Home & Garden

What to do when: Monthly checklist for enthusiastic gardeners

February is the time to transplant cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and lettuce (both loose leaf and head).
February is the time to transplant cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and lettuce (both loose leaf and head). Sacramento Bee file

Our region’s gardening schedule stretches year round. No matter the month, there’s always something to do.

Need suggestions? Here are many ideas, contributed by local UC Cooperative Extension master gardeners. These tasks are broken down by month – starting now – plus some timely tips:

FEBRUARY

Tip of the month: It’s time to start planting seed potatoes. Seed potatoes are small potatoes or cut mature potatoes containing at least one or two eyes or buds. (You can use sprouted potatoes from the supermarket as seed potatoes, although those may not have the same disease resistance as new certified seed potatoes available at nurseries or via mail order.) Potatoes are easy to grow. They need full sun and do best in well-drained, loamy soil.

Don’t plant in soggy or waterlogged soil; the potatoes will rot before sprouting. To give your potatoes a head start, expose the seed potatoes for a week or two to warmth (60 to 70 degrees) and lots of light, such as inside a sunny window. This will trigger quick sprouting. Potatoes may be planted through early June.

This month’s garden tasks:

▪ This is the last chance to spray fruit trees before they bloom. Treat peach and nectarine trees with copper-based fungicide. Spray apricot trees at bud swell to prevent brown rot.

▪ Apply horticultural oil to control scale, mites and aphids on fruit trees soon after a rain. But remember: Oils need at least 24 hours to dry to be effective. Don’t spray during foggy weather or when rain is forecast.

▪ Feed spring-blooming shrubs and fall-planted perennials with slow-release fertilizer. Feed mature trees and shrubs after spring growth starts.

▪ Remove aphids from blooming bulbs with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap.

▪ Fertilize strawberries and asparagus.

▪ During rainy weather, turn off the sprinklers. After a (hopefully) good soaking from winter storms, lawns can go at least a week without sprinklers, according to irrigation experts. For an average California home, that week off from watering can save 800 gallons.

Plant and propagate:

▪ February serves as a wake-up call to gardeners. This month, you can transplant or direct-seed several flowers, including snapdragon, candytuft, lilies, astilbe, larkspur, Shasta and painted daisies, stock, bleeding heart and coral bells.

▪ In the vegetable garden, plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers and strawberry and rhubarb roots. Transplant cabbage and its close cousins – broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts – as well as lettuce (both loose leaf and head).

▪ Indoors, start peppers, tomatoes and eggplant from seed.

▪ Plant artichokes, asparagus and horseradish from root divisions. Plant potatoes from tubers and onions from sets (small bulbs). The onions will sprout quickly and can be used as green onions in March.

▪ From seed, plant beets, chard, lettuce, mustard, peas, radishes and turnips.

▪ Annuals are showing up in nurseries, but wait until the weather warms up a bit before planting. Instead, set out flowering perennials such as columbine and delphinium.

▪ Plant summer-flowering bulbs, including cannas, calla lilies and gladiolus.

MARCH

Tip of the month: Watch for signs of powdery mildew on roses, grapes and ornamentals, particularly on new leaves. A small outbreak can explode into a big problem. The spores can go through their entire life cycle in 72 hours. Powdery mildew hates water but loves new growth and warm weather – 68 to 77 degrees is ideal. Watering plants in the morning – including a spray on new leaves – can thwart the spores, but may not be enough if an outbreak already has occurred.

Sulfur and potassium bicarbonate sprays are both effective in protecting young shoots. Garlic is naturally high in sulfur. To make your own spray, process a few cloves of garlic with 1 quart of water in a blender or food processor, then spray leaves and shoots. Or try this formula: Mix 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon liquid soap and 1 quart water in a spray container. Shake well. Make sure to spray the underside of leaves as well as the tops.

This month’s garden tasks:

▪ Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

▪ If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use 2 tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to 1 quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use.

