In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Citrus, like this gorgeous grapefruit, is the reigning king of cool season gardening here in sunny California.
The Cool Season King
We are lucky here in sunny California. Believe me, it's not the earthquakes or the highest tax rate in the nation that brings people flocking to the West Coast. It's the weather, the beautiful, temperate climate that is the enticement. Where else can you snow ski in the morning and surf the waves in the afternoon?
Gardening in the Golden State
Although we don't have the four distinct seasons, gardening is a year round occupation. We do have a cool season, in which we usually get an average of 16 inches of rain, and warm season when it stays dry.
Cool season gardening usually runs from late fall to early spring. This is when we plant crops that prefer cooler temperatures and shorter days. Vegetables such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, artichokes, and peas keep our vegetable beds lush and green.
Flowering annuals such as pansies, campanula, forget-me-nots, poppies, stock, calendula, sweet peas, snapdragons, and my very favorite, nemesia, bring cheer to our gardens in the winter months.
Favorite cool season perennials that grace our borders and beds include hellebore, heuchera, clivia and astilbe. Flowering shrubs such as camellia, rhododendron, azalea, dogwood, redbud, and leptospermum are permanent residents that enhance the cool days with bright splashes of color.
The Reigning Cool King
The cool season plant that California is most famous for is citrus. Lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, kumquats, Mandarin oranges, pummelos, grapefruit, and tangelos all thrive here, although some varieties require more heat to ripen than others. The heady scent of citrus flowers hangs heavy in the winter air.
If you live in an area that gets heavy frost, you can still grow a wide variety of citrus plants. You simply need to select and plant an early ripening variety so that the fruits beat the cold weather. If you live in a hot, inland area protect trunks by wrapping in burlap or newspaper.
Citrus do very well in containers and even grow indoors as houseplants, although they prefer a sunny outdoor location.
The trick to successful citrus cultivation is to keep the soil continuously moist. Water twice a week except in extremely hot weather when you may need to water more frequently.
Citrus plants are not particular in regards to soil, except that they do require adequate drainage. If you have heavy clay or slow draining soil, plant citrus on a mound or in raised beds.
Fertilizing citrus plants is very important. The main ingredient for successful citrus cultivation is nitrogen, but a complete fertilizer will do the trick. Make sure trees are well watered prior to applying fertilizer to prevent damaging the roots. It is evident that a tree is hungry when the leaves begin to turn yellow. That is a sure indication that it's time to feed. A dedicated citrus fertilizer will provide not only nitrogen, but necessary micronutrients such as iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Make your East Coast relatives jealous -- tell them you are going out into the garden to pick a few oranges to make your own juice. Or, simply enjoy the beautiful shape of these magnificent plants.
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