Must Be Present
Keep an eye on your garden and reap the rewards
By Anita Clevenger
It’s debatable whether absence really does make the heart grow fonder. There’s no question that a gardener’s attentive presence makes a garden better. An observant gardener can identify pests and other problems early and keep up with the rapid changes that happen this time of year. Grab a bucket, have a hose with a powerful spray nozzle handy and take a daily stroll outside. Both you and your garden will benefit.
The bucket is good for collecting weeds and spent flower heads. Remove weeds as soon as you spot them, getting them out, roots and all, before they can set seeds. Deadheading flowers will make your garden look fresher and encourage continued bloom.
The hose is one of your most powerful pest-control devices, best employed early in the day so leaves will dry before nightfall. Got aphids? Blast them off with water. Is there powdery mildew on your roses and other plants? Rinse it off. Are your plants dusty or covered in webs? Give them a nice shower. Plants, like us, need to breathe through their pores. They look and feel better when they’re clean. Dust also attracts spider mites and whiteflies.
You may not see pests, but you often can spot their signs. Snails and slugs will chew leaves and leave telltale silvery trails. Many insects suck, chew and rasp plant tissues, doing a lot of damage. Generally, you can just squish them between your fingers or knock them into a bucket of soapy water. Tomato hornworms are a particular garden nemesis and can virtually strip a tomato plant of leaves. It’s fairly easy to find their black droppings and damaged leaves, but it can be hard to spot the well-camouflaged, very hungry caterpillars.
Weed trees are a continuing problem in my yard because squirrels plant pecans and acorns in every potted plant and patch of ground. By the time you spot tree leaves, they will have sent down long tap roots into the ground. I go on regular tree patrol, armed with a trowel or shovel to dig out as much root as possible.
Sacramento gardens rely on irrigation to grow, but it’s not easy to ensure that everything in your yard gets the right amount of water. Different types of plants, in different conditions, require different amounts of water. In general, you want to water deeply when the soil is dry a couple of inches below the surface. Too much water will rot roots and increase weeds such as nut sedge. Too little water will stress or even kill plants. Check your irrigation system periodically to ensure that there are no leaks or malfunctions. Monitor the moisture by digging up soil from a plant’s root zone with a screwdriver or narrow trowel, or probing with a moisture meter. Once you know how wet the soil is, adjust the watering schedule and amounts accordingly.
Plants can grow out of bounds quickly, smothering more frail neighbors in the process. Cut back, move or remove plants that are getting out of hand. My husband tucks tomato shoots into the cages every day to keep them under control and trims the wisteria several times a year.
In June, spring-flowering annuals are fading and untidy as they near the end of their lives. Harvest their seeds, if you wish, and pull them out. Most people grow California poppies as annuals, but they are really perennials, and will bloom again if cut close to the ground.
Be sure to pick produce at its peak for the best flavor and to encourage plants to keep on bearing fruit. Cut back herbs to keep them compact.
This sounds like a lot of work, but it’s mostly pleasure. Gardens appeal to all of your senses and soothe your soul. Smell the flowers. Pop a cherry tomato into your mouth. Listen to the birds sing. Feel the coolness of the morning air. Enjoy the beauty that surrounds you, and appreciate the fact that you’ve nurtured this beauty and bounty.
When we go on a trip, friends and relatives keep an eye on things, but I’m always glad when we can resume our regular rounds. Our garden misses us, and we miss our garden.
Anita Clevenger is a lifetime Sacramento County Master Gardener. For answers to gardening questions, contact the UC Master Gardeners at (916) 876-5338 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit sacmg.ucanr.edu. Previous columns can be found and shared at the all-new insidesacramento.com. The next Open Garden will be June 15 from 9 a.m.–noon at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, 11549 Fair Oaks Blvd. in Fair Oaks.