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Coffee grounds fill the space inside the tree's watering berm.
That unseasonable warmth got roses blooming.
Hardenbergia vine can be counted on to bloom during January and February when not much else is in color.
Chasmanthe is the other January/February dependable.
Even cuphea has been in color for almost a year!
"Cheddar" cauliflower was true to its name.
Tatsoi provides mildly-flavored greens all winter and through first summer heat - raw in salads, tossed into soups, or sauteed as a sidedish.
Bulbine bloomstalks elongate and stay in color all through Spring, Summer, and Fall.
    ​We do certainly seem to be having a real winter, finally, and lasting for longer than a couple of days!  Hoorah! 
     My husband always gets a kick out of my attitude toward whatever weather’s happening:  hot is wonderful for ripening tomatoes, cold is great for fruit trees’ chill hours, moderate and dry is fine for working in the garden. 
    But, now our wet drippiness is truly a gift to the garden as a whole, after all these years of drought and the driest February which should have been our wettest month. 
    So I go outdoors, stretch out my arms, turn my head up to the sky, and relish every individual drop, knowing that the garden is equally appreciative in absorbing all the moisture.
Coffee Grounds as Nutritional Mulch
    Two years ago, following a not-very-vigorous pea crop, I started mulching my bed with coffee grounds I’d picked up at Starbucks following some publicity about the company’s eagerness to give them away to gardeners. 
  Because coffee is acidic, I’d assumed that the grounds would be great for acid-loving plants like camellias, but not much else.  And, I figured I’d have to compost them before using them.
      But when the quantity of grounds that I could pick up went beyond my few acid-loving plants and threatened to overload the compost pile, I did some additional research.  I found that the grounds were more of a middle-of-the-road provider of a broad range of nutrients, and that they didn’t need to be composted first. They could be applied directly to the garden soil.
   This revelation made me shift into high gear, figuring I could help the entire garden with only the expense of gas to pick up the grounds a couple of times a week.  So, I found about a dozen Starbucks, Peets, and Trader Joes in a local area that I was potentially willing to drive to pick up grounds. 
    After approaching each store with my proposal, and some false starts, I established good relationships with the management and employees at three Starbucks and one Trader Joe’s.  I’d call them in the morning of any day that was convenient for me, and they’d save grounds for me to pick up later that day. 
     The first mass application went into that pea bed, turning in a two-inch layer of grounds into the top 4 inches of soil and compost.  That next year’s peas were strong and plentiful, so I knew they were benefiting from the grounds.
      Onto the rest of the garden!
     Since last Spring, all the raised vegetable beds and all the fruit trees have their two-inch layers.  The vegetable beds were done by September and have been beautifully productive all through the fall and winter.  
     We’ve just finished supplying the fruit trees, filling the space inside their watering berms a good two feet beyond their trunks with the grounds to foster nutrition to the root zones whenever the tree was watered.
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Figs are the best trees to begin your pruning since you can hack branches off and still get a lot of fruit.
Be careful of the new pink buds on boysenberry branches and coming up from the crown.
Rose pruned down to 3 feet height, leaving only strong canes.
Ipheon blooming.
Purple hardenbergia "waterfall" if pruned no later than August.
Lobelia latifolia.
     ​This time of year is supposed to still be winter with its cold weather and therefore the annual time for pruning deciduous fruit and nut trees. But, of course, we barely had a couple days where the air temperatures went below 50 degrees, and now these weeks of over-80 degree weather have the fruit trees and roses blooming. 
      So, do I prune or not?
    The short answer is YES, but hurry to accomplish the task. 
    In fact, I feel this is the best time for beginning gardeners to prune, since they can actually see the buds and therefore determine where to cut.
Basic Guidelines
  1. Remove crowded or crossed branches,
  2. Open the center of the plant for good light exposure and airflow,
  3. Repair structural weakness like broken branches,
  4. Remove vigorous vertical-growing branches (waterspouts).
  5. The height or width of the tree can also be reduced for easier harvest.
Additional Points
  1. Take care to not leave stubs or to overprune in any single year, as this encourages excessive new foliage and less fruit.
  2. Pruning cuts that are under one-and-a-half inches across don't need protective covering.
  3. Larger cuts can be painted with an off-white interior latex paint that has a matte finish, not a glossy one.  Glossy means it’s oil-based and will clog tree pores.
  4. Black asphalt substances or dark-colored paint, especially on south-facing surfaces, will concentrate the sun's heat, baking and killing the tissue that the tree is trying to heal.
     Pruning citrus trees requires a different approach -- basically, remove only dead branches.  Remove entire branches at the trunk. Heading branches back--cutting off only portions--will remove wood that would have blossomed and set fruit this coming season and stimulate more bushy growth.
     Cane berries are most easily pruned when all their leaves have fallen off and the buds have just begun to fill out and show their light pink color. The dead canes and the plant structure are then quite apparent, and the thorns are more easily avoided.
    When clipping away all the dead growth, be careful to not injure the new pink shoots at the crown. Then prune each strong cane from the root crown just above its point of attachment to the top horizontal support of the trellis.
