Garden Planner: Sage Advice, Tomatoes and More

February Is Often Fickle - See What We're Planning This Month

February is often fickle — luring us into the garden with springtime sun, then chasing us indoors with cold, pelting rain. When weather permits, finish any planting, including one more crop of cool-season vegetables that mature quickly. Longer, warming days encourage seeds to sprout, bulbs to bloom and trees to bud. Still keep watch for frosts and protect sensitive plants. 

Thornful Thinking
For followers of the Slow Flowers movement, Valentine’s Day is prime time. This cousin of Slow Food calls for bouquets to be created from locally grown flowers. Debra Prinzing, a leading Slow Flowers advocate, suggests Valentine’s Day gift givers ask local florists to source domestic roses from Dramm & Echter in Encinitas, California Pajarosa in Watsonville and Koch California in Nipomo. Another option, she says, is to order romantic bouquets from Farmgirl Flowers, a San Francisco-based retailer committed to using only California-grown flowers for its in-state customers. Details are at For more information on Slow Flowers, plus a directory of flower farms and Slow Flower florists, visit

Sage Advice
Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) fills late summer/early fall gardens with velvety purple flowers. By now, though, these workhorses look shabby and benefit from being cut back. Be sure to time your trim properly to rejuvenate the plant. Wait until new growth at its base is 6 to 8 inches tall before removing dry bloom spikes and tattered stems. Other plants that benefit from similar treatment now when new growth is visible include penstemon, Verbena bonariensis, ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia and other sages such as ‘Black and Blue,’ pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), ‘Indigo Spires’ and ‘Mystic Spires.’

Manzanita Magic
Are you looking for a handsome groundcover, shrub or specimen tree? There’s a manzanita (Arctostaphylos) for you. “Neat, clean and green” are words of praise that Escondido’s Las Pilitas Nursery Manager Valerie Phillips heaps on these California natives with striking red-brown bark, pendulous winter flowers and reddish berries. Here are five she recommends for garden settings where soils are lean and irrigation
is minimal. Find all at

•  ‘Louis Edmunds’ Manzanita (A. bakeri ‘Louis Edmunds’) — A specimen shrub or small tree growing to 7 feet tall and wide, this showy manzanita  (top left) has bright pink flowers, blue-gray leaves and bark “so dark it’s almost purple,” Valerie says.
It likes afternoon shade inland. 

• ‘Ramona’ Manzanita (A. glauca ‘Ramona’) — Native to San Diego County where the mother plant was found growing near a golf course, this fast-growing shrub (middle left) can reach 10 feet tall. White flowers contrast with blue-green foliage.
Las Pilitas introduced this species.

‘Sentinel’ Manzanita (A. ‘Sentinel’) — Upright growth, multiple trunks and soft pink flowers make this manzanita (bottom left) a garden focal point. “It grows anywhere,” Valerie says. It reaches 6 feet or more tall and wide and is a good companion for other colorful natives.

‘Carmel Sur’ Manzanita (A. edmundsii ‘Carmel Sur’) — This groundcover with gray-green leaves, red stems and white flowers thrives in coastal conditions where it tolerates a half-day of summer sun. Inland, limit sun exposure to early or late in the day. It grows to 2 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide. 

‘Sunset’ Manzanita (A. ‘Sunset’) — New growth on this unfussy, mounding shrub is copper-tinged, a contrast with its dense green foliage. Rough bark and pinkish white flowers add to its landscape appeal. It is fast growing to 5 feet tall and wide. Plant several together for an informal hedge.

Gold, pink and RED Ready
It’s time to start seeds for this summer’s bounty of tomatoes. Linda Sapp, owner of Tomato Growers Supply Co., has all the popular favorites, including ‘Black Cherry,’ ‘Big Beef,’ ‘Sun Gold’ and ‘Celebrity.’ But the Florida-based firm also sells tempting new varieties. Among them are the eye-popping ‘Indigo Cream Berries,’ a golden cherry tomato splashed with reddish purple (shown at right), ‘Chef’s Choice Pink,’ a hefty, hybrid beefsteak with pink flesh and heirloom flavor; ‘Sweet Aperitif,’ a vigorous red cherry tomato with balanced sugars and acid; and ‘Pozzano,’ a hybrid saucing tomato with classic ‘San Marzano’ taste. For these and more, visit  

Citrus Care
Starting this month through early summer, fertilize citrus trees to promote fruit production. High-nitrogen fertilizer is best. Give newly planted trees about a tablespoon and older trees a cup or more. Apply fertilizer in the basin around new trees and water it into the soil. For larger trees, scatter fertilizer under the canopy and beyond to reach feeder roots. Avoid contact with trunks. Repeat every four to six weeks until early summer. For more information on citrus care, consult the guide on the San Diego Master Gardeners’ website:

Landscape designer Dave Ericson is famed for sophisticated plant combinations that he describes as “floral arrangements that coexist and constantly change, creating pieces of art.” In 2014, a Del Mar garden he created was a winner in San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles’ Gardens of the Year con-test. On Feb. 8, he shares his techniques for creating colorful, textural garden vignettes in a presentation at the San Diego Horticultural Society’s monthly meeting. Admission is $15 (free for SDHS members). Details are at

Garden-to-Kitchen Herbs
Add to your culinary options by planting or expanding an herb garden outside the kitchen door. Herbalists Susan Belsinger and Arthur O. Tucker offer growing and cooking tips for 97 flavor-packed varieties — from black cumin to sassafras — in The Culinary Herbal (Timber Press, 2016). Their book includes instructions for harvesting, drying and storing.

And don’t forget to:

• Manage weeds awakened by winter rains. Pull and discard before they flower and reseed.

• Refresh ornamental grasses now and into March with the “big chop,” a cutting that takes them back by two-thirds.

• Check container plants to eliminate standing water that causes rot. If rainfall is intermittent, water as needed.

• Complete sowing bare-root plants, includ-ing roses, fruit trees, cane berries, straw-berries, artichokes, rhubarb and asparagus.

• Feed pruned roses after new leaves appear and turn green. For rose care tips, visit

• Delay planting bougainvillea and other tropical plants that don’t like cold, wet weather or soil. 

• Apply aluminum sulfate to the soil while flower buds are developing for pink hydrangeas to bloom blue later this year.

• Order summer-blooming bulbs like spider lily, crocosmia, tuberose and pineapple flower. 

• Purchase and install rain barrels to catch roof runoff. Check with your local water agency for available rebates. 

Categories: Garden Guide, Gardening