April in Southern California is perfect for playing in your garden. The days are longer and warmer and there’s always something to do. Plant every chance you get. Local garden centers are loaded with all that new and interesting this month. Drop by discover something exciting.
Work with what you’ve got. If you would like to grow herbs and vegetables but don’t have a large space consider establishing a container garden. A variety of inexpensive pots in various shapes and sizes can be used to cultivate a ‘patio garden’. In pots or in the ground, group tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro together and you have a ‘salsa garden’. Be creative in the space you’re allowed.
Color: Asters, Coleus and Zinnias are showing up in the garden centers now. April is one of the months with the largest selection of flowering plants available. Be creative and make your own hanging baskets and potted patio plants using some of your favorites. Continue to dead head all flowering plants for optimum flower production.
Fruits & Vegetables: Plant Citrus, Bananas, Avocados, Guava and other frost sensitive fruit trees this month. Fertilize existing fruit trees to help promote good fruit production. Additionally, thin excess fruit from young trees before the fruit reaches the size of an almond. This will prevent undue stress being put on the tree. Peaches should be thinned to every 5″ on alternate sides of the branch with plums, nectarines and apricots spaced at every 3″. Time to put in vegetables such as beans, corn, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes if you haven’t done so. Also plant melons, squash and gourds.
Lawn:If you have a problem with crabgrass, apply a pre-emergent herbicide before it gets out of control. Mow your lawn frequently – every week. To keep a healthy lawn, never cut more than 1/3 of the length of the blade of grass. Fertilize regularly. Your lawn needs between 3-5 inches of water in April. Make sure it gets about 1/2″ twice a week. (In most sprinkler systems, it takes about 20 minutes to get 1/2″ of water.)
Perennials: It’s not too late to divide perennials such as Agapanthus, Moraea and Hemerocallis. Make sure they’re planted immediately after division. Divide and transplant grasses too. For bushier flowering shrubs, pinch new growth to encourage fullness at the base of the plant.
Pests: Treat aphids, spider mites and white fly with insecticidal soap or a brisk spray of water.
Roses & Flowers: Roses should be at their peak right now. Continue to dead head and feed with a high nitrogen fertilizer.
Irrigation: Keeping an eye on the weather, set your irrigation for the longer, warmer days. Check your system to make sure that everything is working efficiently. A deep, thorough watering is better than a short, shallow watering. Deep watering encourages roots to go deep which will benefit the plant later this summer.
Also: Once the weather has warmed and the plants in your garden are beginning to show signs of life, prune off any cold damage that may have been inflicted during the winter. Cut just below where the dead branches begin. If you’re not sure about what is damaged or not, wait until next month and reassess the damage.
Stake taller growing plants now while they’re smaller and easier to manage.
Sheer formal hedges and prune evergreens in preparation of their spring growth spurts.
Prune and fertilize groundcovers to remove dead patches and encourage new growth.
March is a very busy month in your garden but it also holds a lot of promise. The plantings you did in the fall are budding and blooming and there is a sense of satisfaction for a job well done. It also brings to your attention the things you need to get busy on so that the whole yard thrives through the coming months.
Now is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. You may want to wait another month or so before planting subtropicals like Bougainvillea, Cannas and Hibiscus. Prune spring flowering shrubs and vines after they’ve bloomed to maintain their shape. Most evergreens should be pruned now before new growth starts.
Color: Begin to replace winter annuals as they fade. Marigolds, Petunias, Nicotiana and Snapdragons are available to plant for summer color. Cut back and clean foliage on perennial color such as Impatiens and Begonias. Replace any color that was damaged during the winter months. Look for new introductions to add a little something new to your garden.
Fruits & Vegetables: Early tomatoes, squash, peas, onions and beans can be planted now. There’s still time to get in another round of cool weather crops. Consider planting a grouping of different varieties of lettuce. The variation in colors and textures creates interest and function. Fertilize fruit trees and make sure they get adequate water to help with fruit production. Use a low nitrogen fertilizer so growth is directed toward the fruit and roots. Plant strawberries. Plant or freshen up your herb garden with new varieties or replace plants that didn’t fare well over the winter.
Lawn: Continue to mow your lawn on a regular basis. The blade should be set at about 2”, raising it to 3” when the temperatures pick up this summer. Do maintenance on your lawnmower making sure the blade is sharp and ready for the increased workout that’s coming up. Feed your lawn with a high nitrogen fertilizer and do so regularly through the growing season.
Perennials: Divide overgrown perennials such as Daylilies, Agapanthus, Iris and Lilies including grasses. Be sure to use a sharp shovel or knife and replant the divisions right away. Fuchsia produce blooms on new wood. Prune back by about two-thirds to reshape and encourage growth. Repot plants in hanging baskets or in pots with fresh potting mix.
Roses & Flowers: Roses should be full of fresh growth since they should have been pruned back in January. Fertilize and dead-head regularly to encourage bloom production. Camellias, Azaleas and Rhododendrons should be pruned once the last flower has faded. Using the notes you took over the winter, create a new flower bed. Visit your local independent garden center and try something new.
