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Gardening ideas for a winter day

Plant garlic, artichokes, herbs and more -- when it's not raining

Winter savory
Winter savory does well outdoors in winter, not
surprisingly. More cold-sensitive herbs, such as
basil, can be grown in a sunny window indoors.
(Photo: Kathy Morrison)

It’s official: Winter has arrived!

This California Christmas week looks pretty chilly with lots of rain in the Valley and several feet of snow in the Sierra.

On this first day of winter, Sacramento is shivering in the 40s – but that’s balmy compared to higher elevations. Truckee’s forecast high on Christmas Day is only 27 degrees with an overnight low of just 12.

While we might not have much good “gardening weather” this week, it doesn’t mean we’re not gardening.

* Two favorite crops – onions and garlic – are traditionally planted on the first day of winter (or soon after) for summer harvest. These root vegetables both come with a bonus; their greens can be used in winter and spring.

* Also ready for planting (as soon as the ground dries out a little) are bare-root artichokes and asparagus. Both perennial vegetables do well in Sacramento and can be planted in late December or January. Because they’ll stay in the same place for years to come, make sure their new home has good drainage and plenty of organic matter such as compost worked into the soil. Ideally, choose a spot with morning sun and a little afternoon shade to avoid sunburn in summer.

* This also is the time to plant bare-root roses and fruit trees such as fig, apple, pear, peach, cherry, nectarine, plum and apricot (and all their relatives). Buy early for best selection.

* Got bulbs? Put together a quicky two-punch flower display that also makes a great gift. In a deep pot, plant tulips, daffodils or other bulbs about 6 inches deep. Cover with an inch or two of soil. Then, transplant pansies, calendulas, Iceland poppies, cyclamen or other winter bloomers on top of the bulbs. Space the transplants so they’re between the bulbs if possible. Or group all the bulbs in the center of the pot and transplant the pansies, etc., around the pot’s edge. The annuals will soon cover the top of the pot with flowers, then the bulbs will push up between them, adding some late winter thrills.

* Herb gardening is year-round. Herbs also make good living Christmas gifts for both the gardeners and cooks on your gift list. Basil and parsley can be grown indoors in winter on a sunny, warm window sill. Other good gift herbs include chives, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, tarragon and thyme. Or give garlic with instructions on how to plant.


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Garden Checklist for week of April 14

It's still not warm enough to transplant tomatoes directly in the ground, but we’re getting there.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden needs nutrients. Fertilize shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash.

* Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias.

* Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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