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May Gardening Specifics . . .

May 25, 1991

Tuberous begonias and fuchsias give a spectacular display of flower color from early spring through fall. Both plants are available in trailing basket varieties or upright forms.

Begonia tubers can be planted right away. You can also find flowering nursery-grown plants this month in most nurseries.

First-time tuberous begonia growers often show up at nurseries crying for help, usually with a sad tale of how their plant rotted at the base or the foliage became covered with white powdery mildew. Take heart. For real success do the following:


Never water plants overhead. Keep any water and moisture away from foliage.

Check soil on a regular basis, and water only when the top 2 inches are dry.

Provide excellent air circulation. Do not crowd plants together.

Feed plants every two weeks with a balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-5.

Give plants bright filtered light, but not full sun or complete shade.


The upright varieties are ideal for planting at the back of your garden or in pots. Trailing varieties need to be grown in a hanging container.

* Fuchsias are steady feeders. When new foliage appears in late winter or early spring, they require feeding every two weeks through October.

* These plants bloom on new growth, so pruning is essential for annual blooms. Prune or cut back around mid-November every year. Once new foliage appears, pinch tips to create fullness. Continue to do this with successive new growth. Once you have achieved a full plant, stop pinching. Buds will soon form and the plant will begin blooming, generally around April through November.

* Provide bright, filtered light and water two to three times a week by thoroughly soaking the plant. A drip system is by far the most efficient means of watering these plants and conserving water.

* Fuchsias are prone to whitefly. Fuchsia growers recommend Cooke's Garden Insect Spray or Orthene sprayed three times at five-day intervals.

* A free fuchsia-care workshop will be held at Sherman Gardens in Corona del Mar June 8 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Information: (714) 673-2261.


Looking for a colorful, drought-tolerant plant? Try cosmos. It will grow in almost any kind of soil and can survive heat and long periods of dryness. The daisy-like flowers with tufted yellow centers will also attract hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden. C. bipinnatus is available in white, rose, pink, purple, yellow and crimson. Some strains grow to 6 feet tall and work well as a background hedge. Cosmos is also an excellent addition to your cutting garden, since the flowers are excellent in arrangements.

Add 3 to 4 inches of mulch to flower and vegetable gardens as well as around established trees and shrubs to keep the ground weed free and to prevent loss of moisture. Mulching saves water, time and effort since your plants will be able to go longer between waterings.

Feed roses every four to six weeks with rose fertilizer.

Stake all vining and tall-growing vegetables when planting the seedlings. This way you will avoid disturbing the root system as the plants mature.

It's time to plant summer-blooming annuals. Try hot-weather lovers: celosia, petunias, marigolds, dahlias, nicotiana, salvias and zinnias.

By adding a polymer-based material to your container plants, you will be less likely to find them starved for water when you return from vacation. Polymers mixed into the soil help retain water longer and can help keep your plants from drying out while you're away.

Feed citrus trees monthly with citrus food to promote good fruit production.

Yellow leaves on camellias and azaleas can generally be corrected with applications of chelated iron. Apply to the soil or to the foliage.

Are you ready for outdoor summer entertaining? With a little planning this month, your yard will have lots of colorful summer blooms for years to come. Plant some star jasmine near the pool or hot tub and enjoy its heavenly fragrance and creamy white flowers. For additional fragrance, plant "Mystery" gardenias, which have 4- to 5-inch white flowers. This variety is rangy and can grow to 6 to 8 feet. If you haven't room for such a large plant, consider the "Veitchii" variety. It's a compact plant reaching approximately 4 feet with lots of 1 1/2-inch flowers.

Another way to spruce up your patio is to plant roses in containers, hanging baskets and barrels. Container-grown roses can provide instant color and are portable, too. Use them to add interest to wide walkways and entrances. Patios and decks can feature groupings of different rose varieties, and miniature roses can perk up window boxes and hanging baskets. Select shorter varieties of the modern hybrid roses, since they are more compact with greater numbers of flowers. All roses need about six hours of sun a day. Keep them out of drying winds and provide some protection from midday sun.

Petunias love sun, but at temperatures above 75 degrees they tend to become tall and leggy with few flowers. Before this happens and before the warmer temperatures set in, pinch (cut off) all the flowers so the growth is directed to branching and vegetative growth. This is important if you are witnessing flower stems that tend to grow straight up. One way to remember is to pinch back just after the July 4 holiday, snipping off not only the flower but 3 to 4 inches of the stem. In about two weeks, you will have a much fuller, more beautiful display to enjoy. Remember to weed the flower beds and clean up dead leaves. One more good pinch at the end of September will see the plants through to any frost.

Source: Cristin Fusano, Color Specialist/Horticulturist, Sherman Library and Gardens

Source: California Assn. of Nurserymen

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