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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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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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