There’s a pattern to the questions in late May.
“Is it getting too late to plant?”
“Memorial Day weekend. I guess that’s kind of the end of the planting season?”
“Shouldn’t I plant these before it gets too hot?”
You can plant any time the soil is workable. For Davis, that means pretty much February through November. Roots grow quickly in warm soil. Water correctly, and you’ll see amazingly rapid growth on new plants. Bottom line: If a plant can grow in our climate, you can plant it in the summer.
An early summer checklist.
1. Continue planting vegetables
Successive plantings of bush beans and corn, every two to four weeks into mid-July, will provide yield through October.
Peppers and tomatoes, cucumbers, okra and squash planted in June will provide good crops in September and October. Plant pumpkins by July 1 for October Jack-o’-lanterns.
Our summer vegetables continue producing into October, sometimes longer!
2. Plant some of the great summer flowers that love heat
Examples: asters and zinnias, celosia, cosmos, portulaca, Salvia splendens, sunflowers, Vinca rosea.
3. Plant now for meadow flowers in August and September
Gloriosa daisy, coneflower, grasses, gaura, herbaceous salvias, perennial asters. There are many carefree perennials and annuals that bloom in late summer and early fall. Plan and plant now!
4. Plant an herb garden. In the ground, in a planter box, or in a container
Basil can be planted all summer long! Most of the familiar kitchen herbs — such as rosemary, thyme and sage — are well adapted to warm, dry summer climates like ours. Most make excellent landscape shrubs. Or herbs can be crowded together in a large container and trimmed for use all season long. An herb garden is an excellent summer project for a beginning gardener or chef.
5. Deal with those August weeds now
Pigweed, barnyard grass, oxalis and spurge are among the many summer weeds getting going right now. Field bindweed is beginning to flower. A few minutes with a hoe can prevent a lot of these plants from going to seed.
6. Mulch, mulch, mulch
… but remember the important rule! No mulch up against the stem or bark of a plant. Mulch cools the soil, retains moisture, and decomposes into humus. Those are all good things. But moisture trapped against the stem leads to crown rot. Mulch the soil, not the plant.
7. Tinker with your watering system
Identify areas where distribution is a problem. Many of the summer problems we see result from three irrigation system issues:
* Distribution (not covering well);
* Frequency (watering too often), and
* Duration (not watering long enough).
8. Plant citrus
Young trees planted now will root and begin to grow almost instantly. Growers have good availability of well-rooted trees. Trees that I planted two weeks ago already have put on a foot of new growth. Take care to water thoroughly, then every few days thereafter for the first few weeks.
9. Plant subtropicals
Lantana, plumbago and verbena, grown as annuals in colder climates, are actually subtropical plants that over-winter here. They love warm soil and hot summer days. Expect some frost damage in winter, but they will usually recover in spring.
Folks often want to try the marginal subtropicals, many of which have glorious blooms that make them worth some effort at winter protection. Planted in the right microclimate, many of these will rebound from frost damage: Brugmansia, passiflora, tecomaria; many bananas. How about jacarandas, bougainvilleas, princess flowers? Less likely. But in any case, early summer is the time to get them started.
Subtropicals vary as to hardiness. Ask before you buy!
10. Focus on your shade areas and “outdoor living” parts of the garden.
Plant heucheras, ferns and fern-like plants, hostas. Plant young starts of coral bells and columbine and foxglove for next spring. Fill in with coleus and fibrous begonias. Do some mixed color plantings in large containers for patios and decks.
Long live dahlias?
It’s great to see these old-fashioned garden flowers coming back in fashion. Spectacular flowers in a gaudy range of colors, they flower from early summer nearly until frost.
What do they want?
* Soil that you’ve amended with good compost and slow-acting fertilizer.
* Even soil moisture: water a couple of times a week.
* Wash the foliage off every few days to prevent spider mites.
* Bait for snails (there’s an organic option) when you first set them out.
Are dahlias perennial? The plant has a tuberous root that can live from year to year. But if they get cold and wet, the tuber will rot. Planting in a garden bed with well-drained soil, a raised planter, or in a large pot can prevent your dahlia from rotting.
Seasonal availability of nursery stock
Whether or not it’s the “best” time to plant crape myrtles, this is when they’re ready for sale. The production cycles of wholesale growers aim for top quality during the summer flowering period. I urge you, if you have a particular flower color in mind, to purchase your crape myrtle in bloom. Flower color varies by variety, stage of bloom, night temperature and more. Be sure to get one of the mildew-resistant varieties. By fall, inventory will be picked over and plants may be root-bound.
But what about watering?
Check new plants daily, water as needed. For the first three to four weeks, that is probably every other day for a plant from a small pot, about twice a week for a larger plant.
Water the root ball (the nursery soil) very thoroughly. Once a week, be sure to also water the surrounding soil very thoroughly. After a few weeks the new plants probably don’t need special attention except during extremely hot or windy spells.
If you’re using a drip system in these early days, it’s important that the emitter be right on the nursery soil.
If you aren’t running your drip system for a couple of hours, you aren’t giving your plants a good soaking. Do the math based on the emitters you’re using: if you’re giving a plant less than a gallon of water, it just isn’t enough. Emitter outputs range from one-half to two gallons per hour. Most plants need at least a gallon of water every few days. Tomato plants need a few gallons every seven to 10 days.
Water the entire garden bed every so often to the point of thorough saturation. You need to wet the soil well past the existing root system of the plants in the bed in order for the roots to continue to grow outward. Your existing system may not be up to this task. Consider setting a sprinkler and letting it run, in intervals if necessary, long enough to put out two inches of water.
Remember, we have a gardening growing season that most places envy!
In the months of June, July, August and September, Sacramento is the sunniest place in the world (source: http://www.currentresults.com/Weather-Extremes/sunniest-places-countries-world.php). We average 2.4 cloudy days in June, one in July, 1.3 in August and 2.1 in September. Rainfall for that total period is less than half an inch. We have days with high temperatures, and plenty with cool delta breezes.
So our reliable growing season from June 1 is more than 120 days. And October, at least the first couple of weeks, is reliably warm and sunny as well. Lots of time for plants to grow, flower and fruit!
— Don Shor and his family have owned the Redwood Barn Nursery since 1981. He can be reached at [email protected]. Archived articles are available on The Enterprise website, and they are always available (all the way back to 1999) on the business website, www.redwoodbarn.com