.
And don’t forget to:
• Shop for trees now when their fall colors are ablaze at area nurseries. Consider Chinese pistache, western redbud and smoke trees.
• Attend an all-day forum on Oct. 3 to discuss the future of Balboa Park as a cul-tural landscape. Sponsored by the San Diego Floral Association, the event features prominent speakers, including landscape preservationist Betsy Barlow Rogers. Details are at sdfloral.org.
• Buy paperwhite bulbs and begin now to force them into bloom for Thanksgiving.
• Harvest homegrown pumpkins when the shell hardens and can’t be dented with a fingernail. Then cut the stem.
• Toward the end of the month, dig and divide overgrown perennials like daylilies, agapanthus, clivia and fortnight lily. Share cuttings with friends.
• Refresh containers and hanging baskets, substituting winter bloomers for spent summer annuals and adding slow-release fertilizer.
• Reduce watering during cool-season months by resetting irrigation timers to run less often and for shorter periods of time.
• Discover new plants that add brilliant color to water-wise gardens as A Growing Passion host Nan Sterman launches her book Hot Colors, Dry Garden at the Oct. 12 meeting of the San Diego Horticultural Society. Details are at sdhort.org.
• To be ready for upcoming holiday meals, plant ‘Early Girl’ tomatoes, which thrive in fall weather along the coasts.
• Attend the second annual Enchanted Garden Gala on Oct. 17 at The Water Conservation Garden on the Cuyamaca College campus to benefit educational programs and exhibits. Details are at thegarden.org.