To Plant or Not to Plant?

Man, my garden is so needy!! I haven’t had time to write. How things change!  It was just a few weeks ago when I was itching to work in my garden and start planting and now WOW! I don’t have enough hours in the day to do all the gardening work I need to do. However, to answer the most asked question of the last week – It is ALMOST time to plant tomatoes and most vegetables. Go ahead and buy them if you can’t resist when passing them in the nursery, just don’t plant them yet.  Temperatures need to be consistently 50 degrees at night for them to be happy. We are almost there. I would feel comfortable planting late next week.  A few things may happen if they are planted too soon.  One – they may be fine and you can tell me “See I told you so”. Two – they may suffer damage from the cold such as curled leaves or dropped leaves or Three – they may just never reach their potential.  Eggplants are a good example of this.  Planted too soon, eggplants will sit there …….forever and do nothing.  Even when temperatures warm up and you think  “Hey now they will grow”, nope they don’t.

Some vegetables can be planted now.  Strawberries, chard, potatoes and onions can be planted if they haven’t already been .  Also, think about starting seeds inside.  I planted my tomatoes, eggplants and peppers a few weeks ago and they have already sprouted.  By the time they are big and robust the outside temperatures will be perfect for them.  I used my windowsill heat mats, 6-pack containers and seed starting mix and kept them moist and POOF I have tomato plants.  I bought quite a few interesting varieties at the Seed Bank in Petaluma.  They specialize in rare and heirloom seeds.  It’s a little over-whelming for the plant nerd but in a good way.  Also, the store is in an old historic bank thus the Seed Bank – too cute!!



My vegetable garden is mainly in-ground beds.  The soil is clay but I don’t mind.  I don’t rototill instead all I do is  1) Dig the hole my plant is to go in then  2) backfill with half the soil I took out and half nutrient rich compost. 3) I then put on a thick (3-5″) layer of compost on top and water in.  I make sure that the rest of the bed has a good thick layer of compost as well to ensure great water retention.  Seriously, one year I flooded my garden on drip overnight and I only had to water 3 times the whole summer. Seriously!!  Mulch is your best friend when it comes to vegetable and flower gardening.  I have some raised beds but because the soil are less clay and more organic and loose, I find I do have to water these plants more.

Rules get to be broken when planting tomatoes.  When one is planting it is never allowed to plant the stem deep into the soil. This is a sure way to kill your plant but with tomatoes this is your one chance to rebel and break some gardening rules.  Plants have the awesome ability at their leaf junctions to either produce leaves, stems, flowers or roots.  The hormones at these junctions (nodes) will ‘decide’ based on environmental cues.  When tomatoes are planted deep into the soil, the hormones will cause the plant to produce roots at the nodes.  The result is a bigger rootball faster.

So until night temperatures warm up a bit more focus on your flower garden, soil and of course controlling those obnoxious weeds that have gone crazy!!

Mediterranean Garden Talk!!!

Mediterranean Gardening

Tuesdsay March 4 5:30 pm

Cameron park Library

2500 Country Club Dr. Cameron Park

Plants for sale!!!!!

An hour long colorful PowerPoint talk focusing on soil amending and a slideshow of Mediterranean plants that will grow in the Sacramento region. Questions highly encouraged!!

It’s Spring…..Well According to Me!

I think it is very fitting that I was born on the first day of spring – March 20th.  With that said, I actually think spring starts a lot earlier!  Looking around I’m sure many of you would agree with me.  Spring to me means fruit trees blooming – check. Daffodils blooming – check. Roses breaking dormancy – check.  My camera has never been so busy.  Every where I turn I marvel in the new blooms.  It doesn’t matter that it happens every year, I am still in awe of new blooms of any kind. The following are some I managed to catch while out and about.  I am no photographer – I don’t have the patience to even read the manual that comes with my camera, let alone change settings from one picture to the next.

Magnolia x soulangeana Saucer Magnolia

Magnolia x soulangeana
Saucer Magnolia


The saucer Magnolias are easy to grow small trees.  They are grown for their beautiful showy flowers that scream “hey it’s the start of spring”. The rest of the year they are “eh” looking.  Give them morning sun, afternoon shade and a dose of soil sulfur if leaves are burnt and yellow. Too beautiful not to plant! Many different varieties.


