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Cheer up the garden -- and meals -- with edible flowers

Thinking of bright and delicious blooms on a grey, soggy day

Sage plant with red flowers
Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) can do triple duty in the
garden. Its flowers entice pollinators, add bright beauty
and are edible. The leaves also are edible. (Photo: Kathy

Well, we're definitely inside for a few days. It's cold and soggy outside, terrible gardening conditions. And wet soil shouldn't be walked on, anyway -- that compacts it, harming the soil structure and anything that is growing in that soil. And when compacted soil dries, it's more likely to be hard -- and harder to dig.

So, stuck indoors, the gardener can turn to catalogs, gardening guides, magazines, books and online publications that may have been stacking up (ahem!) or bookmarked for further reading. It's the best time all year to tackle that pile.

The Sacramento County master gardeners have dozens of online guides , so I dove into several I'd been meaning to get to. My current favorite, because it sounds so cheerful, is GN 155, Growing Edible Flowers in Your Garden.

I first saw flowers used in food when I was in college, visiting a friend in Oregon. One of her roommates crumbled a couple of marigold blooms into the salad. I was surprised -- this was long before organic gardening was common -- then intrigued. Turns out there are dozens of edible flowers, many of them quite familiar as ornamentals. This means much of the garden can incorporate double- or triple-duty plants: for beauty, food for humans, and food for pollinators and beneficial insects.

It's important to note that any pesticide-treated flower should NOT be eaten. This especially includes systemics, such as those sometimes used on roses.

But growing your own edible flowers means you can be sure they are free from pesticide residue.

While planning the spring garden, consider including some of the flowers listed here. Many more are listed on the aforementioned GN 155, which also notes specific flowers NOT to the eat.

Some pretty and edible flowers

Annuals: Borage (blue petals only); calendula (petals only), nasturtium, petunias, pineapple sage (often a perennial in our climate), radishes, scented geraniums (also a potential perennial; frost-sensitive), signet marigolds, snapdragons, violas.

Perennials: Bee balm, daylily, dianthus, hollyhocks, red clover.

Trees and shrubs: Apple, hibiscus, lilac, rose petals and rose hips, rosemary.


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Feb. 5

Make the most of sunny days and get winter tasks done:

* This is the last chance to spray fruit trees before they bloom. Treat peach and nectarine trees with copper-based fungicide. Spray apricot trees at bud swell to prevent brown rot. Apply horticultural oil to control scale, mites and aphids on fruit trees soon after a rain. But remember: Oils need at least 24 hours to dry to be effective. Don’t spray during foggy weather or when rain is forecast.

* Feed spring-blooming shrubs and fall-planted perennials with slow-release fertilizer. Feed mature trees and shrubs after spring growth starts.

* Finish pruning roses and deciduous trees.

* Remove aphids from blooming bulbs with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap.

* Fertilize strawberries and asparagus.

* Transplant or direct-seed several flowers, including snapdragon, candytuft, lilies, astilbe, larkspur, Shasta and painted daisies, stocks, bleeding heart and coral bells.

* In the vegetable garden, plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers, and strawberry and rhubarb roots.

* Transplant cabbage and its close cousins – broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts – as well as lettuce (both loose leaf and head).

* Plant artichokes, asparagus and horseradish from root divisions.

* Plant potatoes from tubers and onions from sets (small bulbs). The onions will sprout quickly and can be used as green onions in March.

* From seed, plant beets, chard, lettuce, mustard, peas, radishes and turnips.

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