August Gardening To-Do Tips
Color in the August garden
In the August garden the weather continues to be somewhat unpredictable, but it has still been on the mild side so far this summer. I’m finding fruits and vegetables in my garden are behind schedule and many edibles and flowers are setting fewer seeds and fruits than usual. I’m hoping this is just an idiosyncracy of the year rather than a sign of something bigger. We shall see. In the meantime, here are some tips on gardening to-dos for the month of August — this month and in summertimes in general.
- Water lawns slowly and deeply early in the morning. The second choice is to water in the evening. Evenings allow the water to penetrate with little evaporation, but the combination of moisture and dark can encourage fungal infections. Try to finish watering well before dark so the grass surface has a chance to dry out before night sets in. If you see mushrooms sprouting randomly, it’s a sure sign you are overwatering. If small mushrooms form a ring in the lawn, you need to treat with a fungicide; these are ‘fairy rings’ – a fungal infection that can do serious damage killing the grass inside the circle.
- If the weather gets hot, enjoy any and all of your water features. Use your pool and sit by the fountain. The sound of running water can be very refreshing even if the temperatures are not.
- If you have a pond, keep removing dead leaves and pick spent flowers from water plants. Feed fish lightly. There is enough food provided by Mother Nature to keep them alive in most ponds. Feeding them is fun for both fish and pond owners, but you can do more damage by over-feeding than underfeeding your fish. Too much food will go uneaten and rot into the water raising acidity and threatening the balance of the pond. String algae can build up in the ponds at this time of year and clog all your systems. It’s important to keep the green stuff pulled before it creates problems.
- If you use drip irrigation, make it a habit to patrol your garden and look for chewed or broken tubing. Rats and rabbits love gnawing on the drip irrigation lines. Tubing is easily fixed with a straight connector. But you won’t fix what you don’t know about. Broken pipes and tubing will endanger plants further down the line you think are getting watered but are not. Also check sprinkler heads for clogs or breaks. If you have an irrigation system that comes on early or late you might not notice there is a problem until things turn brown or your water bill goes sky high. Getting in the habit of regular checks will save you from most of these problems.
- Keep fruits and vegetables picked to encourage more production from your plants. Try netting or net-bagging your produce while it ripens to discourage gnawing pests. By the end of the month you can consider seeding an early start for some of your cool season vegetables. Go light since it is still hot and you can add more seed next month. Plant broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, peas, leeks, root crops (like beets and carrots), and fava beans. Hold off on lettuce. Lettuce seed tends to germinate poorly if temperatures are over seventy degrees.
- This is not the best time of the year for planting California natives. You can plant them if can keep them well-watered. Many are in dormancy at this time of year so don’t expect them to look perky. All natives will need extra help getting through the shock of planting in summer heat. It will be better if you can wait for next month. Succulents and cactus plants are easily transplanted in the heat and dry so this is a fine time to put them in the ground.
- Compost piles should be ‘cooking’ nicely if you remember to keep them moist. You shouldn’t need any fancy additives for them to break down in the summertime. If you want to make the whole thing easier, buy a barrel composter so all you have to do is turn it to keep it mixed. A manufactured composter will also be less likely to attract rodents.
- If you decide to do planting this month, make sure to keep new arrivals well watered. If you can rig up some shade cloth for new plants in full sun, an extra week of transitional shade should keep them from burning in their new locations.
- Clear away brush and any build-up of dead leaves in the garden and around the house. Sweep out gutters of dried debris, too. Thankfully this year has been quiet with only a few minor wildfires. We can hope it is a good season, but it’s best to be prepared for anything. Keeping your home clean will not only protect you from the threat of wildfires, but it will discourage pests like rodents and insect invasions.
- Deadheading flowers will keep plants blooming longer, especially annuals. Clip off spent blooms so others can bud up from beneath. A light pruning to keep plants shapely will keep the garden tidy. Wait another month or two for larger pruning jobs. And consider collecting any seed setting on your favorite plants to grow for next year. Most seed will keep well in glass jars. The small jars from baby food are perfect for small seed.
- Enjoy our lovely cool evenings outdoors by sharing your garden with friends and family. We have relatively few insects to taunt us after dark, so the evening garden is a wonderful place to spend the later hours of the day.
A starter list of citrus trees for the Southwest garden
The small fruits of the kumquat
Citrus trees are favorites in the Southern California garden, and deservedly so. These trees can grow from dwarfs of only a few feet high to lofty shade trees. They have smooth, glossy leaves and remain evergreen year round. Flowers are relatively small and white, often blushed pink, but they perfume the air with a heady sweet scent. Citrus trees can be decorative in the landscape design. Some dwarfs are happy in large pots – particularly handy where space is at a premium or in higher, inland elevations where these plants need to be moved to areas that are protected from frosty temperatures. Since there are hundreds of citrus varieties, here is a list of some of the most popular or interesting varieties that do well in Southern California. Plants that come in both standard and dwarf forms have a (D) after the name.