Oxalis purpurea

Poor Oxalis, they get such a bad rap due to their horrific weedy cousin.  But there are so many other species including California natives and this South African native.  These do not spread like the weedy Oxalis, but really would you mind if this made its way through your garden?  I wouldn’t.  This one likes sun and goes dormant in the summer.


Camellia japonica (lost label so not sure which!)

Hello gorgeous!  Some flowers I love because of their gaudiness.  They are like the peacocks or showgirls of the flower world.  Other flowers are just elegant.  If they were people they would be Audrey Hepburn and this Camellia is just such one.  Understated beauty.  Camellias need acid conditions so keep soil pH below 7.  In less acidic soil areas, growing in a pot is a good idea.  Add soil sulfur twice a year to keep them happy.

Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata'

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

Why isn’t there a perfume called ‘Daphne’?  Because really, this one is one of the most wonderful scents there is.  Yes, the plant is a bit finicky.  Yep, it’s another acid lover but the pay off for a little bit more pampering is well worth it.  Love Love Love the scent! Morning sun or all day dappled shade in moist well draining soil will make this one happy.

Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens'  Honeywort

Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’

Honeywort is a little known annual but worth planting.  This cutie keeps re-seeding its self in my garden but in a really well behaved way.  It never grows past 2 square feet.  One of the late winter/early spring bloomers I just love. The only downfall is the small flowers dangle delicately down so I need to do some acrobatics and yoga moves to see the flowers head on.

Ribes sanguineum Pink flowering current

Ribes sanguineum ‘Claremont’
Pink flowering current

Ribes aureum Golden current

Ribes aureum
Golden current

Ridiculously beautiful! Should be outlawed to be so pretty and dainty! Reminds me of a whole bunch of little ballerinas. This Ribes is an easy to grow California native with short-lived flowers but nice foliage that makes it well worth growing.  The yellow Ribes aerum is just as showy without the dainty – just in case you don’t do dainty and need manly! Grow both in morning sun and afternoon shade.

Helleborus x hybridus Lenten rose

Helleborus x hybridus
Lenten rose

Someone I know can’t resist calling the Helleborus ‘hella-boring’.  Yeah sure it’s not the showiest flower or best foliage but there is just something about it. With so many new varieties that have interesting foliage and flowers other than their typical green, I’m a fan.  They look their best when planted in masses in a shady dry area.  Dry shade??  That alone is a plus!

Salvia spathacea Hummingbird sage

Salvia spathacea
Hummingbird sage

One of the easiest and most rewarding of the the California natives.  This hummingbird sage seems to bloom year-round.  This is a good thing because it has a rambling, messy growth habit but the blooms make you forget about its negatives.  Haven’t little kids mastered this? Don’t they  smile really cute after they have just caused destruction!  Grow this native in well-draining to moist soil in partial shade to full sun.

Aloes- including Aloe ferox (top)

Aloes – including Aloe marlothii (top left) and ferox (right)

The Aloes have been putting on quite the show for the last several weeks.  This is pretty phenomenal considering  the Botanical Conservatory specimens pretty much rely only on winter rains and as we know up until recently that has been a big fat ZERO. With beautiful interesting foliage, hummingbird attractants, bright showy flower, AND incredibly drought tolerant, why wouldn’t you plant a few species? They do prefer well-draining soil so amend with lava rock or plant on a mound.

These of course are not all the blooming plants right now – just a sampling of what is out there.  I hope I can actually get some work done at the conservatory instead of taking pictures!

Propagation 101

First of all – Thank Goodness For Rain. Hopefully this is just a start of some severe drenching. In the meantime I will continue doing what plant people do this time of year and propagate some plants.

For me there are two main forms of plant propagation – seeds and soft-wood cuttings.  There are many other types including air-layering, trenching and hard-wood cuttings but we will keep it easy. Right now I’m starting seeds inside on my new favorite find, windowsill heat mats. They really are too cute!  Only 3″ wide and 18″ long you can actually start a good amount of seeds in your own windowsill. If you have a cat it’s best to save a spot for them on the windowsill or else you will find your plants on the floor!

