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Does winter solstice affect plants?

All these trees -- crape myrtle, ornamental cherry and valley oak -- will grow leaves again this spring, determining the sunlight and shade that any plants underneath receive.

Observation is key when planting in winter

Happy winter solstice!

Saturday, Dec. 21, is the first day of winter as well as the shortest day of the year. That also means Friday and Saturday are the longest nights with the most hours of darkness.

We people can cope with the extra darkness by turning on lights.

But how does the winter solstice affect plants?

Most of the plants we grow cope with winter darkness and short days just fine. The change of season (as well as temperature) prompts deciduous species to drop their leaves and go dormant until spring.

In some plants, winter’s shorter days and longer nights trigger blooming. That includes poinsettias, chrysanthemums, camellias and Christmas cactus. (That’s also why those plants are such popular holiday gifts.)

From Sunday on, the days get longer and nights shorter. But a sunny day in winter is not the same as one in summer due to the angle of the sun.

During winter months in Sacramento, the sun stays lower on the horizon and doesn’t generate the same warmth if shining directly overhead. That angle casts longer shadows, too, shading some plants that usually receive more sun.

On the other hand, plants that are usually shaded under deciduous trees get more sun in winter because those trees have dropped their leaves.

When planting (or planning to plant) in winter, take into consideration the differences in sun and shade in your garden. Blooming spring bulbs, for example, do just fine under dormant leafless trees, but can’t cope with the constant shade of evergreens. Likewise, that sunny spot under a naked maple won’t be sunny in summer.

Due to the changing sun angle, azaleas and other shrubs that appreciate afternoon shade may get it in winter but not in summer when they need it most.

Let this solstice be a reminder: Observation of sun and shade can be a key to garden success.


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Garden Checklist for week of May 19

Temperatures will be a bit higher than normal in the afternoons this week. Take care of chores early in the day – then enjoy the afternoon. It’s time to smell the roses.

* Plant, plant, plant! It’s prime planting season in the Sacramento area. If you haven’t already, it’s time to set out those tomato transplants along with peppers and eggplants. Pinch off any flowers on new transplants to make them concentrate on establishing roots instead of setting premature fruit.

* Direct-seed melons, cucumbers, summer squash, corn, radishes, pumpkins and annual herbs such as basil.

* Harvest cabbage, lettuce, peas and green onions.

* In the flower garden, direct-seed sunflowers, cosmos, salvia, zinnias, marigolds, celosia and asters.

* Plant dahlia tubers. Other perennials to set out include verbena, coreopsis, coneflower and astilbe.

* Transplant petunias, marigolds and perennial flowers such as astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia and verbena.

* Keep an eye out for slugs, snails, earwigs and aphids that want to dine on tender new growth.

* Feed summer bloomers with a balanced fertilizer.

* For continued bloom, cut off spent flowers on roses as well as other flowering plants.

* Don’t forget to water. Seedlings need moisture. Deep watering will help build strong roots and healthy plants.

* Add mulch to the garden to help keep that precious water from evaporating. Mulch also cuts down on weeds. But don’t let it mound around the stems or trunks of trees or shrubs. Leave about a 6-inch to 1-foot circle to avoid crown rot or other problems.

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