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For gardeners, a rainy day's reading -- and watching

A perfect time to catch up on gardening info

Red blossom on a pineapple sage plant
Even a little bit of color stands out on a grey day:
The last red blossoms on a thriving pineapple sage.
(Photo: Kathy Morrison)

This late in December I don't have much time to garden even when the sun is out. The current rain system has kept me mostly indoors, where it's warm and cozy. Between flurries of gift wrapping and cooking, I can sit down with a big mug of coffee and catch up with articles and posts.

Do you follow The Garden Professors? They have an excellent blog, offering science-based reports and advice. But it's not humorless -- a clip from the movie "Mame" is included in the latest one.

Linda Chalker-Scott is maybe the best known of the writers, from her work dispelling garden myths and her book "How Plants Work." Her fellow bloggers include Jim Downer, Pam Knox, John Porter and Sylvia Thompson-Hacker.  They also have an active Facebook group , where participants post questions and information, but it's private, and readers must promise to follow the very specific rules before they're allowed to join.

Here are a few of the posts I stashed away recently to read and refer to:

-- Haul Out the Holly ... and a cactus ... and a parasite: A review of holiday plants and their traditions, by John Porter.

-- Pruning Mature Shade Trees , by Jim Downer. This post is an invaluable reference, and includes several pictures of older trees maligned by poor pruning. "Large trees bear the burden of their insults over the years," he writes. Yikes.

-- Poinsettias: from ditch weed to holiday super star (history, lore, and how to get those d@!% things to rebloom next year), by John Porter. Yes, you can get that holiday brightener to rebloom. But it takes some work. Porter also discusses the fascinating history of the poinsettia and how it came to be such a prominent Christmas plant.

-- Why root washing is important: An illustrated cautionary tale . Root washing is a huge topic with Linda Chalker-Scott, and it's an especially important technique for anyone putting in new landscape plants. Root washing is a method of releasing and correcting the root system of plants grown -- stuffed into! -- nursery pots, especially trees. As she notes, "Leaving rootballs intact creates textural discontinuities between the roots and the native soil, and poorly structured woody roots are not going to correct themselves."

Videos on YouTube of course are always good gardening references, but it's easy to get caught up in ones that have no real relevance to Sacramento-area gardens. These videos are iron-clad local, and perfect for winter:

Composting: Getting started and Composting: Hot vs Cold with Susan Muckey of the Sacramento County master gardeners.

Shopping for bare-root fruit trees with Ed Laivo of Dave Wilson Nursery.

Grafting fruit trees with Tom Spellman of Dave Wilson Nursery.

Identifying and removing suckers on citrus trees with Kerry Beane of Four Winds Growers.

Pruning woody sages with Pat Schink of the Sacramento master gardeners. This video includes growing season and dormant season (winter) pruning of salvias. My sages and salvias looked better than ever this past year, thanks to these pruning guidelines.


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Garden Checklist for week of June 23

Get to work in the mornings while it’s still cool.

* Irrigate early in the day; your plants will appreciate it.

* Generally, tomatoes need deep watering two to three times a week, but don't let them dry out completely. That can encourage blossom-end rot.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the early hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Avoid pot “hot feet.” Place a 1-inch-thick board under container plants sitting on pavement. This little cushion helps insulate them from radiated heat.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants. Mulch to conserve moisture and reduce heat stress.

* Cut back Shasta daisies after flowering to encourage a second bloom in the fall.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes. 

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

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