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Get ready for hot days ahead

Straw on top of newspaper is a good start for mulch in the vegetable garden -- maybe add some more straw with warmer weather coming. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Make your plants comfortable with a little TLC now

It’s only the first week of May, but it already feels like summer.

That’s actually pretty normal, according to the National Weather Service. This week last year, Sacramento hit 100 degrees – the first triple-digit day of 2019.

We’re not expected to get that hot this week, although several days in the 90s are forecast. But those 100-degree days are not far away. If we aren’t comfortable, how will our plants handle the summer heat?

Take some time now to help your garden cope with the heat to come. Not only will your plants stay better hydrated, they’ll suffer less disease, too.

Follow this advice from the UC Cooperative Extension master gardeners:

* Deep-water trees and shrubs. This helps build their reserves and trains their roots to go deep.

* Create water basins around trees, shrubs and many summer vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. A basin holds in extra water just a little longer so it slowly seeps into soil. It’s easy to make a basin: Around the plant, build a soil berm about 3 inches high and at least 1 foot from the main stem (for tomatoes) to 6 feet (for trees). But don’t let water stand against trunks or main stems; that can cause crown rot.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! Put down a layer of insulating organic mulch (leaves, straw, wood chips, etc.) about 3 to 4 inches deep around trees and shrubs as well as any bare areas in the vegetable garden. Leave a circle open around the trunks or main stems of plants (again, this is to avoid crown rot and other issues). Mulch conserves moisture and keeps plant roots comfortable. It also adds nutrients to the soil, protects soil microbes and controls weeds. What’s not to like?

* Check your sprinklers and irrigation system. Now is the time to make adjustments and repairs.

* Water early in the day. This both conserves water and cuts down on fungal diseases.

* One good thing about high heat: It wipes out many fungal disease problems. Powdery mildew disappears as the temperature rises.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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