Irrigation: Rain returns week of March 7- don’t forget to inspect your drainage systems and erosion controls. This is a great time to get down your pre-emergent and fertilizer applications. Watch the weather closely and turn your sprinklers off and on accordingly. After a deep rain, wait until the soil dries out a bit before turning the system back on. Irrigating saturated soil is just a waste of precious water. Take advantage of a warm, sunny day by spending it outside testing your entire irrigation system. Make sure the timer is working property. Run through the cycles and ensure that all heads and emitters are working efficiently. Give deciduous trees a deep watering to encourage bloom and leaf development. Remember – know your water agency’s mandated watering restrictions: http://www.sdcwa.org/find-your-water-district/ .
Also: Applying a pre-emergent weed killer will save you time later in the season. Do not apply in areas where you plan to sow seeds for vegetables or flowers. Pull weeds while they’re small before they have a chance to spread seeds around your garden.
The last few months, pests in the garden have slowed down to a crawl. Warm weather is going to bring them out in force. Watch for aphids on new growth. Use the garden hose to remove these and other pests until the beneficial bugs appear which are usually quick to follow. Snails and slugs are busy munching right now. Trap or bait them to keep them from damaging the plants in your garden.
Mulch new areas and remulch existing planting areas to keep weeds under control, conserve water and eliminate erosion. Mulch layer should be about 2-3” deep. For those of you growing stone fruit and vineyards make sure to apply protectant fungicides to ensure your crop is protected from diseases.
Fertilize everything! As we start the growing season, it’s important that nutrients that have been depleted in the soil are replaced. The act of fertilizing is to treat the soil which in turn benefits the plant. When applying fertilizer, imagine the root system of the plant you’re working with. If it’s a tree, the roots may have spread out quite a distance from the trunk. The soil in that area needs to be treated also. A bedding plant will have a relatively small root system so the application doesn’t need to be disbursed that far from the base of the plant. Remember to NEVER fertilize a dry plant as this can cause the root system to burn. It is best to irrigate, fertilize, irrigate.
In January, your landscape is at its most dormant stage and there’s very little to do. Aside from pruning and transplanting there’s not a lot going on. With high moisture levels in the ground, be careful not to disturb the soil too much. Overworking can result in compaction that may harm the soil structure. Do go to your local nursery or garden center. Azaleas, Camellias are blooming along with New Zealand Tea Trees (Leptospermum scoparium) and other plants. Putting these in your garden will ensure that you have flowers in your garden when most flowering plants are in their dormant stage.
Color: Fill in bare spots with cool weather annuals. Pansies, Snapdragons, Iceland poppies and Kale are great additions to the garden along with Cyclamen, Primula and Begonias. Keep leaf trash cleaned from the base of the plants. Plant summer blooming bulbs; canna, dahlia, lilies, tuberose and tuberous begonias.
Fruits & Vegetables: Plant bare-root fruit trees, grapes, berries and strawberries now. Soak roots in water overnight before planting. Continue to spray dormant fruit trees for pests, include trunk and soil around the base of the tree. Prune established fruit trees to maintain a uniform shape. Many cool weather vegetables are available. Sow beet, carrot and radish seeds.
Lawn: Mow cool weather lawns weekly. Appling a pre-emergent weed killer now will save you time and money later in the year. Give your lawnmower a tune up. Change the oil and have the blade to your lawnmower sharpened or do it yourself.
Roses & Flowers: Clean leaf litter from around the base of plants to discourage snails & slugs. Bait as necessary. Prune roses before new growth begins. Water roses thoroughly before pruning. Other flowering shrubs should be pruned after the first bloom cycle.
Irrigation: Do a test run on your irrigation system to ensure that all lines are clear and emitters are working efficiently. Watch your system carefully. If it rains, turn the system off and save the water.
Also: Natives can also be pruned lightly now in order to maintain a uniform shape. If rainfall isn’t heavy, water deeply. The moisture they store now will help them through the hot summer months.
Bulbs with higher cold requirements need to be planted in cold soil. If the weather is cool, between Christmas and New Years, plant then. Otherwise wait until the soil temperature drops being sure to plant before January 10th.
Protect tender plants from frost by covering them with a non-plastic material when frost threatens. Keeping plantings well hydrated will help frost survival also. A turgid plant will recover from frost better than a dry plant. Should a frost damage your garden, don’t be tempted to prune off the damaged parts. They’ll help protect the plant from further damage should another frost occur. Trim these parts off later in the year when all risk of frost has past.
Plant and transplant Azaleas and Camellias. Be sure to use a high acid planting mix to promote growth.
Cool temperature weather is the perfect time to prune evergreens
By Donnie Dabbs, General Mgr.
