Tips for Vegetables, Pests and Plants with Bad Behaviors

Summer is officially almost here although we all know it actually starts on Memorial Day weekend. What fun stuff should we be doing in the garden? What problems should I be on the lookout for? What troublemakers should I avoid planting?

June is a busy time for plants. Some are just finishing up early spring flowering like rhododendrons, azaleas. camellias, lilac and wisteria. Prune off spent flowers and shape plants if needed. Other plants are just beginning to flower and would like a dose of organic fertilizer to really perform well.

Plant corn, lettuce and basil continuously to keep a steady supply. Speaking of basil, if yours died recently showing brown spots or streaks up the stem,  fusarium wilt, caused by a fungus, is the culprit. Carried by either the soil that affected basil plants have been grown in or by seed from an infected basil plant it's a common problem. There is no remedy for fusarium wilt. Destroy infected plants and do not plant basil or other mint plants in that area for 2-3 years.

Night time temperatures should be consistently above 50 degrees for basil. As long as you provide it with a hot, sunny location and plenty of water, it's among the easiest of herbs to grow in the garden or in a container. Steady, slow growth is the key to good taste, so amend the soil with compost and forgo the fertilizer. Basil contains the most oils when harvested before the flowers occur. The best way to delay flowering, as well as to encourage branching and new growth, is to harvest regularly by snipping of the end of the branches.

The best time to harvest is midmorning, right after the dew has dried, but before the afternoon sun bakes out the oils. At some point later in the summer, flowering will begin in earnest. Then it's time to harvest the entire crop, as flavor will go downhill soon afterward.

Insects are having a field day at this time of year, too. Put out wet rolled newspaper at night to collect earwigs in the morning. If you see notches on your rose leaves, it's the work of leaf cutter bees. These guys are beneficial and will go away shortly.

If your rose leaves look like lace then you have the dreaded rose slug. I have a friend who's rose shrubs were really hit by these. It's discouraging when you had visions of huge fragrant bouquets on every table. What to do?

The rose slug is actually the larvae of a wasp called a sawfly. Because they may have 6 generations per year they can do a lot of damage to your roses. Early detection is key. Start scouting for sawfly larvae in early May when they can be hand picked or washed from the leaves with a strong spray. If needed, spray the leaves with neem oil while the larvae are still small. Conventional insecticides are toxic to bees and kill the good bugs too.

During the winter they pupate in the soil and removing a couple of inches will help with controlling their numbers. Even cultivating the soil at any time will break up the cocoons.

Finally, think twice before planting rampant growers that are hard to control unless you use a deep edging that will keep them confined where you want. There's nothing wrong with a plant that spreads out in the right places, but let it overgrow that area and it quickly wears out its welcome.

Plants like chameleon plant ( Houttunyia cordata) , lamium, it's close relative lamiastrum and hypericum are  great plants in areas that are not close to your other planting beds. The deceptively delicate looking and impossible to ever get rid of Japanese anemone falls into this category also. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Plan ahead.

Get out and enjoy your garden. The best way to nip problems in the bud is to walk around your garden with a beverage of some kind and just look.


Container Planting 101

A tree in full bloom is a breathtaking sight. A flowering shrub covered with fragrant blossoms is awe inspiring, too, but it's a spectacular group of plants in a great container that never fails to get my attention.

I love container gardening. Whether combining edibles with flowering plants or succulents with lots of color in an interesting container, I can never have enough in my garden. I nestle them along paths, stage them on the deck and admire them everywhere I see them in nurseries, magazine articles and other gardens.

You can grow anything in a container.  Herbs and other edibles, fragrant flowers to attract beneficial insects, California natives or even plants that glow in the moonlight.

There's a spot on my deck that I see right outside my kitchen window. In the spring I grow red tulips to contrast against the green shrubs in the background.  They're a beautiful sight. This year I didn't have much of a display as the squirrels decided they loved them, too. Now I'm yearning for that bright red spot of color to brighten my view.

[ I'm putting together a container with a thriller, fillers and spillers featuring vivid red and contrasting purple with some  pink, white and gray to cool and complete the vignette. Here's how I went about putting together this mixed container.

I started with a classic color scheme, combining a primary color with a secondary color- red with purple. Can't go wrong with that. But then I saw this empty beautiful teal blue glazed pot in a corner of my transplant area and decided that maybe a mixed color container would echo that English garden look. So much for a planned color scheme. When it gets down to it whatever looks good to you is the perfect combination.

I've chosen plants that have the same light requirements. A container in full shade might have a Japanese painted fern as the focal point, a burgundy oxalis triangularis as filler and Kenilworth ivy to spill over the sides. A container of sun-loving natives could combine one of the new colors of mimulus or monkey flower with a lewisia and an Emerald Carpet manzanita to spill over the edge.

Opposite colors that always look good together are red and green, the Christmas colors, yellow and purple, the Easter egg colors or orange and blue, the sunset colors. Mix them with a color next door on the color wheel or white or gray to blend everything together.

My thriller ( the tallest plant ) is a vivid red nicotiana. I loosen each root ball with my trusty kitchen fork that I often use for this purpose as it's easier to control  than a larger garden claw. Depending on how root bound the plant is, don't be afraid to score or scratch the outer and bottom tangled roots. If you don't your plant may never really grow into the surrounding soil.  

My pot will be seen from the front only so I'll position this plant toward the back. If your container will be seen from all sides then start in the middle and work out to the edges. Make sure there is some fresh soil between each root ball and also around the sides of your container.

I use a good quality potting soil and work in some control release fertilizer before planting. I'll water everything in to settle the soil after planting with a dilute solution of fertilizer like Maxsea 3-20-20 Blossom Booster because the extra phosphorus will encourage rooting and also the next round of flowers in my container.

Sometimes, I put just one plant in each pot. A specimen like a bold hosta or Japanese maple doesn't need any help to make a statement. Ditto for the All-Gold Japanese Forest grass, hydrangeas and roses. You can stage several pots to make a dramatic composition. A short but showy plant can be elevated up off the ground at eye level if placed on a plant stand or overturned clay pot. Smaller plants grouped at the front can hide what's behind if needed.

When planting mixed containers never use more than three plants colors, two is sometimes enough.  That doesn't count green, unless it's lime.  Skimpy pots are a miss, pack the plants so the pots are full when you're done.  You want the pots to look good right away.  Big pots, at least 16" across are dramatic and make a nice contrast to matching smaller ones.

Be sure to have the children plant up containers of their own. Plants that appeal to their senses are always a big hit.   Soft, touchable plants like lambs ears and artemisia 'Powis Castle', or fragrant plants like chocolate cosmos and scented geraniums are easy to grow. Or plant up a pizza container with bell pepper, cherry tomato, basil and oregano.

Another idea is to plant up a salsa container with tomatillo, cilantro, jalapeno peppers and tomatoes. Harvest some onions and garlic from the garden and a lime from the potted lime tree you have growing on the patio and you'll have delicious salsa on no time.

The ideas for great container gardens are endless. Try a new combination this year.