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Dealing with winter, thinking of summer

Stay warm inside and plant seeds

Tomato seed packets
Dwarf varieties are among my tomato seed
purchases this year. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

When it's so cold outdoors this week, it's nice to think of warmer days and summer vegetables.

There's still plenty of time to start seeds for tomatoes and other summer favorites. For a little extra help, check out an online Zoom class this weekend, presented by the Solano County master gardeners.

"Starting Seedlings for Summer, Even When It's Cold Outside" will be hosted by master gardener Alex Russell, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 26. The Zoom link is here .

Last year I started all my tomatoes in late January and early February. Three weeks later,  several had collapsed from inattention (I had a busy winter!) and I had to start them again -- what a waste of seeds and time. With a trip planned in the middle of the month this year, I decided to delay my seed-starting until after I returned.

The tomatoes include my favorites, Juliet, Big Beef and Lemon Boy, while this year's experiments include some of the new dwarf heirloom tomato varieties developed by the Dwarf Tomato Project and sold on the TomatoFest online store. The link will take you to a detailed description of the project, which started in 2005.  For the seed listings, go here.

The distinction between dwarf tomatoes and compact determinate ones is important: The flavor apparently is better, and "these dwarf types are very distinctive in having a thick central stem, stout compact growth, and dark green, crinkly looking (so-called rugose) foliage." They top out at 3 to 4 feet in height, apparently.

This project has produced 30 varieties of open-source seeds. Many gardeners have limited space for tomatoes, so I'll be interested to see how these grow out in a Sacramento summer. I bought seeds for 4 varieties:

-- Uluru Ochre, 65 days, a 6- to 12-ounce "uniquely colored" orange-black tomato (SF Giants colors!). Indeterminate.

-- Dwarf Hannah's Prize, 75 days, 6- to 12-ounce, red with some light striping.

-- Dwarf Golden Gypsy, 75 days, 8- to 18-ounce, yellow-gold. Indeterminate.

-- Rosella Purple-Dwarf, 78 days, 6- to 12-ounce purple-black (similar to Cherokee Purple). Indeterminate.

Stay tuned this year for progress reports on these varieties.


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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