▪ Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

▪ Start preparing vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

▪ Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

▪ Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

▪ Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit. To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

▪ Feed roses with a balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10, the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium available in that product).

▪ Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs and trees after they bloom. Try using well-composted manure, spread 1 inch thick under the tree. This serves as both fertilizer and mulch, retaining moisture while cutting down on weeds.

▪ Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

Plant and propagate:

▪ Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

▪ In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and cole family plants, such as cabbage, broccoli, collards and kale.

▪ Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

▪ Before the mercury starts inching upward, this is your last chance to plant such annuals as pansies, violas and primroses.

▪ Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

▪ Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

APRIL

Tip of the month: After the holiday, Easter lilies can find new life in the garden. When the plant has finished blooming, move it outdoors. These lilies do well replanted in the ground. Choose a sunny, well-drained location. Remove the plant from the container and loosen the bulb’s root system. Plant the bulb 2 to 3 inches deeper than it was in the container and cover with soil. Water thoroughly and feed with an all-purpose garden fertilizer. Soon after transplanting, the old top will wither and die, but don’t worry. The bulb should send up new shoots. It may even flower again in July or August. You may lift the bulb in late fall and replant in a pot for indoor Easter bloom next spring, or leave it permanently in the garden. Left outside, these lilies typically bloom in May or June. But keep cats away from lilies. According to UC Davis veterinarians, members of the plant genus Lilium produce a chemical that can cause a cat to suffer fatal kidney failure within 36 to 72 hours of contact. Present in both flowers and leaves, that chemical causes extreme reactions in even tiny amounts, so cats can get a lethal dose from biting into a lily leaf or petal, by licking lily pollen from their paws or by drinking water from a vase containing cut lilies. Easter lilies, stargazer lilies and Asiatic lilies seem to be the most hazardous of this group of plants.

This month’s garden tasks:

▪ April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

▪ Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

▪ Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

▪ Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

▪ Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

▪ Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

▪ Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year’s flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

▪ Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

▪ Feed citrus with a low dose of balanced fertilizer during this month’s bloom and fruit set. If leaves look yellow, your tree may need an iron boost. Feed with a chelated iron fertilizer.

▪ Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

Plant and propagate:

▪ Get ready to swing into action in the vegetable garden. As nights warm up to more than 50 degrees, start setting out tomato, pepper and eggplant transplants.

▪ From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, radishes and squash. Plant onion sets.

▪ In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias. Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

▪ Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom. Late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

▪ Transplant lettuce and cabbage seedlings.

MAY

Tip of the month: Lawn mower won’t start? It could be stale gas. According to lawn mower engine maker Briggs & Stratton, gasoline goes stale in about 30 days. Stale gas results in hard starting of equipment. To avoid this problem, use only fresh, lead-free gasoline with an ethanol content that does not exceed 10 percent. Fill the fuel tank only three-quarters full, allowing room for expansion without overflowing.

This month’s garden tasks:

▪ Keep an eye out for slugs, snails, earwigs and aphids that want to dine on tender new growth.

▪ Feed summer bloomers with a balanced fertilizer.

▪ For continued bloom, cut off spent flowers on roses as well as other flowering plants.

▪ Don’t forget to water. Seedlings need moisture. Deep watering will help build strong roots and healthy plants.

▪ Put your veggie garden on a regular diet. Set up a monthly feeding program, and keep track on your calendar. Make sure to water your garden before applying any fertilizer to prevent “burning” your plants.

▪ Are birds picking your fruit off trees before they’re ripe? Try hanging strips of aluminum foil on tree branches. The shiny, dangling strips help deter birds from making themselves at home.

▪ As spring-flowering shrubs finish blooming, give them a little pruning to shape them, removing old and dead wood. Lightly trim azaleas, fuchsias and marguerites for bushier plants.

▪ Run the sprinklers early in the day – before 8 a.m. if possible – to conserve water and minimize plant diseases.

