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The Monthly Gardener by Robert Smaus

Prep work for summer

Water, mulch and plant sun-loving favorites.

May 03, 2007|Robert Smaus

THOSE late April rains were a pleasant surprise, but from now until autumn, gardeners need to stay focused on irrigation. There are still a few things you can plant this month, but save any big jobs until after mid-October when the better, and -- one hopes -- wetter, fall planting season begins.

Jungle gardening

The rapidly warming weather makes this a good time to plant subtropicals such as hibiscus and bougainvillea, or gingers and bananas. Many of these were lost last winter when those prolonged freezes turned many tropicals to mush, so now is a good time to replace them. Most will need a fair amount of water to get started but are often quite tolerant of dry spells once established, despite their rain forest looks. Mature bougainvilleas actually bloom best with little or no summer water.

Thin ripening fruit

It's still a good time to plant citrus. In hot areas, whitewash bare trunks with thinned latex paint (mixed 50:50 with water) to protect young bark from sun scald. And make sure new citrus are adequately watered. Older citrus are less needy and may actually resent too much. If you let the fallen leaves remain under the trees, you will save on watering and need to fertilize less often, or not at all.

For the best size and quality, thin young deciduous fruit so they are far enough apart -- 5 to 8 inches for apples and peaches; 4 inches for plums and apricots. Fewer means each will taste better and get bigger. You might as well remove excess fruit now if trees are loaded, because there is no way to use so much fruit, or even preserve it.

Not now for natives

Because there was so little rain this winter, and because predictions are for continued drought, some people are thinking of planting more native and drought resistant plants from other Mediterranean climates. Thinking about it, or even making plans, is fine, but wait until fall to do any planting since most of these drought resistors are quite touchy about summer watering and new plants need regular irrigation. If you buy one of these now, keep it in its nursery container until the fall.

Mulch to save

Landscape plants are a lot happier in summer if they are mulched with compost or wood chips. Mulches conserve moisture and cool the root zone. Keep them away from the very base of plants or they could cause rot, especially on smaller plants, which is why mulches work best around trees and shrubs. Mulches should be heavy enough to not float or blow away. Chunks of bark, however, allow too many weeds and encourage many pests, so they make a poor mulch.

Veggies for summer

Tomatoes and peppers may rule, but there are many other vegetables that thrive in the summer. It's now warm enough to plant those big "slicers" even near the beach. Remember to plant tomatoes deep, up to their first set of leaves, because they will root all along the buried stem.

Summer flowers

Look for summer favorites such as ageratum, celosia, bedding dahlia, gloriosa daisy, marigold, petunia, portulaca, verbena and zinnias. In the shade, try bedding and tuberous begonias, browallia, caladiums, coleus, impatiens, mimulus and forget-me-not.

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