    Prune side shoots just after the third strong bud. Spread and re-anchor the upright canes evenly along the trellis in order to keep the area open for good ventilation and promote the even spread of developing foliage.
   This pruning and trellising procedure will encourage strong growth of fruiting vines but not of unnecessary foliage.
     Although cutting down all dead and growing vines at the soil level in a clean sweep is an easy approach, it encourages weak bushy growth with only a few berries setting very low on the plant.
   An acceptable variation of this easier approach would be to clean-cut half of the berry vines every two years. Then, you'll always have a year-old patch to bear fruit the following summer, and can clear the other patch by clean-cutting.
     Prune grape vines after all the leaves have dropped to make sure it’s fully dormant. The choice of pruning approach depends on the specific varieties and trellis structure you have.
     Generally, grapes will bear on second-year growth, so prune to encourage this.
     Pencil-sized grape cuttings with four nodes can be used to start new vines. To identify which end is which, cut the bottom (root end) of the cane flat and the top (foliage end) at a slant.
     Bury the lower two nodes in the soil or potting mix in a container.  Don't be concerned if new foliage doesn't appear from the upper nodes until very warm weather, as the strong root system develops first.
     Prune established roses even if they have not lost all their leaves.
      Remove crowded or crossed branches
   Open the center of the plant for good light exposure and airflow. This may take just flicking off some emerging buds pointed into the interior of the plant with your fingernail.
    Prune branches straight across just above a bud that faces outward or toward a side that needs filling in.
   Remove any leaves that have dead or diseased portions, and destroy (don't compost) them.
    Wait to prune climbers and old-fashioned roses with a single bloom cycle in the spring until following that bloom.
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Self-sown sweet peas from last year remind me to sow edible peas and more sweet peas immediately.
Artichoke seedlings have different foliage - young leaves have no cuts, and older leaves look "true" to adult plants.
Asparagus harvest begins in third year, when stalks are the size of your middle finger. Leave smaller ones to feed the plant for its 15-to-20-year life.
Boysenberry tips root easily when they touch the soil. Ready for replanting!
Grape cuttings potted up to root.
Internet illustration of planting roses.
Just-planted fruit tree. Note wide hole with outer berm and filled with manure and mulch and coffee grounds following filling with water three times to make sure entire prospective rootzone is moist.
Lettuce harvest. Note that outer leaves are harvested, leaving smallest ones to continue growing. Milk containers will be placed over each plant to protect from munching critters (and frost if it happens).
Pink nerine starts months of blooms.
Paperwhites are blooming when they're supposed to, despite weird weather - what a concept!
Yellow bulbine blooms for 11 months on elongated stems.
First-blooming alstroemeria.
Sunflowers continuing blooming from last Spring.
Sky-blue salvia.
Cuphea has been blooming since October, perfect for Halloween with its batface!
Red-purple iochroma, beloved by hummingbirds.
Beautiful shaded rose.
Reblooming yellow bearded iris.
Delicately-colored clivia.
Deep purple undersides and pale pink blooms of Oxalis triangularis.
First flush of camellia color.
​     Even though our weather is milder than past Springs, it’s still January and theoretically Winter, with its low light and nighttime chill that makes plants grow so slowly. So it’s time to plant bareroot plants – artichokes, asparagus, grapes, berry vines, fruit trees – and seeds like lettuce, spinach, chard, tatsoi, bok choy, parsley, cilantro, peas and sweet peas. 
       I’d never gotten around to planting edible pea and sweet pea seeds before the holidays, but the self-sown sweet peas from last year that are sprouting up remind me to do it now along with planting my 4 new bareroot fruit trees.
Peas and Sweet Peas
     My husband likes to “do the work” of shelling his peas, so I sow a selection of varieties for him since he doesn’t seem to prefer one over the other.
     I, however, want to get as much food value as possible from what I grow, so I rely on Super Sugar Snap – the tall type that you eat the entire pod.  Although I’ve also grown the dwarf versions of Sugar Ann and Sugar Daddy in the past, I always come back to the tall ones that require trellising for both the quantity and size of peas, their flavor, and the length of their bearing period. 
     I sow the sweet peas on the east-facing side of the trellis which is less accessible, and the edible peas on the three remaining more-accessible sides. This is so I can more easily harvest the edible peas every day for the three-to-four weeks they’re bearing.  The sweet peas need picking only every third day or so.
   Despite the fact that the sweet pea pods are poisonous, they’re easy to distinguish from the edible pods when they’re planted and intertwined together.  Sweet pea pods are smaller and hairy and slightly gray-green, whereas edible pea pods are larger and smooth and bright clear green.
     I leave my double-decker trellis up year ‘round – for bean vines or cucumbers or even squash during summer.
     Dig a lot of compost and manure into the soil, and set artichoke roots with buds or shoots just above the soil line, spaced two feet apart.  Water them in.  When new growth emerges, deeply soak the area once a week.  Plants may last for 15-20 years, so provide them with lots of manure as mulch every year.
     Asparagus will grow and produce satisfactorily in partially-shaded areas such as next to a fence or a building, especially if the plants receive morning sun.
     Dig a lot of compost and manure into the soil, and set roots at least six inches deep and a foot apart. Cover them with a fluffy mix of soil, manure, or other organic mulch, and water in well.  