▪ Add mulch to the garden to help keep precious water from evaporating. Mulch also cuts down on weeds. But don’t let it mound around the stems or trunks of trees or shrubs. Leave about a 6-inch to 1-foot circle to avoid crown rot or other problems.

Plant and propagate:

▪ Plant, plant, plant! It’s prime planting season in the Sacramento area. Time to set out those tomato transplants along with peppers and eggplants. Pinch off any flowers on new transplants to make them concentrate on establishing roots instead of setting premature fruit.

▪ Direct-seed melons, cucumbers, summer squash, corn, radishes, pumpkins and annual herbs such as basil.

▪ Harvest cabbage, lettuce, peas and green onions.

▪ In the flower garden, direct-seed sunflowers, cosmos, salvia, zinnias, marigolds, celosia and asters. (You also can transplant seedlings for many of the same flowers.)

▪ Plant dahlia tubers. Other perennials to set out include verbena, coreopsis, coneflower and astilbe.

▪ Transplant petunias, marigolds and perennial flowers such as astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia and verbena.

JUNE

Tip of the month: Feed the roses. After their initial big burst of spring bloom, they’re really hungry. Trim off the spent flowers (this is called “deadheading”), then fertilize with a balanced mix (10-10-10 or 12-12-12). Make sure to water the bushes well before adding any fertilizer (that prevents chemical burns of the foliage). The application rate for most granular fertilizers is  1/2 cup per bush, worked into the soil lightly in a circle within 18 inches of the trunk.

This month’s garden tasks:

▪ Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

▪ Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

▪ Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

▪ Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

▪ Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

▪ Avoid pot “hot feet.” Place a 1-inch-thick board under container plants sitting on pavement. This little cushion helps insulate them from radiated heat.

▪ Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

▪ Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

▪ Warm weather brings rapid growth in the vegetable garden, with tomatoes and squash enjoying the heat. Deep-water, then feed with a balanced fertilizer. Bone meal can spur the bloom cycle and help set fruit.

▪ Generally, tomatoes need deep watering two to three times a week, but don’t let them dry out completely. That can encourage blossom-end rot.

▪ Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants. Mulch to conserve moisture and reduce heat stress.

▪ Cut back Shasta daisies after flowering to encourage a second bloom in the fall.

▪ Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

▪ Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

Plant and propagate:

▪ From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

▪ Plant basil. There’s still time to plant melons, pumpkins and squash from seed.

▪ Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias. It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

JULY

Tip of the month: Blackberries and other berries bear fruit on second-year growth, so the canes sprouting now will yield next year’s crop. To avoid creating a thicket, older canes are removed after fruiting. (For most varieties, they will not bear again.) After harvesting berries, cut those spent canes as close to the ground as possible. Tie up new green canes to a trellis or other support, then feed the plant with a mulch of compost. When new canes reach 5 feet long, pinch off the growing tip. That spurs lateral growth.

This month’s garden tasks:

▪ Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to reduce the chance of fungal infection and to conserve moisture.

▪ Water, then fertilize vegetables and blooming annuals, perennials and shrubs to give them a boost. Feeding flowering plants every other week will extend their bloom.

▪ Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more. Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

▪ If your melons and squash aren’t setting fruit, give the bees a hand. With a small, soft paintbrush, gather some pollen from male flowers, then brush it inside the female flowers, which have a tiny swelling at the base of their petals. (That’s the embryo melon or squash.) Within days, that little swelling should start growing.

▪ Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

▪ Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

▪ Remove spent flowers from roses, day lilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

▪ Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

▪ Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

▪ Feed vegetable plants bone meal or other fertilizers high in phosphate to stimulate more blooms and fruiting.

▪ One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

Plant and propagate:

▪ It’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

▪ From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Here’s a tip from champion pumpkin growers: The biggest Halloween pumpkins get their start on the Fourth of July. Plant your future giants in early July.