I’m starting peas in them, not because peas are hard to germinate in the ground, but because something ( I’m thinking grubs) is getting to them before I notice they have sprouted. This way I can plant and cover at the same time. Take that pea-seedling-eaters! Another reason to start seeds inside – flowers and vegetables faster! By the time night temperatures have stabilized, plants will be ready to go outside. Some plants do not transplant well – such as poppies – so sow those directly in the ground. Peat pots are good to use on plants that don’t like their roots disturbed. It’s good to cut a good amount of slats in them before they go in the ground however.


My second favorite way of propagating plants is via cuttings. Once spring growth starts, watch out!! Cuttings basically means you are cloning a desired plant. Many nurseries propagate this way because people tend to  want what their neighbors want. Speaking of neighbors, I’m not encouraging this or even saying I have done this… but if you absolutely have to have a plant your neighbor has, take a cutting! I mean you can tell your neighbors you are helping them by pruning their plants – but it is best to ask. Am I required by law to tell you to not clone plants with patents? Well I just did. Many plants take from soft-wood cuttings. Some do not. I will now tell you my sad, heartbreaking plant cutting story now:  For our biology classes we make sure students are able to see the different classification of plants. One such group of plants contains a plant called Gnetum. Our collection of these plants are getting old so to ensure we have them for the future, we needed to propagate. These plants form cones (not flowers) and sadly we have not been able to get ours to cone. I decided to try cuttings. After using many different size cuttings, different levels of rooting compound I ended up with one survivor but it didn’t have roots!! It just had leaves and continued to put on new leaves. Two years later – that’s right 2 years – it finally grew one pathetic root. I decided to risk it and pot it up. I babied this thing. I literally counted the drops of water that went into the pot. It put on new leaves and then…TRAGEDY!!  For those that heard the screams, they will live on in infamy.  I went to lift the pot but what I didn’t realize is some one placed something nearby which caught the corner of a leaf. When I went to lift the pot the whole plant ripped off the root system!! So sad. Well time to start again.

It’s very easy easy to take cuttings. Fill a pot with either a seedling starter mix, or a 50/50 blend of vermiculite and perlite. The 50/50 blend is medium of choice at the conservatory but sand, pumice or pure perlite can work too. Wet the medium in the pot first. Take your cuttings from the newest growth on the plant.  Generally spring is going to be the best time. Your cuttings need to have a  minimum of 2 nodes ( where the leaves grow from).  At least one node needs to be above the soil media and at least one below. Using a general rule of thumb, a 6″ cutting works to ensure several nodes.  Some plants do not need hormone to stimulate roots but for others it’s a must. Hormones can be found at almost all nurseries. Dab the cutting in the hormone and put in the pot. Multiple cuttings can go into a single pot since there is no root competition. For home growing – put pot in ziplock bag and control moisture by opening and venting it. Some plants such as Begonias and plants in the African violet family root from leaf cuttings too.  The new baby plants will start to grow from the base of the leaf.

Leaf cuttings from an African violet

Leaf cuttings from an African violet

African violet leaf cutting with roots

At the Botanical Conservatory we have also discovered a really awesome gadget that has made propagating some of our harder to clone plants much easier. The EZ-Clone system has micro-sprayers which provide the plants with the perfect mixture of moisture and aeration they need. We have had some incredible success. I’m now propagating at home with their home model. I can propagate 16 plants in this smaller unit.

Roots forming on a Begonia in my EZ-CLone unit. Took only one week!

Roots forming on a Begonia in my EZ-Clone unit. Took only one week!

EZ-Clone sitting by a sunny window

EZ-Clone sitting by a sunny window

Water-Wise Gardening Tips

I’m super excited for the prospects of rain as I write this recap of what I talked about on Good Day Sacramento yesterday regarding water-wise gardening.

I know not everyone wants or can remove their lawn, so a good way to guarantee water is not going to be wasted is to aerate. This is basically pulling out plugs of soil to allow better drainage. Professionals can be hired to come out and use their aerating equipment but there are also store bought versions. I even jokingly say using high heels works too. If you have ever gone to a wedding on a lawn you know what I’m talking about! Ideally an aerator should be used and not high heels which compact the soil… but it’s better than having water runoff.

If you want to replace your lawn with a more drought tolerant variety there are a few to choose from. UC Verde Buffalo grass comes in plugs and is slow to spread, but once established it weathers our tough summer climate. Blends of native grasses such as Native Bentgrass use 50% less water than standard mixes. Check out Delta Bluegrass Company for other mixes.