     Refrain from harvesting asparagus until the plant's third season, to enable the plant to gain strength. When you do harvest, cut only a few stalks that are the width of your middle finger to not stress the plant by leaving too few stalks to continue growing and feeding the rootsystem for future crops.
Berry Vines
     Tips from last year's berry canes should be well-rooted. Cut off the vine above the third node from the rooted tip and plant.
     Make cuttings of branches with three or four nodes, distinguishing the root-end with a straight-across cut, and the foliage-end with an angled cut so you know which end to insert into potting mix for rooting.
     When transplanting roses, add humus and potash to the potting soil, but be spare with nitrogen fertilizers, as these hasten new foliage which may be damaged by late frosts.  Apply the nitrogen fertilizers a month or so after foliage has unfurled.
Bareroot Fruit Trees
     I added four new fruit trees to my garden.
Fuji Apple is listed as needing more chill hours that my garden provides, but I don’t really like the low-chill varieties I’ve tasted so am willing to experiment.  I chose a planting location that’s shaded in the early mornings to hopefully keep its roots chilly longer year ‘round and perhaps foster better adaptation to my garden.
Royal Lee Cherry will pair with my Minnie Royal so they pollinate each other.  These varieties are supposed to do well in warmer climates.
Double Delight Nectarine is repeatedly voted as best flavored in Dave Wilson Nursery taste tests.
Jiro Persimmon, another Fuyu type to my existing 50-year-old tree will hopefully offset the old tree’s alternate bearing and ultimately take over as my main producer once the old one gets too old to produce much.
How to Buy and Plant
    Buy bareroot trees that have well-developed fibrous root systems, a single well-shaped leader, several side branches around the trunk, and no serious bark injury. Avoid trees with circling or tangled roots.
     Side branches should be smaller than the trunk and growing from it at angles between horizontal and 45 degrees.
     Dig the planting hole at least two feet wide but only as deep as the container or roots.  Loosen soil but don't add compost or manure – you want the tree roots to extend out into the native soil, and adding organic matter will make it more of a container that roots don’t want to leave. 
     Create a berm about three feet wide around the tree, and fill with water three times to make sure that the soil is thoroughly saturated throughout the prospective root zone. 
     Apply manure and compost as mulch on top of the soil and out beyond the drip line so its nutrients will “melt” into the broad expanse of soil with every rain. 
     Lots of goodies are coming out of the garden – four colors and shapes of leaf lettuce, two sizes of spinach, tatsoi, chard (still producing from last year), parsley, cilantro, and the first broccoli headlets. 
     Removing that first main broccoli head fosters side shoots to keep us in bitesize pieces through the beginning of summer heat.
     When harvests of broccoli or chard or tatsoi or other greens become greater than we can eat fresh immediately, I steam or saute up a whole batch with garlic, leeks or onions, and mushrooms, freezing it in meal-size portions for later use in soups, quiches or whatever.
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A real garden float highlighting fresh produce and community gardening! Internet photo.
Caterpillars are the good and bad boys in the garden. Internet photo.
Lots of posies, too. Internet photo.
Milk cartons protecting recently transplanted lettuce. To harvest, I remove the carton, harvest leaving smallest inner leaves, water, and replace the cartons for protection from munching critters.
That poor lettuce got munched overnight, without its milk-carton protection.
Placement when transplanting to accommodate mature height and harvesting frequency: tatsoi up front for frequent harvesting, then celery in center, and broccoli raab at rear. Buried 5-gallon buckets provide deep watering besides soaker hose wound throughout bed.
Harvesting tatsoi is similar to lettuce and chard -- outermost too-mature leaves go to the compost pile, edible next leaves harvested, and few inner leaves left to continue developing.
"Buttoning" cauliflower was stressed into creating its head too soon. Delicious but tiny. Pull the entire plant, since it won't get any larger or produce any more heads.
Salvia canariensis very "thoughtfully" sends up new folliage shoots at base of branches, so you'll feel confident to prune that low on the plant. Within a couple of weeks, the fresh new foliage will provide an attractive mound as it grows into its 5-foot mature height.
Brightly colored nasturtiums arise from the mulch, self-sown from last year's plants.
Short alstroemeria starts blooming.
    Weren’t the Rose Parade floats exquisite?  I’m always impressed with the variety of “natural” materials used to decorate them. 
        Remembering my senior year in high school (Yay, John Muir!) when our English class (Yay, Mr. Eberhart!) spent the whole last day doing the decorating in the cold float barns.  In those days, the truly cold temperatures of the season served the cut flowers well, keeping them spritely as we glued them on so they’d be more likely to still be perky throughout the next day’s sunniness on their way traveling down the parade route.
   That’s when I first became aware of the requirement that all decoration materials be natural, and the consequent strange pairing of what was used to become what – besides whole flowers, there were seeds and buds, leaves and individual petals, whole and ground herbs and spices.  Whatever form they came in and however they were manipulated to become faces or bodies or backgrounds, they hardly ever portrayed what they really were like orchids becoming orchids.  A real transmutation!  I still marvel at the lists of ingredients.