AUGUST

Tip of the month: It’s time to divide and transplant bearded iris rhizomes. Iris need to be dug up and divided about every three years for continued bloom. Once a branch of an iris rhizome blooms, it won’t flower again. But the new branches will bloom. Keep that in mind while dividing. Before putting them back in the ground, replenish their soil with compost. Iris can be stored in a dry location until ready to plant. Before planting, soak the rhizomes overnight in water to tell them it is time to start growing. When planted, they need to be kept damp until rooted. The sooner you plant them, the sooner they can grow deep roots to anchor the plant.

This month’s garden tasks:

▪ Feed citrus trees their last round of fertilizer for the year. This will give a boost to the fruit that’s now forming.

▪ Harvest tomatoes, beans, squash, pepper and eggplants to prompt plants to keep producing. Give your plants a deep watering twice a week, more if planted in containers. Also, give them a boost with phosphate-rich fertilizer to help fruiting. (Always water before feeding.)

▪ Watch out for caterpillars and hornworms in the vegetable garden. They can strip a plant bare in one day. Pick them off plants by hand in early morning or late afternoon.

▪ Mulch can be your garden’s best friend – it conserves moisture while blocking out weeds. But don’t let mulch mound around stalks, stems or trunks. That can promote rot.

▪ Camellia leaves looking a little yellow? Feed them some chelated iron. That goes for azaleas and gardenias, too.

▪ Pinch off dead flowers from perennials and annuals to lengthen their summer bloom.

▪ Pick up after your fruit trees. Clean up debris and dropped fruit; this cuts down on insects and prevents the spread of brown rot. Then feed fruit trees with slow-release fertilizer for better production for next year.

▪ To prolong bloom into fall, feed begonias, fuchsias, annuals and container plants. Always water before fertilizing.

▪ Fertilize fall-blooming perennials, too. Chrysanthemums can be fed until the buds start to open.

▪ Prepare for a fall full of flowers by paying a little extra attention to your garden. Cut off spent blooms from roses, annuals and perennials, then give them a boost of fertilizer. Make sure to water plants before feeding. Roses will rebloom about six to eight weeks after deadheading.

Plant and propagate:

▪ Indoors, start seedlings for fall vegetable planting, including bunching onion, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, radicchio and lettuce.

▪ Sow seeds of perennials in pots for fall planting, including yarrow, coneflower and salvia.

▪ In the garden, direct-seed beets, carrots, leaf lettuce and turnips. Plant potatoes.

SEPTEMBER

Tip of the month: Here’s a penny-pinching idea: Many popular annuals in your garden now can furnish next spring’s replacements. Take cuttings of geraniums, coleus, wax begonias and impatiens and root them in water or moist sand. Winter them on a protected patio or sunny indoor window in pots as they develop roots. Keep them moist, pinched back and bushy. Then, in spring, transplant them outside.

This month’s garden tasks:

▪ September starts another season in the vegetable garden. Now is the time to plant for fall. The warm soil will get the veggies off to a fast start.

▪ Keep harvesting tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and eggplant.

▪ Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

▪ Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

▪ Fertilize deciduous fruit trees.

Plant and propagate:

▪ Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

▪ Transplant cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower as well as lettuce seedlings.

▪ Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies. Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, clarkia, stocks and snapdragons.

▪ Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials.

▪ Dig up and divide day lilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

▪ Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with “eyes” about an inch below the soil surface.

▪ Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or reseeding bare spots.

OCTOBER

Tip of the month: Rain brings out slugs and snails. With a flashlight, check out your garden between 7:30 and 8 p.m. and you’ll see these mollusks come out of hiding. That’s prime time to catch these hungry critters. Brown snails are capable of eating 30 to 40 times their body weight in a single night. Pick them off plants and destroy them. (Dropping them in a jar of water with a little vinegar or salt will do the trick.) Also, try erecting barriers for plants that particularly attract these voracious pests. A copper band around the top of a pot or other container works as a snail roadblock, protecting the plant inside. Copper strips work well around the trunks of citrus trees. Or circle your plants with natural snail repellants. Snails and slugs hate wood ashes, crushed oyster shells (available from feed stores), crushed eggshells, crushed rock, oak leaf mulch, seaweed mulch, diatomaceous earth, sawdust, lime, short hair clippings, powdered ginger, bran and ammonium sulfate. For the best protection, make your barrier strip 3 inches wide. Powder barriers such as ash need to be replenished after a rain. Snails and slugs also are attracted to stale beer, set out in a shallow container or snail trap. (The alcohol will kill them.) If using commercial snail bait, carefully read the directions. Many baits are particularly dangerous for dogs, who may be attracted to them. The bait causes severe seizures and possible death.

