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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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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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