         This fascination makes a trip to see the floats for the couple of days after the parade even more interesting. 
     So what’s happening during our current “spring” that should be winter?
Lettuce and Tatsoi
      The lettuce and tatsoi that I transplanted a couple of weeks ago are protected by milk cartons with their bottoms cut off.  When I’d installed them, I’d intended them to provide frost protection.  But, as you know the weather warmed up to the mid-80s during the daytimes and mid-50s during evenings, so frost was a moot point. 
    As it turned out, those coverings became protection from munching critters.  When the foliage crowded the containers, I removed a couple of them and harvested the outer leaves.  But, the next evening I again visited the bed and found those plants munched down to their bases.  In the hopes of the plants recouperating, I watered the bed and replaced the containers.  Good thing I hadn’t removed more of them!
     Yesterday afternoon, I harvested the rest of the plants, leaving the two or three smallest interior leaves to continue growing, watered the bed, and replaced the containers. 
Beets and Celery
     Transplanted several weeks ago, they’re doing fine, just appreciating watering to keep the soil moist but draining well.
Broccoli and Cauliflower
     I’d removed the milk containers when the foliage peaked out the top hole, and watered the bed.  The foliage was crumpled for a day or so but straightened itself out fine when it could grow unimpeded. 
     Three of the cauliflowers “buttoned up”, forming one-inch-wide heads, so I harvested them.  Cauliflower is notorious for stressing out in this manner, and undoubtedly the sudden 80+-degree heat caused it.  Hopefully the others from that 6-pack won’t suffer the same fate.  Perfectly bite-sized and yummy, but definitely a lost opportunity to develop full-sized heads.
Planting Dormant Deciduous Fruit Trees
     I’ve purchased three new trees – Royal Lee Cherry to pair with my Minnie Royal (the two need each other for better pollination), Fuji apple, and Double Delight nectarine. 
     I’ve kept them in as shady spot as I have until I can get them planted so they’ll stay as dormant as possible until then.
Pruning Perennials and Roses
     Prune perennials down to the lowest several nodes on existing branches.  Salvias are especially helpful in indicating where to do this since they’re already pushing new foliage.  With this warm weather, they’ll become attractive mounds of fresh foliage within a couple of weeks.
     With this daytime heat and barely-cool evening temperatures, pruning of roses should be as thorough as possible – removing leaves as well – so the plants will be forced to go as dormant as possible, being able to rest a bit before being plunged into another year of producing flowers.
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Jugs on the transplants on the right offer insulation and protection from frost damage. Plants on left are waiting for their protection if frost threatens.
Repurposed deli tray tops provide frost and pest protection and accumulate daytime warmth to aid seed germination and growth of seedlings until they're large enough to remove the cover.
Old windows offer frost protection and accumulated daytime warmth. (Photo from the internet.)
Protected plant has outgrown its frost protection but may still be useful as pest protection if allowed to continue growing out of the jug.
     Yes, it’s definitely strange, talking about preparing for frost during 85-degree weather.  But that’s just another peculiarity in the world of gardening and especially during winter in Southern California.
     My Pasadena garden hasn’t had even “soft” frost – that briefly white light covering that appears early in the morning but disappears before the sunlight reaches it – for several years.
       But, with our evening temperatures continuing to edge down into the 40s, the prospect for frost resulting sometime in the next 2 months increases.    
     Frost may or may not happen this time around, but you’ll be really upset with yourself if your garden is damaged by a sudden bout of frost that you assumed wouldn’t happen.  And, you’ll be really pleased with yourself when you’re so relieved when the frost for which you prepared doesn’t materialize.
     So, on to some simple preparations that you can initiate if and when weather reports merit:
Water plants well, especially with our hot daytime temperatures and winds.
     The best frost protection for plants is to have sufficient water in the soil.  Plants that are fully hydrated resist frost damage better.
     But don’t fertilize plants until late January, since you don’t want to encourage new growth that might be damaged by frost.
Cover seedlings with repurposed plastic milk or water or soda jugs
     Cut off the bottom of the container, but save the top.  Snuggle the jug to left and right as you press it down into the soil around the small transplant.  This will create a mini-greenhouse environment to help the plant settle in, warming it during the day, holding some of that warmth into the early evening, and keeping out a couple degrees of cold through the night. 
     Using the top can be a bit tricky, however. Setting it loosely on top of the container through the chilly evening is fine, to enclose that extra bit of heat in the container for a couple of hours.  But, you must remove it early in the morning or you’ll have steamed plant shortly after the sun heats up the container. 
Cover growing beds with clear plastic sheeting.
     This will help concentrate daytime warmth and increase germination. 
     Be sure to anchor down the edges with soil or rocks to keep out slugs and others who love the succulent sprouts, and to keep the sheeting from blowing away. 
Cover tender plant foliage with large cardboard boxes, or drape old sheets or tarps on stakes over them.       
     Remove during the daytime so the plants can continue their photosynthesis.
Wrap citrus and other semi-tropical tree trunks with newspaper
     This will insulate against cold damage.
Cover tender plant foliage like bougainvilleas, fuchsias with plastic sheeting on stakes.