To really reduce summer watering, think about replacing your lawn with Mediterranean plants. There are five zones throughout the world with our climate (dry summers, wet winters).  Besides parts of California the zones are portions of South Africa, Chile, Australia and of course the Mediterranean basin. California natives are great to grow to support our native wildlife but mixing with other Mediterranean plants helps with year round interest. Think Aloes, lavender, rosemary, teucrium, grasses, and sages. Also remember – native does not necessarily mean drought tolerant. Ferns growing in the California redwood forests are natives. They would last 5 minutes in our summer sun!

If you love your existing garden and even if it is drought tolerant, adding 3-6″ of mulch will drastically reduce the amount of water needed. The clay soils in the Sacramento region are a blessing when it comes to growing drought loving plants. Clay holds a lot of water. Adding mulch will help to really keep moisture in. My three favorite mulches are wood chips from tree trimming companies, alfalfa hay, and compost. To have wood chips delivered, call local arborists.  They usually charge now for loads but it’s well worth it.  Alfalfa is easy to spread just by pulling chunks off. The alfalfa acts as a green manure too. Compost is great for the nutrients and the fact it can change your soil structure over time is a big plus. Remember to not place mulch up against woody trunks. This may cause rot. Leave a few inches around the trunks.

Drought or not, these are good suggestions for conserving water in any summer garden. So go enjoy the rain (hopefully) and mulch away!

A Rose By Any Other Name…..Still Needs to be Pruned

I’m not sure how roses got the reputation of being difficult.  It’s quite the contrary actually. Roses are incredibly drought tolerant, deal with over-watering and even take Alkaline soils for heaven’s sake. Picky they are not. Pruning them correctly however will definitely increase their health and magnificence of bloom so the following are my pruning tips and rules

I have roughly 85 roses. Do I prune them all? No way!  Many are ‘ramblers’ meaning I want them to grow out of control and take over everything near by.  Others are considered ‘landscape’ roses. You are familiar with those. These are the types that are found in parking lots and street medians. They do have their place in the garden and require pruning every few years.  I have ‘climbers’ that I prune slightly to manage. But I really only prune my ‘shrub’ roses and I have to admit I only do this every other year!! I have a weakness for ‘David Austin’ roses.  These are old English roses bred with modern roses to achieve the fragrance and look of old but the repeat blooms of modern roses. In my opinion, the more petals the better. I just assumed everyone likes these but I had one friend who likened them to bulldog faces and could not stand them. I’m sure Bulldogs and Bulldog owners have issues with this.

David Austin rose – lost label so do not know which one. But one of my many pink ones!


The source of most of my roses is Heirloom Roses. They propagate their roses by cuttings, thus no rootstock. I prefer this because I don’t have to worry about rootstock taking over (you’ll know if this is the case if your one time yellow rose is now blooming red!). Also, in my opinion they seem to me tougher. If there is no patent on a rose I propagate my own from cuttings. Super easy.  I prune every other year because my roses do just fine with this. Sure, if I pruned every year I would have less of a jungle to attack but they bloom just fine. When I do prune though, I cut back pretty heavily, dropping the heighth of the canes 18″- 24″ or leaving them slightly taller. No matter the height I still follow the same rules.

Most roses are hybrid teas which means most likely they are grafted. As such, the first rule of pruning is to look for any growth emerging below the graft. Prune this off. Generally you can tell by vigorous growing branches outcompeting surrounding foliage. As in pruning fruit trees, remove broken or crossing branches next. An open airy center is the goal for pruning roses. This allows air into the center for exceptional blooms and helps prevent pest and disease problems.

Before Pruning – 6′


After Pruning – 2′ high

Rot in center of branch

Bad sign – rot through a stem. Luckily it is just isolated to this branch which was completely removed.  In some cases just cutting a little bit below the last bit of black center is all that is needed. Dead branches are of course brown or black, but diseased ones can be grayish or very dull. When in doubt of a healthy branch, scrape a little bit of the surface. If green – it’s alive!

When making pruning cuts, find a bud facing outwards and prune at an angle. This prevents water from sitting on the wound and forces growth to grow outwards.


Pruning cut to an outward growing bud

I know there are many rules out in the garden realm for pruning roses. These are the ones I have adopted and so far I’m pretty darn happy with how many bouquets my roses provide for me! So the lesson here is – don’t fear the rose…. Just their thorns.