This month’s garden tasks:

▪ October is the best month to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. Make the most of a warm weekend with damp soil.

▪ Dig up corms and tubers of gladiolus, dahlias and tuberous begonias after the foliage dies. Clean and store in a cool, dry place.

▪ Treat azaleas, gardenias and camellias with chelated iron if leaves are yellowing between the veins.

▪ Clean up the summer vegetable garden and compost disease-free foliage.

▪ Harvest pumpkins and winter squash.

Plant and propagate:

▪ October is the best month to plant perennials in our area. Add a little well-aged compost and bone meal to the planting hole, but hold off on other fertilizers until spring. Keep the transplants well-watered (but not wet) for the first month as they become settled.

▪ Now is the time to plant seeds for many flowers directly into the garden, including cornflower, nasturtium, nigella, poppy, portulaca, sweet pea and stock.

▪ Plant seeds for radishes, bok choy, mustard, spinach and peas. Plant garlic and onions.

▪ Set out cool-weather bedding plants, including calendula, pansy, snapdragon, primrose and viola.

▪ Reseed and feed the lawn. Work on bare spots.

NOVEMBER

Tip of the month: Unsure if your garden still needs watering after a rain? If 1 inch or more of rain falls, turn off the automatic sprinklers or irrigation system for five days. If another half-inch falls during that period, keep the sprinklers off until there are another five days without rain. Or try this test: Use a probe or long screwdriver and push it into the ground. If it goes in easily, the soil is still moist. If the ground is hard, it’s time to water. Still not sure? Take a trowel, dig down about 4 to 6 inches and actually look at the soil. If soil holds together when balled in you hand, it’s moist and you can wait before irrigating. If it feels dry and refuses to clump, then turn on the sprinklers.

This month’s garden tasks:

▪ Save dry stalks and seedpods from poppies and coneflowers for fall bouquets and holiday decorating.

▪ For holiday blooms indoors, plant paperwhite narcissus bulbs now. Fill a shallow bowl or dish with 2 inches of rocks or pebbles. Place bulbs in the dish with the root end nestled in the rocks. Add water until it just touches the bottom of the bulbs. Place the dish in a sunny window. Add water as needed.

▪ Rake and compost leaves, but dispose of any diseased plant material. For example, if peach and nectarine trees showed signs of leaf curl this year, clean up under trees and dispose of those leaves instead of composting.

▪ If you decide to use a living Christmas tree this year, keep it outside in a sunny location until Christmas week. This reduces stress on the young tree.

▪ Give your azaleas, gardenias and camellias a boost with chelated iron.

▪ For larger blooms, pinch off some camellia buds.

▪ After they bloom, chrysanthemums should be trimmed to 6 to 8 inches above the ground. If in pots, keep the mums in their containers until next spring. Then, they can be planted in the ground, if desired, or repotted.

▪ Prune nonflowering trees and shrubs while dormant.

▪ If you haven’t already, it’s time to clean up the remains of summer. Pull faded annuals and vegetables. Prune dead or broken branches from trees.

▪ To help prevent leaf curl, apply a copper fungicide spray to peach and nectarine trees after they lose their leaves this month. Leaf curl, which shows up in the spring, is caused by a fungus that winters as spores on the limbs and around the tree in fallen leaves. Sprays are most effective now.

Plant and propagate:

▪ Keep planting bulbs to spread out your spring bloom. Some possible suggestions: daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, tulips, anemones and scillas.