     Prop up the sheeting so it doesn’t touch the plant foliage, or it will conduct the frost directly to the foliage and damage it.
     Allow the bottom half of the plant to be open to the air.  Closing the sheeting may result in steamed plant.
Move dish cacti and succulents and potted trees under cover.
     Cold air falls directly down, so it’s most important to protect that space directly above a plant. 
     Rain also falls down, so best to keep cacti and succulents out of the direct line of the rain. 
     Both cacti and succulents and container plants require less irrigation during cold weather, with normal humidity providing sufficient moisture for the winter, unless it’s accompanied by wind, which dries out the plants.
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   Some 20 years ago, I first visited the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, shortly after it had become the first preservation project of The Garden Conservancy.  It was a wonderland of color, texture and form that in my mind are penultimately exemplified by cacti and succulents, especially succulents.  Visiting again two weeks ago, the two-decades-on growth has only increased this richness.
    Perusing the nursery shop in hopes of finding some of the rarities for sale, I heard a staff person relating Ruth’s visit the previous week in a cart traveling around the garden.  Now 109 and still living in her home on the grounds, she visits the garden relatively infrequently but still keeps track of “who” is planted where -- she had asked why a particular plant had been moved from one bed to another. 
    The 2.5 acre dry garden contains more than 2,000 cactus, succulents, trees, and shrubs native to California, Mexico, Chile, South Africa, and Australia.  For more information and to visit, see http://www.ruthbancroftgarden.org/
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Peruvian Lily
Several chard varieties. Even with relatively skimpy germination, LOTS of plants to transplant...and eat!
Stock is sweet-smelling and almost always in bloom.
First paperwhite bloom.
Bougainvillea loving this weather.
Zephyranthes - wand, fairy or rain lily - just repotted.
Begonia trimmed and potted up for more plants.
Amaranth with tan seeds set on right, and new plants on left - some coming and some going from early spring through late fall and sometimes into winter.
Sky-blue aster.
     No, that’s not a non-sequitur.  It’s gratitude that we finally have almost consistently mid-70s daytime temperatures and cloudy skies – perfect for starting seeds and transplanting without stressing them with brilliant hot sun afterwards.  Turning back our clocks is our cue that we’re really moving into cooler weather and consequently our overwintering edibles and posies.  Yay!
Plant Everything!
     While some of these plants may not grow much above ground untill early spring, they'll have well established root systems ready for the great growth spurt with spring's first warmth.
   Sow or transplant fava beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chard, coriander (cilantro), garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce (especially romaine types and small-heading Bibb and buttercrunch types, mustards, green and bulb onions, parsley, peas, radishes, shallots and spinaches. 
    Sow or transplant alyssum, Japanese anemone, baby's breath, bachelor's button  (cornflower), bleeding heart, calendula, campanula (canterbury bell, bellflower), candytuft,   columbine, coral bell, coreopsis, cyclamen, gazania, English and Shasta daisies, delphinium, dianthus (carnation, pinks, sweet William), forget-me-not, foxglove, gaillardia, hollyhock, larkspur, linaria, lunaria (honesty, money plant, silver dollar plant), lupine, penstemon, phlox, California and Iceland and Shirley poppies, primroses, rudbeckias (coneflower,  gloriosa daisy, black-eyed-Susan), snapdragon, stock, sweet peas, violas (Johnny-jump-up,  pansy, violet), and regionally adapted wildflowers’. 
California Natives
     Scatter regionally adapted wildflowers where you can let their seedpods mature and scatter for future volunteers.  Besides California poppies, include baby blue eyes, chia, clarkia, gillia and phacelia.
  Plant California native plants like ceanothus, grevillea, mimulus and sage, but disturb the rootball as little as possible.  Fill the planting hole with water and let it drain away before filling it with the soil dug from the hole.  Then fill the water basin again once the plant is in place to thoroughly settle in the rootball with the surrounding soil.
  Divide cool season native grasses like carex, calamagrostis, festuca, juncus, leymus, melica, muhlenbergia and stipa.  Also divide clumping perennials like heuchera, native iris and potentilla.  Water well until new growth appears. 
    Shear back Cleveland sage, coyote mint and galvezia by about one-third, and matilija poppy to the ground.
Still Have Some Lawn?
   Fertilize lawns with slow-release nitrogen for gradual, consistent feeding all winter long with the help of rains or irrigation. 
       Continue to mow the lawn as long as it actively grows to encourage branching of individual grass plants for a thicker, healthier lawn that chokes out weeds. 
​    Rake leaves off the lawn to allow air, light, and fertilizer to reach the soil surface. 
      Coat the underside of your lawn mower with used oil to inhibit rust and help keep grass clippings from sticking, thus enabling easier cleanup.
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Some seedlings ready for potting up. A couple of varieties didn't germinate at all, or skimpily. I'll give them one last chance, then toss the package and buy new ones.
Romagna artichoke started from seed and almost ready for transplanting.
Odontonema strictum - Firespike
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides - Plumbago
Begonia boliviensis - Santa Cruz Sunset
Hoya blossom
Rose hips
Acanthus - Whitewater
      Now that I’ve been looking forward to our cooler winter weather, it doesn’t seem to come, at least not consistently.  I know that in 3 months I’ll want to again have some of this heat, but for now I’d like to move on with my winter garden. 
