In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
December, 2006
Regional Report

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Golden grapefruits decorate trees for the holidays.

Winter Gardening

Right smack dab in the middle of winter we get these stunningly beautiful days -- 72 degrees and all the sunshine you can drink. I love California for this very reason. We can garden all year long, barbecue outdoors in January, and walk along the beach any old time we feel like it.

I love a winter garden, too, just after a rain when the air is crisp and the leaves are sparkling with dew. I even delight watching a lazy snail glide his way across the sidewalk, antennas waving.

Colorful pansies, snapdragons, primroses, stock, calendula, ornamental kale, and elegant nemesia are among my favorite winter annuals. My two favorite winter-blooming shrubs, Sweet olive (Osmanthus) and Daphne odora, freshen the air with their heady fragrance. Citrus are ripe and ready for harvest, their golden orbs decorating the trees for the holidays.

What I Know About Winter Gardening:
Keep the compost pile going. It is going to decompose much more slowly than when the weather is warm, but it will continue working if you continue turning it over. Toss your garden and kitchen bits onto the pile and keep turning, turning, turning. Your hard work will be rewarded come spring, and turning the pile will keep you warm -- at least temporarily.

Pansies love cultivation. Use a pronged cultivator and keep the soil around them fluffy. For some reason, the oxygen around the roots stimulates flower production.

Primula malacoides always gets fungus disease, at least in my little garden. I love the flowers of Fairy primrose, but I guess I just don't have enough sun to keep them happy. If you plant them, make sure they are in very well-drained soil and are in bright sunlight all day long.

Snails love lettuce and peas. Copper tape, fireplace ashes, broken eggshells or a combination of all three should be spread around the vegetable patch. Snails are sneaky, and if there is a branch to bridge the way, they will find it. Sometimes I think they have wings.

Plant as much nemesia as you can. I love the clouds of colorful lobelia-like blooms. Plant it in hanging pots, under roses that are dormant, as borders, or around the edges of large containers to drape over the sides. Nemesia will only last until the weather gets hot again, so enjoy it while you can. Nothing else gives you as much color in the winter.

Fertilize annuals every two weeks with 1/2 strength, balanced fertilizer. Something like 22-14-14 is perfect.

Keep burlap or old bed sheets handy to cover the bougainvillea and citrus in case we get a hard freeze. It's always best to use some sort of frame to hold the covering above the plant to prevent damage to the foliage, but any kind of covering is better than none at all. If a freeze is predicted, water the garden well. Turgid plant cells are less susceptible to frost damage than those that are stressed from lack of water. And whatever you do, don't prune frost-damaged plants until March or April. I know a woman who threw out almost her entire cymbidium collection because she thought the plants were dead. She held on to a few because she wanted to keep the pots. Although the orchids appeared dead and black, they showed new signs of life when the weather warmed up. She threw out over 100 plants that she had been collecting for years! The lesson here is: be patient.

Don't walk on wet soil; it compacts it and ruins the friability. If you must walk across garden beds, use sheets of plywood or 2x4 strips of lumber to distribute the load.

Eating fresh peas right off the vine will be your reward for all this hard work!


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