February Gardening Topics
The last part of February is the time to prune fuchsias. There may be some frost damage so prune that out. Also take off some of last summer's growth. Leave at least two or three healthy leaf buds on each branch. Fuchsias have a tendency to get leggy. Frequently pinch the tips of the branches during the spring and summer to force side growth, making the fuchsia bushier. Pick off flowers as they fade. Check out the American Fuchsia Society's website for more information.
There are still bare root roses, berries and trees available in the nurseries. The bare roots of these plants need to soak from an hour to overnight (large plants) in a bucket of water before planting. Trim roots of broken, dead or spongy bits and carefully pull the roots apart. Dig a hole that is fairly shallow and wide. Spread the roots out sideways and have the crown of the plant several inches above the soil level. This is necessary as the plant will settle down over time. Water in well but wait to fertilize until you see new shoots growing. Be sure to water regularly if the rains are sparse. An inexpensive moisture meter from the nursery is very handy to check soil moisture. Staking may not be necessary. See The Home Orchard website for fruit tree planting tips (PDF).
Remove old brittle canes on hydrangeas. Leave young canes with flower buds attached. Hydrangeas bloom on the new year's growth. More information about hydrangeas is on the American Hydrangea Society website.
Now is a good time to cut back those branches that touch the ground or fences or other structures. Thin the tree to let more air into the middle. Trim out crossing branches and anything that looks dead. All these steps will help control scale and aphid infestations. Use Tanglefoot sticky goo on the trunk to keep ants out of the tree. Be sure to apply the Tanglefoot on top of tape rather than directly on the trunk. The ants 'protect' the scale and aphids. If you see scale (bumps on bark), thoroughly spray with Volk oil to suffocate them. Yellowing of leaves is normal this time of year as the iron that keeps the leaves green is chemically unavailable because the soil is too cold. When the soil warms up (over 60° F), check for yellowing. You may not need to apply a nitrogen fertilizer if the new leaves are green.
The sudden dieback of individual branches during mid to late summer can lead to dry brown leaves that may remain on the branches until the following winter. This is a wound fungus parasite caused by airborne spores through fresh pruning wounds. Cankers develop around an infected wound and eventually kill the branch. This can take months or even years. The danger of spreading is highest in the fall during early rains and again in spring. Prune in July or August before fall rains. The pamphlet Eutypa Dieback of Apricot and Grape in California is $1.50 and has good color illustrations.
Don't fertilize young trees when you plant them; rather, wait until you have 6 to 8 inches of new growth, usually early summer. Use no more than half strength of a balanced fertilizer. The second year apply the fertilizer in the fall and again the following May. Repeat in the third year. Scatter the fertilizer on the ground at least one foot away from the trunk, rake it into the soil and then water well. If it is not mixed into the soil, some of its value will be lost. Fully mature fruit trees may not need fertilizing.
Botrytis is gray or brownish fuzzy mold that can attack a wide variety of plants. It likes flower petals, ripening fruits and vegetables, as well as leaves and stems. The spores are spread through the air. It is most severe in fall and winter and may start forming on decaying matter. It is important to remove debris and prunings from the ground. You may even have to pick up flowers daily. Avoid overhead watering. If all else fails, you may have to use a copper fungicide.
You probably won't see them, because they're very small and only active at night. They create many round or oval holes on the surface of the wood and small piles of fine sawdust. There are two common kinds in California. The Lyctic attacks only light colored hardwood less then 10 years old, such as floors, cabinets, picture frames. Anobiids are less picky about what they eat and will go for older softwood or hardwood, like piers, joists, studs, furniture. The beetles come in on firewood, furniture, paneling. Prevention is cheaper than control. Inspect the house crawl space every 2 years to detect early. When possible, use pressure treated or redwood heartwood. Protect wood surfaces with a product that seals the pores. Small wooden objects can be put in the freezer for 24 hours. Fumigation is the quickest and most reliable control.
Better Boy, Celebraty, Champion, Early Girl, Sweet 100's, Supersteak, and Yellow Pear. It's time to plan seeding for the summer. The complete list of warm season vegetables is free.
Non-aggressive root systems, no messy fruit, small size, relatively free from pests and attractiveness are some of the things to look for. Some examples are Japanese Maple, Chinese Pistacio (male), White or Pink Hybrid Crape Myrtle, Tollenson's Weeping Juniper, Flax-leaved Paperbark, Strawberry tree and Canadian Redbud.
Lawns are getting smaller and more drought resistant. The Tall Fescues are the best for this area. Hybridists have developed finer leafed varieties and even some golf courses are starting to use these. Alta, Fawn and Kentucky 31 are broadleaf varieties. Clemfine, Falcon, Houndog, Olympic, Jaguar, Apache, Galaway, and Rebel are the newer fineleaf.