▪ This is also a good time to seed wildflowers and plant such spring bloomers as sweet pea, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

▪ Now is the best time to plant most trees and shrubs. This gives them plenty of time for root development. They also benefit from fall and winter rains.

▪ Set out cool-weather annuals such as pansies and snapdragons.

▪ Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now. Plant garlic and onions.

DECEMBER

Tip of the month: Save time and money through mulch, a way to keep plants’ roots cozy, moist and weed free. Newsprint (such as the paper used in The Bee) makes effective, low-cost mulch. Use several pages (at least six) to get enough thickness to block out weeds while retaining moisture. You can top the newsprint with bark to make it more attractive. Eventually, the newsprint will break down, adding fiber and a little nitrogen to the soil. Topping with soil will just give the weeds a place to grow; cover with bark or wood chips. But putting compost underneath the newsprint will benefit the plants. Some color inks contain metals that may harm foliage, so choose the black and white sections over the colorful inserts. The Bee’s primary inks are biodegradable and safe for plants.

This month’s garden tasks:

▪ Prune nonflowering trees and shrubs while they’re dormant.

▪ Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for winter.

▪ Mulch, water and cover tender plants to protect them during threat of frost. Succulent plants are at particular risk if temperatures drop below freezing. Make sure to remove coverings during the day.

▪ Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

▪ Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they’ll bloom again next December.

▪ Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

▪ Just because it rained doesn’t mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn’t reach, such as under eves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

Plant and propagate:

▪ The first day of winter is the shortest day of the year – a great time to plant garlic and onions for harvest in summer.

▪ Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

JANUARY

Tip of the month: Give your houseplants a nice, warm shower. Place dusty plants in the tub or shower and rinse them gently with tepid water, using the shower head or a hand-held sprayer. Let pots drain before returning plants to their usual spots. Keep them out of drafts.

This month’s garden tasks:

▪ Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

▪ Now is the time to prune fruit trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

▪ Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

▪ Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

▪ Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

▪ Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees soon after a rain to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

▪ This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl.

▪ When forced bulbs sprout, move them to a cool, bright window. Give them a quarter turn each day so the stems will grow straight.

▪ Browse through seed catalogs and start making plans for spring and summer.

Plant and propagate:

▪ Divide day lilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

▪ Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

▪ Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs. If the weather is wet and your ground seems saturated, consider planting your garden additions in large black plastic pots. The black plastic will warm up faster than the ground soil and give roots a healthy start. Then, transplant the new addition (rootball and all) into the ground in April as the weather warms.

▪ Enjoy sunny winter days by planting for spring. Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

▪ In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

▪ Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

▪ In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranuculous and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

▪ Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

Here are extra tips to use as needed:

Make a tonic for your plants – Try feeding your roses, shrubs and vegetables with compost tea. Here’s how to brew your own nutrition-packed plant tonic: Put a shovel-full of compost into a burlap bag. Put 1 gallon of water in a bucket. Dip the bag into the water like a giant tea bag and let it steep for 1 to 2 hours. Remove the bag (you can use that compost in the garden) and bottle your “tea” in a sealed gallon container for use all spring and summer. Mix 1 cup compost tea with 1 gallon water to feed a mature rose bush or shrub. This tonic also works great on tomatoes; use the same dosage.

Let kids be bug catchers – In spring and summer, watch out for stink bugs on tomatoes and squash. Also be on the lookout for snails and slugs on just about anything edible. An effective way to control these pests is to pick them off by hand and dispose of them. (This is a chore kids love. Offer to pay them a bounty of 25 cents a bug.) Or catch snails and slugs with this trick: Put boards (such as two 2-by-4s or 1-by-6s) flat in the garden and leave them overnight. In the morning, you’ll find the critters hiding under the boards. Scrape the pests into the trash and dispose of them. Stink bugs tend to gravitate to sunflowers, one of their favorite plants for procreating. Look on the underside of leaves for their telltale eggs.

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

  Comments