- Oro Blanco (D)
- Red Rio (D)
- Star Ruby (D)
- Cocktail Hybrid
- Eureka (D)
- Improved Meyer (D)
- Pink Lemonade (D)
- Pomona Sweet
- Algerian (D)
- Dancy (D)
- Gold Nugget (D)
- Satsuma (D)
- Bearss Seedless (D)
- Mexican (D)
- Mexican Thornless (D)
- Kaffir Lime
- Sweet Lime
- Australian Finger
- Cara Cara (D)
- Fukomoto navel
- Moro Blood (D)
- Robertson Navel
- Valenica (D)
- Valencia ‘Midnight’
- Washington (D)
- Fingered Citron
- Taveres Limequat
The white flowers of this lemon tree may not be showy, but they smell delightful!
There are plenty more citrus tree cultivars and varieties in addition to the ones listed here. These are some of the more interesting, flavorful, available or easy to grow in the Southern California area. As you can see, there are a lot of dwarf citrus trees available so you can find at least one or two spaces to grow them. Choose the best kind for your local soil and climate.
The November garden
As soon as all the hustle at Halloween time is over, preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday appears on the horizon. It’s November in the Southern California chaparral, and this is a great month to take time to put your garden to work balancing out holiday stress and burning off those extra calories with garden projects. The days are shorter so with or without rain, you can cut back on irrigation. If it’s dry, add a little more hand-watering in vulnerable spots where Santa Ana winds might dry things out. Work in the garden can can be both therapeutic and enjoyable this month. Here is a general November garden list of things to do now.
Clean up and batten down: it’s time for the Santa Ana winds. We live in the canyon between the high desert and the San Fernando Valley and this is a main corridor for winds to develop at this time of year as high pressure systems set up to the east. Winds can whip up to blustering forces so make sure your garden is ready. Rake up leaves and put away anything that could get whisked away in a powerful gust. Remove any brush or dried plants near your house. Don’t forget to clean gutters, too. Collected trash invites rodents, plugs up drains that could flood parts of your garden or your home when it rains, and creates a flammable foothold for flying embers should a wildfire decide to sizzle your way. If you want to use containers or pots in your landscape, opt for the heavier ceramic or cast cement types that will not be affected by the autumn winds.
Plant out hardy plants and seeds in the garden. Drought-tolerant plants and California natives tend to suffer less shock when planted in the cooler temperatures and shorter days of November. This is also a fine time to add wildflowers to your landscape. Sprinkling out a fistful of wildflower seed is a perfect way to fill in large open areas with colorful blooms in the spring. Keep everything well watered until seeds are germinated and roots of the newly planted are well established. Winds will dry out the surface of the soil quickly. The best way to get good germination is to scatter your wildflower seed a little at a time the day before rainfall is predicted. By planting seeds in succession you will get a longer blooming period in spring. And whenever the forecast is right, natural rain will be effective in planting the seed and germinating it fast, before the wildlife decides to gobble it up.
Cut back more on lawn watering. Unless you are over-seeding with a winter annual grass to keep lawns green year round, you can save yourself maintenance and money while helping out the water reserves. Most lawn grasses in our area, like Bermuda grass, will NOT die, but will simply go olive colored and stop requiring to be mowed. To keep your lawn healthy, this is also a good time of year to aerate the grass area. You can use a manual tool or a machine. Either one will dig out little plugs of soil allowing rain to penetrate better and air pockets to form that will help growth in the spring. Of course, if you really want your property to be low maintenance, you can reduce your lawn to only the most functional space and substitute a drought-resistant garden, permeable paving, a sports area, a vegetable garden or some other more useful or decorative garden feature.
Seeding root crops and winter edibles in the vegetable garden. It’s not too late to plant lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, leeks, onions, chard and peas. Or opt for buying multi-packs or four inch containers of these same vegetables that are already started and several inches big. Add rhubarb roots in the shade and plant a whole crop of onions and garlic with packages of small starter onions or from seed. Root crops will usually germinate reasonably well even in February. Give plants a little extra water to help them settle in. Especially if it is windy. You might also want to get a jump on the spring season by starting some of the warm weather crops indoors. You don’t need a greenhouse, a well lit window will do the trick. Just make sure you don’t let the planting medium dry out. Some long season, warmth loving edibles that will appreciate the early start are tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers and eggplants.
