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Your Regional Garden News - Zone 9

April 1 to April 30

 

Discover what you should be doing right now.  Our experts share gardening advice, techniques, news, and ideas to make your garden the best ever.  

Here's what's happening in your gardening region:

Across the state, it is now warm enough to stop cool-season plantings and begin focusing on the plants that will be able to handle the hot months ahead. Growing the perfect tomato is the gardener’s Holy Grail to be sure, but you’ll need to act fast if you want to beat the summer heat and heavy rains. While you’re waiting for your warm-season veggie seeds to arrive, continue harvesting the last of your cool-season veggies and read the articles listed below to learn how to use the greens and other portions that you would otherwise throw away. Now is also the time to bring in the warm-weather replacements for your flower beds, since the petunias and pansies you planted just months ago will be withering away in the heat before long. There’s a lot to do this month, but the following list and articles will get you squared away. Happy planting!

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    Tomato Care 101

    Everyone wants to grow tomatoes, but maybe they’ve been tricky for you thus far. It’s not just you; gardeners in our climate tend to plant late and then have some difficulty with the heat and heavy rains of summer. It’s probably a little late to be planting tomatoes since they slow down in hot weather, but if you planted them earlier this season, you’re well on your way to a burgeoning crop of beefsteaks and colorful cherry tomatoes. You can still get away with planting seeds now, but they will need lots of help; support in the form of cages or stakes, plenty of water, mulch, fertilizer, and shade from the afternoon sun. Here are some articles with helpful tips to keep them going through the hot afternoons.

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    Plant warm weather veggies

    Gardeners up north have spring fever now because it’s their first glimpse of warm weather, but down here you should be planting warm-season vegetables just as feverishly – hot weather is on the way. Since soil temperatures are consistently warm here now, you can plant all warm-season and hot-season vegetable seeds, including beans, corn, okra, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and southern peas. Those of you in zone 10 will need to hurry though. Plant tomato, cucumber, bell pepper and bean seeds now so that your vegetables can mature before the heat of summer, when only a small handful of vegetables can continue producing. If you haven’t yet removed a patch of sod to make room for a veggie garden, you can start seeds in pots while you dig and prepare the beds. Listed below are some of the vegetables that you should plant this month.

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    Replace winter flowers

    You’ve missed the boat on planting cold tolerant flowers like pansies, alyssum, violas and petunias, but if you already have some in the garden, now is the time to start colorful heat-tolerant seedlings to take their place. You can either ease them into their new homes slowly by directly sowing seeds between last season’s flowers, or you can get them started in peat pots or containers before transplanting the seedlings once they’ve formed a sturdy stem. To do this, gently knock the seedling out of its pot and plant it in the ground at the same depth as it was already growing. Gently pack soil around the roots (not the stem) and water once a day until it has perked up and started growing again. Good choices for spring planting include coleus, cockscomb, gazania daisy, Mexican sunflower, nicotania, cuphea, sunflower, wax begonia, torenia, purslane, salvia, penta, cuphea and butterfly weed (asclepias).

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    Harvest cool season vegetables

    It’s too late to start new plantings of cool-season vegetables, but hopefully you’ve planted a winter garden and have watched it flourish with colorful cabbages, greens, peas, onions, carrots, radishes and beets. As you harvest your vegetables for supper, give the following articles a look before merely tossing those scraps in the compost bin. You may be missing out on free food! For example, delicate and feathery carrot tops can be added to salads or used to liven up your chicken noodle soup and other recipes with its nutrients and interesting texture. The tender new growth on pea plants (otherwise known as ‘shoots’) are a sweet and refreshing addition to salads and sautés – just don’t try this with the sweet peas that we grow for their colorful flowers, as these are poisonous. Sweet potatoes are so prolific that you’ll probably find yourself pruning their rampant vining stems once in a while, but save those clippings! Sauteed sweet potato leaves have long been valued in Southeast Asia, and are actually a delicious alternative to spinach for the majority of our year when it’s really too hot to be growing spinach.

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    Plant heat tolerant herbs

    Have you ever planted thyme, only to watch it fizzle out in a hot summer? Perhaps you’ve planted cilantro in spring, but the hot weather has caused it to ‘bolt’ and produce flowers, making the leaves unpalatable and tough. The good news is that while the thyme is a goner, that cilantro’s flowers will soon turn to seedpods full of the herb known as coriander! Better yet, the flower petals are just as tasty as the leaves were before they toughened up. There are many other herbs that will tolerate heat, but among the best are mint (keep it in containers though), rosemary, oregano, basil and lemongrass. If you haven’t tried lemongrass yet, it’s an outstanding ornamental grass for our climate that also happens to be edible. You can steep the leaves for teas, sauces and soups; or finely chop up the inside of the bulbous stem to flavor savory dishes. While lemongrass is indeed related to citronella grass, neither will repel mosquitoes when merely planted in the garden. Drinking a cup of lemongrass tea on the other hand, might just make too relaxed to care.

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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Both Italian and curly parsley are excellent sources of vitamin A and C. Richer in iron than any other green vegetable, parsley is appreciated by cooks for its ability to blend various flavors in soups, stews, sauces and salads. Either variety can be used fresh, dried or frozen. Flat-leafed Italian parsley has a better flavor for cooking, while curly parsley is commonly used dried in cooking and fresh as a garnish. Start from seed indoors or set out plants when all danger of frost has passed.