In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2005
Regional Report

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Bright yellow nemesia is an annual that brings joy until hot weather hits.

Spring At Last!

Spring comes early to northern California. The acacia trees are full of golden blossoms, and those who suffer from allergies are cursing. The plum and almond trees are already dressed in their best pink and white lace. A trip to Napa Valley to enjoy the mustard in bloom is on my "things to do" list. I especially love the birch trees in late winter, just before they come into leaf. Their delicate weeping branches have a pink cast, and when the bright green buds begin to swell, it looks like the trees have been draped in delicate chiffon.

The native oat grass cloaking Mt. San Bruno is lush and brilliantly green this year. Mockingbirds are singing outrageous love songs well into the wee hours of the morning, and I have even seen a few early butterflies here and there -- probably just cabbage loopers looking for a late supper.

Hungry for color, I planted some pansies and violas a few weeks ago, before the mock spring weather kicked in. The warm weather in early February really got them off to a good start. To keep them looking their best until it's time to change the beds to impatiens, I'll fertilize every two weeks with 15-30-15, a trick I learned while I was a gardener at Sunset Magazine.

Getting the Most Out of Annuals
We kept extensive flower beds and container gardens and changed the plantings several times a year. The secret to growing annuals successfully is to push them hard to get the most bang for your buck.
An annual plant goes through its entire life cycle in a single year. Fertilizing encourages plants to grow by providing the nutrients and minerals necessary for green top growth, flower development, and roots, depending on the type of fertilizer you use. By providing small amounts of nutrients continuously, you provide the plant with everything it needs to achieve its goal of creating a seed. You can do the same thing by using a slow-release product, but I like the alchemy involved in mixing and applying fertilizer. It brings me closer to the plants.

Another routine that's important when you grow annuals is to remove the faded flowers. Grooming not only makes the plants look better, it prolongs the bloom cycle.

Annuals are a bit of an indulgence, but when I look at a pot of brilliant yellow pansies, all common sense flies right out the window. I grew some unusual black pansies once, but they weren't nearly as rewarding.

There is still time to plant one of my favorite cool-season annuals: nemesia. They do very well along the coast throughout the spring, but when the temperature gets over 80 degrees F., nemesia will fade. Plant them in hanging pots in rich, fast-draining soil. Nemesia resembles lobelia in its trailing growth habit and similarly shaped flowers, except the flowers of nemesia are larger and bloom in an array of delicious colors. Keep this jolly annual plant well fed and it will reward you with little jewels of color to keep you company until summer finally arrives.


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