Garden doctor: Veggie gardening available year-round

Question: I moved from the Midwest last year, where we planted a vegetable garden in the spring and “put it to bed” in the fall. California is different! How can I grow onions here? Do people ever use sets? Mine bolted last summer. Also, when can I plant peppers? Tomatoes?
Answer: In the Sacramento area, including Davis, a vegetable garden can be maintained and productive throughout the year. Many people do grow onions here. Seeds are the cheapest way to go but require the longest growing period and will tie up your garden space for a long time.

People grow onions from sets, mainly for a quick crop of green onions. For mature, dry onion bulbs, sets are not recommended because onion varieties used to produce sets are often not well adapted to California and tend to bolt as yours did.

Most people with home vegetable gardens here grow onions from transplants. They are most readily available from nurseries in the fall for November planting and early summer harvest. They may be sold as six-packs, or more practically as “bare root” bundles that are easy to stick in the ground.

Both peppers and tomatoes do best when the soil temperature reaches at least 70 degrees, peppers requiring a bit more heat. If you are starting from seed, you have to begin this project long before plants are big enough to go into the ground, say roughly January-February. If you buy transplants, start looking in April. Even if the days are warm right now, it takes soil longer to warm up than air, and nights are still relatively cool. (There is a very wise saying that “if your garden soil is warm enough that you could sit comfortably without pants then it’s warm enough to plant tomatoes.”)

There is a very accurate guide for seasonal planting times for this area devised by Robert Norris of UC Davis plant sciences. You can request these and other useful handouts by contacting Yolo Master Gardeners; see the contact information below.
Question: I am concerned about water rates increasing and the drought we are in. What are plants that will do well in our climate and use little water, beyond the usual succulents?
Answer: Like succulents, many plants are adapted to get by with less water, or to store water for later growth. Silvery or fuzzy foliage are often clues that a plant has lower water requirements, as are thickened leaves and stalks. They may have brightly colored blossoms that contrast with the foliage and are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators.
Overwatering is probably the most common threat to these plants surviving. They need to be watered to become established, but even if you plant during the hottest weeks, once a week should be more than enough to get them established. Let them dry between waterings and then water conservatively.
Other plants that do well with drought conditions are yarrow, silver artemisias, bearded iris, purple coneflower, snow-in-the-summer, creeping phlox, sunflowers, rosemary, lavender, common thyme and salvias. As always, you will want to group together plants that have similar water and light requirements.

Even with our current drought, you will need to water these drought-tolerant plants to establish them. Once established, they will provide years of pleasure and interest in your garden with little water and little maintenance.
Question: My crop of apples last year looked beautiful, but every one had a worm. What is the culprit? How can I prevent it?
Answer: The culprit is most likely coddling moth. Insecticides might control the target pest but will harm bees and other potential beneficial insects that inhabit the orchard. The pest can be controlled with an ongoing sanitation process to keep all unwanted fruit off the ground, along with use of pheromone traps to confuse the males.

Apples can be bagged when the fruit measures between one-half and one inch in diameter. This is also a practical time to thin the crop. Some apple varieties (usually those with thin skins and later-ripening) are more vulnerable to damage.

You can learn more about this pest and others at the UCD IPM web site, http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7412.html.

Master Gardeners are available to help! On April 26 and May 17, a good place to find them is at UCD Arboretum plant sales, http://arboretum.ucdavis.edu/plant_sales_and_nursery.aspx, and in the gardens on the annual Pence Gallery Garden Tour on May 4 from 2:30 to 5 p.m. For more information on the tour, see http://www.pencegallery.org/events.html#gardentour.

Master Gardeners will teach a free class in “Plant Propagation from Soft Wood Cuttings” on May 10 from 9 to 10 a.m. at Grace Garden, behind the Davis United Methodist Church, 1620 Anderson Road.

— Send questions, addressed to the “Garden Doctor,” by email to [email protected], voice mail to 530-666-8737, or regular mail to UCCE Master Gardeners, 70 Cottonwood St., Woodland, CA 95695. Be sure to include your contact information because any questions not answered in the Garden Doctor column will be answered with a phone call or email to you.

You can request the emailed Yolo Gardener newsletter and learn more about the Master Gardener program in Yolo County at http://ucanr.edu/sites/YCMG.

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