Fertilizing typical and drought-tolerant trees in the landscape requires a knack for applying in the right season, proper administration and for using the best product for the tree. Fertilizer is often misunderstood and misused. Fertilizer is not really direct food for trees, but instead, a boost to your trees providing the ingredients needed for photosynthesis and growth. Fertilizer should not only be used when minerals are lacking or absent in the soil but also to maintain a good chemical balance within the soil all year long. Your top ten, typical choice of standard trees for most landscapes range from King and Queen palms to Agonis, Magnolia and Lagerstromia varieties. Drought-tolerant trees can be fertilized much in the same way. These trees should be fertilized on a regular schedule, depending on the geography and status of the tree. Trees in areas that receive a lot of rain usually have a lot of natural nutrients in the soil and only require about one to two times a year of fertilizer application. However, in more arid areas, like the Southwest, you should fertilize up to three times a year to produce more nutrients in the soil and to keep the plant healthy in each season. The best times for fertilizing is in early spring, mid-year and in the fall. The early spring is a good time because tree roots are coming out of the dormant period and require a boost to be healthy as they are starting to grow. Mid-year is also important because trees are experiencing more heat, absorbing water faster because of the heat and therefore going through nutrients quicker. To put in fertilizer during this time gives the tree a boost and replenishes those nutrients lost. During the Fall, tree roots have cooled a bit but there isn’t as much rainfall as during winter months. Avoid fertilizing trees and shrubs stressed by drought during the summer months. If water is unavailable, do not fertilize at all because plants will be unable to absorb the nutrients.
“Typical mistakes most commonly made during fertilizing is over fertilizing,” said Don Dabbs of Briggs Tree Company (a wholesale, grower-direct nursery in Southern California), “Using the wrong chemical balance for the tree is also a mistake commonly made.”
Fertilizers are divided between the chemicals nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Nitrogen is for greening the tree, adding more foliage and nurturing the leaves. Potassium is applied to prevent diseases and helps with producing more, healthier flowering. Phosphorus boosts the root system and also helps with flowering. A Triple 15 fertilizer has 15 parts nitrogen, 15 parts potassium and 15 parts phosphorus. This combination of chemicals are perfect for trees, as you don’t want to use too much of one of these chemicals. For instance, if you use too much nitrogen, the tree will burn. The other mistake is to over fertilize. Use the amount that is specified on the bag and don’t apply more or less than this specification. Avoid adding too much fertilizer which can harm the tree and the environment. Excessive fertilizer produces rank, weak growth that breaks easily and is susceptible to injury from cold, drought and pests. Also, fertilizer not absorbed by the plant roots may contaminate groundwater and surface water. Again- too much chemical is not good for any one tree. There are different forms of fertilizer that contain a balance of the correct chemicals. One form is fertilizer in granular form. When planting a new tree, put this fertilizer in the ground just under the root ball. For trees already planted or established, spread fertilizer on top of the plant and water generously so the fertilizer seeps into the soil. Since most of a tree’s roots can be found in the top foot of soil, broadcast the fertilizer evenly with a rotary or drop-type spreader over the root zone area to fertilize the tree. For new trees, try using new fertilizer tabs that slowly release fertilizer and penetrate into the tree over a period of time. These tabs should be used in the ground planted near the root ball and never used on top of the soil as this will waste fertilizer. Systemic liquid, spray-on fertilizers seeps into the tree leaves, limbs and bark and is absorbed into the root system. Just remember- the best practice is to use a balanced amount of chemicals.
When fertilizing trees, keep these two points in mind: (1) Fertilizer is beneficial when it is needed; but (2) Use it in the right amount, at the right time and in the right place.
For over thirty five years, Briggs Tree Company has operated as a wholesale nursery, having expanded to over 200 acres in production. Founded by Donald A. Briggs, Jr. in the early 1970’s, Briggs is still family owned and operated supplying:
- 4-inch annual and perennial color
- water-efficient plants
- ..and a premier line of trees in various sizes
Briggs prides themselves in employing knowledgeable and experienced staff who will answer any questions regarding plant material. Briggs Tree Company, Inc. Corporate Headquarters is located at 1111 Poinsettia Avenue, Vista, CA 92081 Please call 760-727-2727, or visit us online at www.briggstree.com for more information.
By Donnie Dabbs, General Mgr.
Water is always a crucial issue. We never have enough. As we approach the cooler months, it’s important to take a few steps to help manage the water that your landscape receives.
Many time clocks are still set to the times and cycles that were dictated when the system was installed. Once your landscape is established, usually within a few months, the times can be cut back. They should be adjusted throughout the year as the seasons change. Take the time to familiarize yourself with your time clock. Play around with it so you can learn to adjust it quickly if needed. If you don’t have the instructions, many manufacturers have them available on line or contact your local garden center.
1) Check that all of your emitters are operating efficiently and are distributing water in the area designed.
2) Adjust the number of days that the system activates. Depending on your specific location, you may be able to reduce your watering schedule by one or two days.
3) Adjust the time the system is on. Since days are shorter and cooler, your landscape doesn’t need the same amount of water to maintain it’s healthy condition. Trying cutting the time per cycle by 1/3 to see how your garden reacts.
Remember that if a warm spell occurs, you may need to supplemental water. Additionally if it rains, make sure that you turn your sprinklers off. Mulching hillsides and planting beds will help retain moisture in your landscape along with helping to control weeds and curtail erosion.