Color alone does not indicate that a pumpkin is ready to be harvested. Wait until the outer shell hardens before picking. Use your thumbnail to test; it should dent but not puncture the pumpkin skin. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)
New season starts with dry, windy conditions
Fall begins with a last gasp of summer heat.
Conditions this week represent high fire danger for Northern California, according to the National Weather Service. Monday, the first official day of fall, will see winds blowing 10 to 20 mph with gusts up to 30. Combined with extremely low humidity and warm temperatures, those winds could rapidly spread wildfires.
It’s a reminder to clean up dried grasses, pine needles and other fodder for wildfire. But be careful: Don’t create sparks with your tools or machinery.
After some hot days this week, weather will rapidly cool down in the weeks to come. Get your garden into autumn mode:
* Keep an eye on pumpkins and winter squash. If possible, elevate the ripening fruit or put something underneath them to avoid rot on the bottom. They’re ready to pick when the skin is fully colored and starting to harden; when pressed with your thumbnail, the skin will dent but not puncture. Another sign they’re ready for harvest: The stem will dry out.
* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.
* Fertilize deciduous fruit trees.
* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.
* Transplant cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and lettuce seedlings.
* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.
* Transplant pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks, snapdragons and other cool-season flowers.
* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.
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Dig In: Garden Checklist
For week of March 19:
Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:
* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.
* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.
* 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 fight blossom blight.
* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.
* 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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