     I’ve started some seeds in my Speedling® trays (available from www.groworganic.com), and some have germinated, so I’m debating whether to pot them up in individual containers or to just resow the empty cells. 
     Maybe I’ll do some of both – pot up the more developed seedlings, and let the scrawnier ones continue to develop in their cells. 
       If the resown seeds don’t germinate, I’ll toss those seed packets and buy new ones. Or maybe sow the remaining seeds thickly in a nursery bed, see if anything comes up, and transplant those later. 
      Such is the process even with seed packets dated 2015, which should have been fully viable.  But, you never really know what conditions the seed packets have been kept under at the store, and for how long. 
     This is why you should always purchase packets from a store that displays them indoors, out of the sun and away from frequently-opening doors.  This may seem strange, since the seeds will be ultimately be sown and grown outdoors.  But you want your seed to be kept in as ideal conditions for as long as possible before you purchase them and sow them. 
     And, keep in mind that different kinds of seeds remain viable for different lengths of time, even under ideal conditions.  Here are some examples of vegetables that I grow, from Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers, Third Edition, by Oscar Lorenz and Don Maynard, page 389 (with whom I worked years ago in the Vegetable Crops Cooperative Extension office at the University of California Davis):
1 year = onion, parsley
2 years = sweet corn, leek, pepper
3 years = asparagus, bean, broccoli, carrot, celery, Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, New Zealand spinach, pea, spinach
4 years = beet, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Swiss chard, kale, squash, tomato
5 years = cucumber, radish
6 years = lettuce
     These guidelines alert you to save the seed from year to year for only that limited time to assure that you’ll achieve good germination.  Even then, like with my current experience, the magic doesn’t always work. 
      Ah, well…reality….
      Just play more in the garden, having fun and trying something new that may surprise you with grand and unexpected success!
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Four new Celebrity tomatoes planted from 4" pots on August 15 are three feet tall and putting out blossoms. Yay!
Odoriko is the only old plant that I've saved because it's put out lots of blossoms. See how it's grown up on its double trellis and then grown back down on the outside, with green foliage at the end of 8-10-foot vines! Here's hoping they set and develop decent flavor!
Bulk puts up 7 blossoms. Anyone recognize? Is it a nerine? It's the only one I have.
Rain lily blossom?
Sprekelia. Love that intense red and totally weird shape! Raindrops from that welcome and unexpected downburst!
Amaranthus and feverfew.
Chinese onion blossoms and setting seeds.
Oregano blossoming. If cutting to dry, remove blossom head first.
Dancy tangerine blossoms and fruit set.
Variegated plectranthus' sky-blue blossom stalk.
Cuphea just in time for Halloween!
     Except for my four new Celebrity plants that I’d planted on August 15 replacing the fruited-out ones and already have some blossoms on them, and one old plant – Odoriko – that’s also got lots of blossoms on it, I’ve given up on my other tomatoes that I’d hoped would set more blossoms and pulled them out. 
     Even the other new 4”-size tomatoes I’d planted along with the new Celebrities pooped out during that last heat flush.  So, I’ve been thinking about the varieties I grew this year and which ones to plan on again for next year.
     First, my conclusions:
Harvest:  485 tomatoes between June 7-August 10.  The heaviest single day in terms of numbers was June 23, with 55 Sungold fruits.  The heaviest single day of larger fruits was July 29, with 46. All of this resulted in dinner-plate-fulls of freshly cut tomatoes for each of us every day – and I do mean every single day – during those nine weeks.  The slight flavor and textural differences between the tomatoes-of-the-day made for new taste discoveries and preferences. We never did get beyond a bit of salt or mayonnaise -- it seemed a waste of the exquisite tomato flavor to add a more intense dressing or to cook them! But that’s why I choose the varieties I do – for eating fresh! So we’ve been blissfully happy for all those weeks!
Favorites:  Cherokee Purple, Black Krim, Celebrity
Second Favorites:  Sungold, Ace, Stupice
Others I’ll grow again, hoping for better yields:  Pink Brandywine, BrandyBoy, Chocolate Stripe, Isis Candy, Jaune Flamme
     Now, my thoughts on each of the varieties, in alphabetical order.
Fruits were only the size of large cherry varieties but plentiful and fully flavored.  Interestingly, the beautiful turquoise fruit beetle that usually concentrates on my fig trees pestered only the Ace tomato, alone of all the tomato plants.  42 fruits between June 14-August 4.
Big Rainbow (mislabeled Tangerine type?)
Having grown Big Rainbow in the past and getting large, unevenly shaped and somewhat mushy fruits that were multicolored yellow-orange-red both in skin and in flesh - and also having grown Tangerine last year that were evenly colored orangey-yellow both outside and inside and also somewhat mushy - I’m sure that the two plants I grew this year that were labeled as Big Rainbow were mislabeled Tangerines or something similar.  I remember liking my previously-grown Big Rainbow and Tangerine plants more for their coloring than their flavor and texture.  This determination carried through with this year’s Big Rainbow-labeled plants as well.  So I won’t bother with either Big Rainbow or Tangerine in the future.  Instead, I’ll try different varieties of those brilliantly varied colors. The two plants bore 37 fruits between June 23-August 2.
