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Free gardening education is out there

Let 2021 be the year of building on 2020's lessons

Speaker at bare-root tree nursery
Ed Laivo gives advice on choosing a bare-root fruit tree in a Dave Wilson Nursery video, one of many videos linked on the Sacramento County master gardeners' website . (Screenshot)

Experience is a great teacher, and judging from social media posts, this year a lot of gardeners -- beginners and veterans -- received a lot of schooling on growing food and ornamentals.

We all were home more, with more time to nurture plants and see our gardens develop. Or not.

The "I'll throw some seeds in the ground" crowd learned that preparing the soil first would have helped those seeds germinate better and develop as strong seedlings. Good chance they're working on a compost pile and already may have done a soil test for missing nutrients.

The "why grow 5 tomato plants when I can grow 25" folks learned about keeping up with a large crop -- and the importance of strong support for all those plants. They're already planning stronger cages or better stakes. And maybe fewer tomatoes.

The "I'm not getting any squash" group learned that not all plants develop the same way. Squash, pumpkins and melons require both male and female flowers to pollinate -- and those flowers may not develop at the same time. These gardeners may have bought a paintbrush to transfer pollen themselves. And are likely planning more pollinator plants to entice more bees.

The "but it said full sun!" gardeners learned that this note on a plant or seed package doesn't mean Sacramento sun in July or August. They're already investing in shade cloth. Lots of shade cloth.

The large "what's eating my plants?" crowd learned that growing food can mean having to share with the local wildlife. They're researching greenhouses, plant cages and motion-operated sprinklers.

There were a lot more lessons, of course, depending on one's garden size, location, contents and personal experience.

Many fine sources of information are out there to help gardeners build on their experience/education. I recommend starting with the UCCE Sacramento County master gardeners' website , which is packed with information, charts and references for year-round gardening.

Pruning a sage plant
Master gardener Pat Schink demonstrates hard winter
pruning of a blooming salvia plant in one of the
Sacramento County master gardener videos. (Screenshot)
And I hope all gardeners take the opportunity to check out the Sacramento  master gardeners' video library. Many of the videos listed were filmed in the summer, for Virtual Harvest Day 2020, but they're good to review year-round. Pertinent ones for winter include these:

Sharpening hand pruners with Bill Black of the Sacramento master gardeners

Composting: Getting started with Susan Muckey of the Sacramento master gardeners

Shopping for bare-root fruit trees with Ed Laivo of Dave Wilson Nursery

Grafting fruit trees with Tom Spellman of Dave Wilson Nursery

Identifying and removing suckers on citrus trees with Kerry Beane of Four Winds Growers

Seed-starting with Ruth Ostroff of the Sacramento master gardeners

Pruning woody sages with Pat Schink of the Sacramento master gardeners. This video includes growing season and dormant season (winter) pruning of salvias.

With the outdoor world mostly resting, winter is the perfect time to read up on gardening topics, watch videos,  and prepare for 2021 gardening.

Happy new year!


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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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