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Think cool (veggies) during hot Dog Days of Summer

Start seeds for fall, winter favorites for transplanting after Labor Day

Chard and other cool-season favorites can be started from seed now for transplanting after Labor Day.

Chard and other cool-season favorites can be started from seed now for transplanting after Labor Day.

Debbie Arrington

What can a gardener do during the hottest days of summer? Think about fall – and plant cool-season vegetables.

These autumn-loving greens and winter favorites may not go into the ground when it’s triple-digits outside, but they’re very comfortable starting life on your kitchen counter or in a sunny window.

The Dog Days of Summer – July 3 through Aug. 11 this year – correspond with Sacramento’s historically warmest weeks. “Dog Days” get their nickname from the ancient Greeks; this period marks when Sirius, the “Dog Star,” rises in the skies above the Northern Hemisphere. They knew when they saw that very bright star, it was going to get hot.

As we retreat indoors to air conditioning, it’s an opportunity to look over our seed inventory and start a new crop of little lettuces, broccoli, cabbages or peas.

Here’s advice from the UCCE master gardeners of Placer County, as shared by their master gardener neighbors in El Dorado County:

“Although it seems counter-intuitive, the Dog Days – particularly the latter part, i.e. now – is a good time to start seeds of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, and Brussels sprouts for the fall garden. You can plant the seeds in pots or flats, or they can be sown in a sheltered place in the garden.

“With the warm soil temperatures, the seeds sprout quickly,” add the master gardeners. “Keep them watered and you'll have young plants to transplant after Labor Day. This is a HUGE savings as the cost of transplants at nurseries has sky rocketed in recent years. Plus, your plants are likely to be more vigorous and healthier than those raised for mass production, with a greater choice in varieties.”

Due to increased interest in home vegetable gardening, seed for some popular varieties has been selling out. Order early.

“In addition (to planting), it's a good time to look over seed packets and purchase cool season veggie seeds if needed so you can be prepared,” say the master gardeners. “And ordering seed packets is a good ‘garden activity’ to do on a hot summer day.”

What are some cool-season crops that can be started now? All the brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, etc.), greens (chard, spinach, leaf lettuce, head lettuce, etc.), root vegetables (radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, rutabagas, onions, etc.), and peas.

“Don't forget to order a few cool season flowers as well!” say the master gardeners. “These include sweet peas, violas, stock, cornflowers, and others, along with native California wildflowers like California poppies. Native wildflowers grow quite happily amongst the kale and radishes in a cool-season veggie garden!”


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For week of Nov. 26:

Concentrate on helping your garden stay comfortable during these frosty nights – and clean up all those leaves!

* Irrigate frost-tender plants such as citrus in the late afternoon. That extra soil moisture increases temperatures around the plant a few degrees, just enough to prevent frost damage. The exception are succulents; too much water before frost can cause them to freeze.

* Cover sensitive plants before the sun goes down. Use cloth sheets or frost cloths, not plastic sheeting, to hold in warmth. Make sure to remove covers in the morning.

* Use fall leaves as mulch around shrubs and vegetables. Mulch acts as a blanket and keeps roots warmer.

* Stop dead-heading; let rose hips form on bushes to prompt dormancy.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location – and definitely indoors overnight. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they’ll bloom again next December.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Plant spring bulbs. Don’t forget the tulips chilling in the refrigerator. Daffodils can be planted without pre-chilling.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers and plant such spring bloomers as sweet peas, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Plant trees and shrubs. They’ll benefit from fall and winter rains while establishing their roots.

* Set out cool-weather annuals such as pansies and snapdragons.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins now. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb.

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