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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 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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