Black Krim
Plentiful numbers of large delicious and beautifully dusky-colored fruits.  Too delicious to not grow again!  23 fruits between June 27-July 29.
Brandy Boy
Large and nicely flavored fruits relatively early in the season, although not prolific.  I’ll try them again next year, hoping for more fruits. Only 8 fruits between June 23-July 29.
Absolutely one of my favorites.  Four plants provided about four fruits every couple of days.  They set heavily and stay relatively firm on the branch until harvested as desired, which isn’t the case with any other variety.  While they do sometimes split at the stem end with uneven watering, the break callouses over and the fruits continue holding well on the plants for at least several days without spoiling.  I’ve grown them every year since I first became aware of them in the late 1980s because, to my taste, they’re the perfect blend of acid and sweet and fully flavored. They were a 1984 All-America Selections award winner.  84 fruits from June 16-August 10.
Cherokee Purple
Plentiful numbers of large delicious and beautifully dusky-colored fruits.  I saved seed from Cherokee Purple fruits that bore in June so I’ll have my own early-bearing cultivar for next year’s garden. Next year I’ll also save seeds from the latest fruit of the season so I’ll potentially have an even longer season of fruits adapted for my garden.  Two plants bore 39 fruits between June 14-August 2.
Chocolate Stripes
Attractively brown-and-green-striped fruits – almost like holiday decorations – were mid-to-large in size and nicely flavored.  I’ll grow again next year. Only 13 fruits from July 3-29.
Green Zebra
I’ve grown this variety a couple of times and enjoyed the novel striping and coloration, especially as it turns from green to chartreuse as color-coding that it’s ripe.  But the flavor has been more tart than I liked, and the yield not impressive.  So I think I’ll give up on it for next year, perhaps in favor of another similarly-colored variety.  Only 11 fruits between July 9-29.
Isis Candy
I’d grown this twice before, and tried again as a contrast with Sungold.  This time, however, planting was an afterthought without soil preparation, and the plant neither thrived nor set any blossoms before dying, so I didn’t really give it a chance.  So, I’ll grow it more attentively next year.  No fruits.
Jaune Flamme
I grew this for the first time this year at the suggestion of a friend who grows only this variety on her patio. I must admit that I planted it in an out-of-the-way spot between two fruit trees without additional fertilization, next to that Isis Candy.  It didn’t do well, but despite this neglect I did get fruits that were orangey yellow and tasty.  So I’ll grow again with proper attention.  Only 6 fruits between June 16-July 11.
I’ve grown this variety on and off for years.  This year, they were only okay in flavor and yield, but not worth my growing again next year when I’ll choose other varieties new to me.  In the meantime, since this plant is the only old one that’s put out a bunch of new blossoms, we’ll see what results!  Only 8 fruits between July 9-29.
What a disappointment.  I’ve grown these and Hawaiian Pineapple several times in the past and never really been happy with them, despite being so hopeful with that evocative name and promise of brilliant coloration.  I think I’ll finally give up on them and choose some other varieties.  Only 5 fruits between July 3-24.
Pink Brandywine
Large fruits in good numbers and nicely flavored relatively early in the season.  I’ll try them again next year. 22 fruits between June 27-August 10.
I first grew this Yugoslavian native to give my Mother a variety from her homeland, and have continued to enjoy its yield and flavor and small-to-mid-sized fruit ever since.  27 fruits between June 16-August 2.
I’ve become less enamored with Sungold over the years since it first became popular years ago.  The fruits are small enough that I have to pick a lot, which would ordinarily be ok except that they’re prone to staying firmly attached to the vine and frequently split before and after picking; and then the split ones must be eaten within a couple of hours or they’ll get moldy by the next day, even when refrigerated.  They are tasty on the sweet end, and handily alert the picker when they ripen – they turn from yellow to orangey gold.  But this year, despite the wonderfully plentiful first flush, they quit bearing and setting blossoms much earlier than the other tomato varieties I grew instead of being dependable through to cool weather.  152 fruits from June 7-28.
More Tomato Information
     www.tomatodirt.com is an informative and entertaining website with extensive varietal information, growing tips, and fun items like jokes and trivia.
     www.johnnyseeds.com – Although Johnny’s is centered in Maine and completely different from our SoCal climate, I’ve depended on its thorough cultural information since I first started gardening.
     www.tomatogrowers.com is a wonderful resource of available varieties in many sorting modes including season, color, size, etc., that I’ve also used since I first started my own plants from seed.
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Beautiful blue-purple artichoke blossom
Artichoke seeds at the very base of the "hair" above the formerly-edible petals
Beautifully varied colors of different bean varieties. (Photo from internet)
Chocolate Daisy blossoms and seeds. Blossoms really do have a chocolatey fragrance!
Lettuce at the back is bolting and setting blossoms. Lettuce at the front was planted later and is still edible.
Lettuce seedstalks covered with paper bags to hold seeds untill they all mature but aren't allowed to scatter in the garden.
