Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys

March, 2010
Regional Report

Remove Strawberry Blossoms

Pluck off strawberry blossoms through May--or whenever the warm weather has settled in for good--to concentrate the plant's first real burst of fruiting energy into large sweet berries rather than small tart ones. Unless, of course, you're desperately waiting for that very first berry, even if it is tart.

Start Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potato sets can be started indoors now for planting outside in May. Place small-to-medium sized tubers in a container that drains well, and cover them with light, sandy soil or planting mix. Put in bright light and keep the soil damp but not soggy, and in the 70 to 75 degree temperature range. Sprouts will be ready for transplanting in four to six weeks.

Finger-Flick Pruning of Roses

Rub off new, unwanted foliage on roses, especially when it points in toward the center of the bush. When the growth is young, this pruning is easy--just the flick of a fingernail will do the job. And squish those first aphids right on the stems and buds- use gloves if you're squeamish- so the "bug juice" wards off future generations.

Landscaping With Drought- and Neglect-Lovers

Consider landscaping with plants that thrive under conditions of drought and neglect. Flowering annuals include alyssum, cosmos, gazania, geranium, helichrysum, marigold, morning glory, phlox, portulaca, thunbergia, verbena, vinca, and zinnia. Shrubs include Australian fuchsias, ceanothus, coffee berries, cotoneasters, pineapple guavas, manzanitas, and rockroses, and verbenas (an especially good ground cover). Many beautiful flowering shrubs are naturally drought- resistant and can help birds and small animals survive next winter by providing food and habitat. Dwarf pomegranate, pyracantha, and barberry are excellent choices for fall and winter color. Perennials with great tolerance for drought include achillea, anaphalis, artemisia, asclepias, coreopsis, daylily, dianthus, echinopsis, eryngium, gaillardia, lavandula, potentilla, salvia, santolina, sedum, sempervivum, stachys, thyme and veronica.

Weeding The Small Ones

Get rid of weeds while they're small. Now's the perfect time, while the soil is still moist from all our wonderful rains. If you wait longer, water the area the day before you plan to weed to soften the soil around the roots. A handy tool to use to pry up entire root systems is the pronged "asparagus fork" that looks like a bent stick. Waiting until weeds grow larger--or, worst of all, reseed--means even more work. The big weeds will have big root systems that are hard to get out completely. If you pull out a weed that has already formed its seedhead, do not leave it in a walkway as mulch or compost it, unless you know your compost pile gets hot enough to destroy the seeds. The seeds will continue maturing, possibly enough to reseed and germinate--and you've recycled your weeds for another billion in another month.

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