What do you see when you peek outside at your garden on a gloomy, cold day? Mrs. P sees Patsy Cline singing, “You don’t loooovvve me anymore.”
Well, after all the inside activities of the Christmas holidays are over, what can I say to Patsy except, “I’m soooooorrry, so sooooorrrry, please accept my apologies.”
Without the twinkly lights, inflatable Santas, and plastic prancing reindeer, face it, our gardens look grim. But wait! Light bulb time! There is a bright side to this dreary time of year (sorry, Mrs. P isn’t handing out plane tickets to Hawaii). Winter is, seriously, the best time of the garden year to combat weeds, plus be the superhero to your little Eden we know you can be.
Combating persistent weeds requires a Game Plan. The one thing weeds hate is total shade. They can’t grow in darkness under the cover of mulch. Reducing weed growth by shading the soil is what you should be doing. There are also chemical weed “preventers” that will reduce weed growth even more. The best of these are Trifluralin, often abbreviated as Treflan. The most common brand is Preen, but several others are available. Casoron is a longer-lasting weed preventer that can be used around deeper-rooted trees and shrubs. Weed preventers do not kill existing weeds but prevent about 95 percent of new weed growth. Do not cultivate the soil as this brings new weed seeds to the surface. Corn gluten is an organic weed preventer that is less effective but also prevents most weeds.
We now arrive at waking your inner hero. Imagine a world without fruits and vegetables. There wouldn’t be much color on your plate, would there? That plate represents a world without bees. A measureless amount of those little creatures are slowly dying away. Colony collapse disorder causes an unfathomable number of the worker bees in a colony to leave, and a parasite known as the “varrow destructor” spreads diseases (mainly a virus that deforms wings) through a colony of bees. This affects us all because there would be less food without the pollen bees spread, and honey, of course, which is used in a lot of everyday ways. Overall, the disappearance of bees is affecting both humans and plants. Two solutions are planting certain flowers and providing bee habitats, such as bee blocks.
Blue, purple, violet, red, white, and yellow flowers are especially favored by all kinds of bees. I’ve discovered 10 flowering plants that will add colorful beauty to your outdoor space, attract bees and butterflies, are drought-tolerant, fuss-free, and, with one exception, all are natives to the U.S. and Mexico.
1. Azureum Bush Germander: Blue flowers on silvery foliage add a visually cooling element to the landscape. Native to the Mediterranean region, it’s become adapted to our central valley.
2. Lemmon’s Marigold: Native to Mexico, it’s also called copper canyon daisy and bees love it.
3. Desert Ruellia: Native to Baja, California, its purple blossoms appear year-around and stay a manageable size.
4. Autumn Sage: Native to Texas, its dainty blue flowers are a magnet for hummingbirds, too.
5. Mexican Bush Sage: An eastern Mexico native, its fuzzy purple spikes bloom in spring, summer, and fall.
6. Mexican Honeysuckle: The orange, tubular flowers add a tropical feel to any garden and a must-have for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
7. Violet Silverleaf: A silvery-leafed Texas native with vibrant purple flowers.
8. Damianita: Native to arid regions of the southwest, it is best used along pathways or grouped together next to boulders; it’ll provide a carpet of yellow most of the year.
9. California Fuchsia: Native to the western U.S., its orange-red flowers are irresistible to bees.
10. Chuparosa: Native to the Sonoran Desert, this drought-tolerant shrub has vibrant orange-red flowers with heart-shaped leaves.
While these plants will help open up a new source of food for bees, bee blocks will act as homes for our bee friends. This solution solves the problem of disappearing bees because it provides bees with something to start a colony. Without going into too much detail, it’s pretty simple to give bees a home. I urge you to go to www.humanesociety.org and type in How to Friend Your Native Bees in the search box. Lots of local places sell bee tubes/blocks. We’re very lucky to live in Bakersfield because there are no enemies like pollen mites living here to menace bees. It’s too hot and dry for these parasitic mites. Whew. Take action. Buy flowering plants and bee blocks. One final website to visit is: www.3bhoneybee.ca to learn more.
“Getting a jump on spring” is an obsession with certain gardeners of unstable temperament. Count Mrs. P in this group! Having planted large pots of white tulips last fall, I scattered Myosotis (‘Forget-me-not’) seeds on top which will bloom first and fool me into believing spring, wonderful spring, is here. Many of our early spring flowers have ancient myths and legends which originated in the Mediterranean area, a growing zone shared with Bakersfield. Most tales involve loss, rejection, and death. Well, what gardener—who’s been through winter hail, wind, frost—can’t relate to that! An Old Persian legend tells of a young man smitten by a beauty who declined to reciprocate. The snubbed lover fled to the desert to die a lonely death. As he wept for his love, each tear falling in the desert sand was transformed into a beautiful tulip in bloom. Ohhhhh, sniff, sniff, what a great country western song that would make. In the case of the tale about Forget-me-nots, the theme of tragic love is given a slightly more Hollywood spin. Here, the story is of two young lovers strolling together along a riverbank. The gallant youth plucks Forget-me-nots for a bouquet to give his beloved. Accidentally, he stumbles into the torrent and is swept away. As he’s being dragged under he flings the posies onto the bank and yells out to her to “forget me not!” Who could, after a dating stunt like that? What’s uncanny about these ancient stories of floral tragedy is how accurately they capture the fickleness of life in general, but gardening specifically.
Do you think you’ve lost some plants this winter? For whatever reason, either weather or neglect, some of our plants won’t make it to 2016. Think of it as an opportunity to plant something new, something you’ve maybe never tried growing before. Bare Root Season will be upon us very soon. It’s much cheaper to buy “bare root” plants than potted plants. Roses, especially, are, in my opinion, best purchased as bare root plants because you’ll have so many more choices. Many years ago Mr. P and I were introduced to a charming man by our neighbor and friend, Phyllis Wattis. The two of them were working on a philanthropic project, but Phyllis, knowing my interest in roses, explained that her friend knew a lot about roses. His name was Rayford Reddell and was a well-known “rosarian” in northern California. Should you plant new roses this year, try this unique feeding schedule; it’s great!
1st Week: Scatter 1/3 cup of Sulfate of Ammonia along the drip line of the rose plant and water well.
3rd Week: Scatter 3/4 cup Epsom salts around the rose and water well.
1st Week: Scatter 1/2 cup of balanced granular fertilizer (Look for 10-10-10, 15-15-15, or 20-20-20 on the label) per bush and water well.
3rd Week: Scatter 1/2 cup Epsom salts per bush and water well.
1st Week: Scatter balanced fertilizer as above.
3rd Week: Mix 2 Tablespoons of Fish Emulsion per gallon of water and pour 2 gallons on each bush.
1st Week: Scatter a granular fertilizer (0-10-10) and water well. This will encourage no new growth but continue blooms and will harden the wood for winter.
3rd Week: Apply Fish Emulsion at the same rate as in July/August.
No fertilizer after Halloween! If your roses still seem hungry, in spite of this hefty diet, fertilize to your heart’s content with additional shots of Fish Emulsion, which is not only thoroughly organic, but also incapable of burning plants.