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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Aug. 12



With so much ash and dust that's been in the air,
plants can use a good morning rinse.
Smoke and heat: What Sacramento gardeners need to know now



Recent gardening conditions have been brutal – at least for gardeners. Air you can see does not feel fresh.

As long as the Central Valley fills with smoke from California wildfires, it’s better to stay inside. When we do venture out to the garden, make it in the morning when the air quality seems a little better and plants benefit the most from our attention.

The good news from the National Weather Service: No more triple-digit days are forecast for August. That doesn’t mean another 100-degree afternoon can’t sneak in (especially around Labor Day), but the immediate forecast sees a cool down into the near-normal low 90s and high 80s. That’s great for gardening – once the smoke clears for good.

Put these tasks on your to-do list:

* Rinse off plant foliage to remove accumulated ash and dust. Do this in the early morning, so leaves can dry quickly.

* Look out for spider mites, particularly on the underside of leaves. These tiny but voracious pests love hot, dry, dusty conditions. Local gardeners have reported spider mite outbreaks on tomatoes and rose bushes. If you see these mites (or more likely mite damage), spray with cold water to knock them off foliage.

* Avoid using pesticides, miticides, fungicides or other chemical sprays during hot and smoky weather. Same goes for horticultural oils. They may do more harm than good, “cooking” the foliage you’re trying to protect. If you must spray, wait until cooler conditions. Never spray on a windy day and always wear protective clothing with arms and legs fully covered.

* Wash well any harvested vegetables and fruit to remove smoke residue. Even with washing, tomatoes and grapes may have a smoky taste.

These watermelons look ready to harvest: The brown tendrils are the giveaway.
See checklist item. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)
* Give tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash and other summer workhorses a deep watering, then a boost of liquid fertilizer such as compost tea. They’ll need that extra energy for a last round of produce.

* Watch your watermelons. Vines start to wither as the melons ripen. Cut back on water as the melons near maturity, otherwise they may burst by soaking up too much moisture. The surest sign of a ripe melon is the tendril closest to the fruit. (The tendril is a little curly stem that helps the vine climb.) If the tendril is half brown, the melon is ready to pick or close to it; all brown, the melon is as ripe as it’s going to get. Harvest melons with a sharp knife to cut the thick stem.

* While spending more time indoors, propagate additions to your fall garden. Start seedlings for bunching onion, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, radicchio and lettuce.

* Sow seeds of perennials in pots for fall planting including yarrow, coneflower and salvia.

* In the garden, direct seed beets, carrots, leaf lettuce and turnips. Plant potatoes.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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