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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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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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