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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 Sept. 25

This week's warm break will revive summer crops such as peppers and tomatoes that may still be trying to produce fruit. Pumpkins and winter squash will add weight rapidly.

Be on the lookout for powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that may be enjoying this combination of warm air and moist soil.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Plant for fall now. The warm soil will get cool-season veggies and flowers off to a fast start.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with "eyes" about an inch below the soil surface.

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