Nicotiana sylvestris seeds have sown themselves in my garden since I purchased a seed packet some 30 years ago at the Thomas Jeferdon Center for Historic Plants at Monticello.
Chili peppers dried till they're crispy dry (photo from internet)
Stock seedstalks and green sideshoots that continue growing and blossoming.
Sunflower seedhead reveals seeds that look just like storebought and can be eaten immediately!
     Plants that have gone crispy dry are prime for harvesting their seeds to replant in next year’s garden.  These “dry” seeds – like artichokes, beans, Chocolate Daisy, nicotiana, peppers, stock and sunflowers – don’t require any effort beyond separating the seeds from the pods, saving them in a paper (not plastic) bag or container and storing them until their sowing time next Spring. 
     But the pods must be absolutely crispy dry.  Any residual moisture will potentially rot the saved seeds by the time you want to plant them.  See below for more detail per specific plants.
      Other “wet” seeds that have their seeds encased in a gelatinous substance – like cucumbers, squash and tomatoes – must undergo a fermenting process to remove the potentially virus-containing jellylike coating.  For this process, see my blog from August 3, 2016 -- http://www.gardeninginla.net/blog/saving-seeds-from-non-hybrid-vegetables
     This was the first year I let one of my artichoke plants completely ripen its pretty blue-purple blossoms into tan fluffs.  I struggled to find the seeds in the fluff, assuming that they might be like sunflowers, at the base of the fluff. 
     They were, but firmly ensconced right at the base of the hair and the what-used-to-be-edible petals.  While they were really hard to pry apart, there were lots of seeds, maybe a quarter of a cup just from that one blossom! 
    Romagna seedlings I’d started last Spring are almost ready to be transplanted into the garden.
     I’d been inadvertently saving beans from the first that appeared in June.  Some had developed too much for me to want to eat them – with the beans fully formed inside the green pod – so I’d picked them and tossed them aside and forgot about them. 
     This last week, I picked all the remaining beans that I’d purposely left maturing on the no-longer-irrigated plants.  Just out of curiosity, I also retrieved those that I’d tossed aside months ago, and they appeared to be just as dry and mature. So now I have a nice selection of early-bearers and late bearers spanning the whole season.
   Breaking open the crispy pods revealed the beautiful colors of the many varieties.
      Although my lettuce bolted and went to seed late last Spring, and I grow lettuce only during our cool weather, I’ve included it here as a point of technique.
Because the many little flowers on the lettuce seedstalk mature over several weeks’ time, I enclose the entire seedstalk head in a big paper bag so the seed stays in the bag rather than self-sowing all over the immediate area. 
     Once you can snap off the seedstalk, the seeds are mature.  But, if there’s the slightest wiggling when you bend the stalk, and it doesn’t immediately snap off, it’s not yet completely dry, so leave it to dry another week or two.
     Store the bag with the seedhead indoors anywhere that’s dry, moderate temperature and dark. 
     When you’re ready to sow the seed later this Fall or next Spring, there’s no need to separate the seed from the chaff.  Just grab handfuls, crush the dry plant matter to release the seed from its little seedheads, and scatter over the soil surface.  That bit of chaff will help anchor the seeds and provide a bit of shade to help them germinate. 
Nicotiana sylvestris
     I’ve had this plant repeat-seeding in my garden since I purchased seed at the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at Monticello some 30 years ago.  It just keeps self-sowing.  For more information, go to https://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/thomas-jefferson-center-historic-plants
     As you see in the picture, it matures individual seed pods and self-scatters its seed, while continuing to blossom and develop more green pods.  So it’s a long continuous season of growing and reseeding.  And this plant is just the latest descendent of those first seeds – definitely acclimatized to my garden!
      Whether “sweet” or “chili” types, let peppers dry till they’re crispy, either individually or the whole plant. 
    When you open up the dried-up fruit, you’ll retrieve the seeds only.  The connecting flesh holding each seed onto the inner rib should have dried completely, so the seeds fall into your hand.  If they don’t, then set the whole fruit aside in the sun so it’ll dry completely.
       Stock develops and matures its seedstalk but also sends up a side shoot that continues growing and blossoming.  The seedstalk is made up of several branches of seedpods that are about two inches long and will pop open lengthwise and scatter their seeds.
       To save the seed for sowing in a different location, place a paper bag over the entire seedstalk and cut from the still-living plant. 
    Sunflowers are perhaps the most fun seeds to collect because you can eat them immediately, and beginning gardeners can see precisely where they come from since they look just like they do in the package at the store, although in different shapes and sizes for different varieties. 
Why Store Seeds in Paper Bags Instead of Plastic?
     The critical point of maturity in harvesting seeds is that they must be crispy dry to assure that they’re mature enough to germinate successfully.  When storing the seeds, the container must also keep them crispy dry.  Since paper bags allow their contents to “breathe”, this allows even the merest amount of residual moisture to escape.  Plastic containers won’t allow this, so the potential for spoilage is much higher.
     After you’ve written the name of the seed and the date on the bag, store it in a dry place with little temperature fluctuation and no light.  An interior closet is ideal. 
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