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Pick 'Sierra' Lettuce When Mercury Climbs


QUESTION: My wife and I eat a lot of salad, therefore we eat a lot of lettuce. We live in Hemet where temperatures soar to 100 degrees and more over the summer, and lettuce will not grow here. Is there another vegetable I can substitute for the lettuce in summer?

--B.F., Hemet

ANSWER: Not that I know of. New Zealand and Malabar spinach are frequently suggested as hot-weather greens, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't do much better than lettuce in Hemet's heat.

Lettuce is a year-round crop in most of the L.A. area, but where it gets really hot far inland, the last chance to sow seed is in March, according to information from the UC Cooperative Extension. The next opportunity is in August, an unlikely sounding month, but the lettuce will mature after the weather has cooled.

You can try to extend the season by shading the lettuce, between rows of corn for instance, or under short trellises covered with shade cloth, or under a tree if there aren't too many tree roots.

You can also try several varieties of leaf lettuce recommended for hot weather, including 'Apollo,' 'Chaquerelle du Midi,' 'Red Riding Hood,' 'Rosalita,' 'Oak Leaf' and the most heat-tolerant I've tried, 'Sierra' (all available from the Cook's Garden, P.O. Box 535, Londonderry, VT 05148, [802] 824-3400). 'Summertime' is an "iceberg" type that takes more heat than most.

When it hits 100 degrees in the shade, however, none of this will probably help, which is why even gardeners need to visit a market on occasion.

Gall Mites May Cause Fuchsia Leaf Oddities

Q: Last spring I bought two small fuchsias from a nursery. When I got them home, I noticed an abnormality in their leaves, which have a drawn, kind of gathered-at-the-edges look, especially at the bud tip. By summer, most of my other fuchsias were infected. What is this condition and what should I do to eradicate it?--E.S., Lawndale

A: It could simply be aphids, easily controlled with a horticultural soap spray (such as one made by Safers). But if the leaves are severely twisted, swollen and blistered (often accompanied by redness), it is probably caused by the Fuchsia Gall Mite Aculops fuchsiae. This tiny, tiny, worm-shaped mite can barely be seen with a hand lens, but it can be very disfiguring to fuchsias.

First, try simply cutting the infected foliage off and sending it to the dump. That works on moderate infestations, but if plants are severely disfigured, the UC Cooperative Extension recommends spraying with carbaryl (Sevin) in the spring, after first pruning to remove all galled growth. Add a wetting agent to help it stick to the leaves, then thoroughly wet the foliage with the spray. Repeat the process two to three weeks later. These two sprayings should provide control for several months of fuchsia growth.

Fuchsia expert Ida Drapkin says most fuchsia society members use endosulfan (Thiodan). It is more effective but also more toxic to humans, so you must be careful using it. Follow the same general procedure but spray once each week for three weeks. This will finish the mites for the season. Be sure to follow all precautions on the labels of these sprays.

Those who object to poisons can try pruning off all the infected growth, then spraying once a week with a light horticultural oil (such as SunSpray), thoroughly wetting the foliage. In some gardens, predatory mites have brought this pest under control. Also, 'Baby Chang,' 'Chance Encounter' and 'Space Shuttle' are large-flowered fuchsias that are naturally resistant to the mites, as are many of the small-flowered kind and such species as F. thymifolia.

Questions should be sent to "Garden Q&A" in care of the Real Estate section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Please include your address and telephone number. Questions cannot be answered individually.

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