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Want poppies? Plant now!

Fall is the perfect time to sow wildflower seeds

Bee on orange poppy blossom
Poppies do best when planted from seed in fall. They're low-water plants that regrow from their long
taproot. And bees love them. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Each spring, many Sacramento gardens -- as well as nearby hillsides -- are dotted with golden California poppies, our state's official flower. But don't wait until March to think about planting poppies.

When's the best time to plant California poppies and other native annuals? Early fall, just as nature would do.

California poppies, as do many other natives, benefit from planting in September and October while the ground is still warm. Winter rains (hopefully) give them any moisture they need until spring. And then they burst forth in their colorful show.

Related to carrots, poppies have very long taproots and don't transplant well. So, scatter their seed where you want to see flowers.

Scratch their fine seed into the surface; it only needs to be covered by about 1/16th inch of soil. The seed sprouts about three weeks after the first rain. Then, the young plants have plenty of time to develop their deep roots. Planted now, these poppies will be ready to bloom in late February or March.

Poppies have built-in drought tolerance and need only minimal irrigation, if any. They're also not choosy about soil, as long as it has good drainage.

Once established, poppies come back year after year. They're actually a perennial, re-sprouting from that same taproot that allows them to get by with little water. But they also reseed freely.


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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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