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Check in with your garden early in the day

A morning inspection can catch growing problems

Blueberry plant with straw mulch
This Misty blueberry got some more straw mulch. The ring is from an old
tomato cage that supports a piece of shade cloth over the potted plant. (Photos:
Kathy Morrison)

Early morning in May, time for Garden Patrol. Accompanied by four-legged Garden Supervisor Elsie T. Katt, I do a quick walk through my front and back gardens, making mental notes on what's happened to plants overnight.  Already checked the weather report — it's going to be 91 today, down a bit from yesterday's 97, but still plenty warm.

Here's my morning checklist, generally by priority:

Wilting. In the morning, this is not a good sign. Many plants will temporarily wilt in the afternoon during high heat -- tomatoes and squash among them -- but recover overnight. Does the plant need water? If it was just watered yesterday, maybe it needs to be moved, or it's rootbound and needs a larger pot. Could this plant use (more) mulch? Maybe some shade cloth?

Drooping. Different from wilting, to me this means a heavy branch or a spindly seedling that needs thinning or some support now before it breaks.

Distorted or chewed leaves. Hmm, could be aphids or caterpillars. If the leaves didn't look like this yesterday, I can act fast and might be able to prevent a full-on pest attack. Water-spray prescribed for aphid removal, but check first for evidence of lady beetles or other aphid-eaters at work. If close inspection turns up evidence of "caterpillar poop," a light dusting of Bt ( bacillus thuringiensis ) might be in order.

Seedlings. Check to see if any sprouts are up where I've put in seeds -- basil, zinnias and sunflowers this week -- and also whether they're too close together, need a light spritz or maybe a few more seeds should be added. Are the sprouts noticed yesterday still doing OK? Have the birds discovered them? If so, time for some berry basket covers.

Yellow leaves. There are so many reasons for yellowing leaves: underwatering, overwatering, lack of nitrogen, insect attacks, various wilts, sunburn, and on and on.  If there are one or two yellow leaves on an otherwise healthy, established plant, I put it on my mental "watch" list. But if it's a recently planted specimen, or the color change is dramatic, the plant goes straight to triage. By the way, this Plant Problem Diagnostic Tool from UC Integrated Pest Management is a terrific help in figuring out what's wrong.

Rose that needs deadheading
The Crazy Dottie rose could use some clean-up.
Deadheading needed. It's not urgent, but a pleasant chore for the morning. The roses are at that phase now. Time to clean them up and apply a bit of natural fertilizer. Lavender or rosemary might need some tidying up, too.

OK,  crucial things dealt with, it's time for a coffee break. Ms. Katt and I will be back outside again later.

May is such an important time in the garden. Here's a post I wrote last May that is relevant still: "Mistakes Gardeners are Making Now They'll Pay for Later This Summer."


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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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