Have a holiday garden hunt. The holiday season can find gardeners overstressed and families at home wondering what to do. You can turn your garden into fun for the kids or a family project by making holiday decorations together. You might even want to gather together some of your children’s friends or the neighborhood kids to put together a nature treasure hunt. It may be old fashioned, but it usually derails the hi-tech generation from their devices for a few hours in an entertaining project that focuses them on some of nature’s miracles that don’t require anything to be plugged in. Look for interesting seed pods, sticks, pine cones knocked down in the wind, or anything else that might create an interesting centerpiece or wreath with the addition of a colorful bow. Or set your collectors to inventing their own decorations and stimulate young imaginations.
November in Southern California can offer a wide range of weather conditions. It also brings friends and families together. Use your garden. It will not only offer you a chance to make your landscape productive, but can be a source of entertainment, creative projects, or just an opportunity to slip away to the comforts of nature when the everyday demands become stressful.
Freesia bulbs offer colorful flowers with a delightful perfume when in bloom.
Bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers are nature’s clever little storage packages that contain all the ingredients for new plant life. They come in hand-sized, easy-to-handle forms that make planting clean and easy. And when they come into bloom, they can be as showy as the fussiest of glamorous tropical bloomers. Here are some bulb-planting tips that should help you get the most of their unique habit of growth.
As the summer cools, early spring bulbous plants can be planted where soils don’t freeze hard. The end of winter and early springtime is a good time to plant summer and autumn bloomers in warm climates or to plant all bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers in cold winter areas. Here are some tips to help guide you with planting these handy little dormant packages.
- Plant the right kinds of bulbs for your soil and climate.
- Set them in place during the right season for blooming in respect to how cold your winters are likely to be.
- Follow the directions on the packaging.
- If there are no directions, make sure bulbs are set down at a depth of at least twice their size. Rhizomes need to be close to the surface of the soil.
- Plant shade-lovers in the shade and sun-lovers where they will get adequate sun.
- Surround bulbs with wire basket s to protect them from gophers and other munching, tunnel dwellers.
- Add a pinch of bone meal at the bottom of the hole before setting the bulb in place.
- Plant smaller bulbs in groups for a mass effect.
- Naturalize small, early-blooming bulbs at the edge of lawns for an informal look.
- Set bulbs where the dying foliage will be hidden by other surrounding plants or rocks.
- Always let the foliage die down to yellow or brown before removing it.
- Consider forcing bulbs like Amaryllis, Cyclamen, Narcissus and Freesia indoors in the winter to bring colorful flowers inside during the months of winter.
Bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers can give the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to flowering. They may put on a very short-lived display, but it will be a colorful one! And if you treat them right, they’ll come back again with an even bigger and bolder show for next year.
Colored foliage blends with May-blooming Verbena rigida in my Southern California garden.
Although this article is being written in May of 2012, even with weather changes, the information should be helpful year after year. So check out this May to-do gardening list for Southern California as a reference this month and every May to come.
It’s been yet another odd weather year here in Southern California. Winds took their toll, especially on shade and fruit trees. The month of May will require a little extra pruning and clean-up in addition to the regular to-do list in the garden. Combine regular garden grooming along with care for the growth you can expect this month. May is one of the most active months for blooming California native plants, wildflowers and for cropping the end of the cool season vegetables.
Take advantage of some of the best weather for gardening. Get out and garden like crazy before it gets too hot. Preparing your garden well in spring will guarantee better results later. It’s time to put in annuals and perennials, hardy and delicate plants and all the warm-season vegetables. Avoid cool season crops like lettuce, peas and cabbage as they’ll languish in the coming heat.
Got compost? Dig it into the soil now. If not, this is a great time to start up a compost heap as you clean up the garden. Use compost over the surface of flower and vegetable beds alike. If you don’t have compost of your own, buy it in bags or try another mulch material like bark chips that will slowly break down and offer organic matter to our hungry soils. A top dressing of mulch will help keep moisture in the soil as we head into the long dry season. It will also insulate underground roots from hot, burning sun in inland gardens.
Time to take another look at irrigation. Set your watering systems onto early morning irrigation and look into some of the newer timers for sale that will save you a whole lot of time and energy by automatically adjusting your watering systems for you. Put together soaker hoses and drip systems to keep your garden plants strong and healthy while reducing your water bills. Most gardens will benefit from more than one type of irrigation system. Trees will like slow, deep watering, lawns need broad sprinklers, drought-tolerant gardens will do well with drip irrigation, and so on.
Add something new. With the crash in property values, it might be the perfect time to spruce up your garden with big additions like spas, barbecues, swimming pools or other features you always wanted. Design in fountains, ponds or patio areas that will make outdoor living a pleasure in coming months. Then at least you can luxuriate in your backyard space while you wait for housing values to come back.
May is the perfect month for gardening in Southern California. It is likely to offer an assortment of weather from cool to hot, moist to dry, sunny to foggy. There should be many days that will match your favorite outdoor gardening weather. Take advantage of them and dive into spring gardening.