In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2006
Regional Report

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The first fruit tree blossoms are a welcome sight!

The Earliest Spring

This is the earliest spring I can remember. After our 3-inch rainfall, there's been nary a threat of sprinkles, and now we've had weeks of daytime temperatures in the low 80s. Even with nighttime temps in the high 40s, the garden is bursting forth.

My earliest peach blossoms are fading, and the tiny fruits are 1/4 inch already. Edible and sweet peas are beginning to blossom. Alstroemeria foliage clumps are 2 feet high. Artichoke foliage is expanding lushly. Boysenberry shoots are plentiful, and one lone boysenberry is raspberry-red.

Statuesque yellow chasmanthe contrasts with clouds of the vine lilac's (Hardenbergia violacea) teeny, purple sweet-pea-like blossoms. King Alfred yellow daffodils -- the only ones I've found to dependably naturalize here -- are first to come up after single and double white narcissus, while fragrant freesias are just budding up, and all arise from a river of purple violets.

I think this is my favorite time of the gardening year. Even though we didn't have a dreary winter this time around, I'm so thrilled to see the brilliant flower blooms and the veggie plants and fruit trees' first growth. But then, every new plant that appears is a treat to my gardener's eyes, guaranteeing delight year-round.

As I've gotten older, I've become intolerant of working outside in the heat and bright sun, and my allergies keep me inside in the early morning. So my gardening time is in the late afternoon, starting about 4 p.m. at this time of year. My hillside garden faces north-northeast, so the sun has gone over the hill by that time, and the garden is bathed in indirect light for at least 2 hours. This is the perfect amount of time for me to be high energy and accomplish a lot before it gets so dark that I can't tell the difference between weeds and seedlings.

Pruning Savvy
I love pruning at this time of year, as well. When I was a beginner, and puzzled by conflicting advice about what was the "right" way to prune, I guessed my way around plants and trees. Since then, I've developed a more discerning eye and pattern that I think serves beginners as well. And I jump at the opportunity to "read" a rose or fruit tree because of the buds that are swelling, since they make the choice of where to cut ever so obvious. No more guessing which little red dot might become a bud! Now I see exactly where to cut since I see precisely which bud is leading where. Definitely a confidence builder!

Even on the peach tree that I never got to prune, now that I can see which branches are already too high for me to pick any fruit, I just cut them off. And I fill vasefuls of the blooming branches as the first harvest!


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