Tag Archives: Garden Tips

Growing Roses in Southern California


With the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl starting the year off, I thought there was no better time than now to ask this simple question!

Sacramento Roses

When Is The Best Time To Plant Roses?

And the answer is … it all depends on where you live and the climate zone your in. The simplest solution is to ask your local nursery for frost dates and their recommendation for the best time to plant in your local area.

Since I live and work in Los Angeles and there is very little chance of frost, December or January is an excellent time to plant.  It gives the newly planted roses the time to grow feeder roots before spring arrives and they come out of dormancy.

However, because Southern California has many microclimates, ranging from moderate and moist to severely dry and hot, roses in hotter, drier areas need more care and attention.

The following list of instructions should give anyone interested in growing roses a simple roadmap of how to proceed. It comes from the website eHow home, which has a lot of additional information should you be interested.

Bare Root Planting


  1. Choose roses based on the 24-zone climate system established by “Sunset Magazine.” The University of California Cooperative Extension encourages the use of this system because, unlike the USDA zone system, it also factors in summer high temperatures.
  2. Plant new roses in January. Prune established roses to half their height. Thin out roses and remove excess foliage. Complete all pruning by the end of January.
  3. Remedy problems as soon as they start. Gardeners in Southern California begin to see aphids and mildew in mid-to-late February. Apply insect control and fungicides as needed.
  4. Planting Containerized Rose
  5. Apply a weekly fertilizer during peak growing season, typically from April to mid July.
  6. Feed your roses in March as they begin to develop new foliage. Supply a dose of 20-20-20 fertilizer for optimal results.
  7. Spray for spider mites in April. These bugs harm roses. Use a miticide or wash roses by hand.
  8. Deadhead blooms in May. Southern California roses have two blooming cycles. Mid-May marks the end of the first. Encourage new blooms by removing spent ones.
  9. Keep your roses watered. This is of particular import during peak blooming season, which also coincides with the hottest months of the year. Water daily through the end of October. Remember to water frequently well into fall to account for the dryness caused by the Santa Ana winds.

  10. Complete a round of light pruning in October. Re-apply mildew and pest treatments as needed. Cooler weather allows bugs and fungi to reappear with ease.

Tips & Warnings

Mulch your roses after planting. Mulch slows the growth of weeds and helps lock in moisture.



How Cymbidiums Came to California


I was leafing through Pat Welsh’s wonderful resource book entitled Southern California Gardening – A Month-by-Month Guide, Chronicle Books, 2000, when my eye caught a side bar on “How Cymbidiums Came To California.” It’s something I never considered and thought it might also interest my blog readers. So here it is in its entirety.

How Cymbidiums Came to California 

Cymbidiums are largely terrestrial orchids native to cool tropical jungles, from the Himalayas eastward through southern Asia. For at least two hundred years they were hybridized and grown in cool greenhouses by English collectors. During the Second World War a great many varieties were sent to Santa Barbara to save them from the bombs. It soon became clear that cymbidiums flourish outdoors in Southern California. They multiplied so rapidly that when the loaned varieties were sent home after the war, many more plants were left here, to continue to grow in our gardens. They’ve since become one of our best plants for winter and spring bloom.


Not all cymbidiums bloom every year. (You need three plants to be assured of annual bloom.) But some gardeners complain that none of their cymbidiums ever bloom. These plants are remarkably easy to grow, but they do have certain requirements. Here’s how to make them bloom.

Switch Fertilizers in September: Beginning on the first of September Switch fertilizers from a high-nitrogen formula for growth to a formula higher in bloom ingredients, such as 15-30-15 or 10-30-10. (If you’re feeding with high-nitrogen slow-release tablets continue their use, but once every two or three weeks treat the plants additionally with 0-10-10 or 2-10-10 liquid.) Cymbidiums continue to grow year-round so they always need some nitrogen, but a higher percentage of phosphorus and potassium now will encourage development of bloom spikes.

Keep Cymbidiums in Bright Light: Don’t keep cymbidiums in too much shade. If you’ve sheltered yours from hot sun under a tree, during the summer, bring them out into more light now. Along the coast they can take full sun, though they’ll need protection during the Santa Ana or sudden heat wave that almost always strikes sometime In September. Inland they need protection from the burning rays of midday sun -under 50 percent shade cloth or in a lath house is ideal. They often can take more sun than we give them. If your cymbidiums have dark green leaves, chances are you’re keeping them in too much shade. Give them enough light to turn the leaves a yellowish color. Spread the plants apart, and allow sunshine to hit their pseudo bulbs. Crowded plants won’t bloom as well because the leaves shade the bulbs. (Trim off dead leaves and brown tips, but don’t cut off or shorten healthy leaves. Cymbidiums need all their leaves to nourish the pseudo bulbs.)

Provide a Wide Range of Temperatures. Large-flowered cymbidiums need a daily temperature range of at least 20 degrees during the hottest time of the year in order to trigger bloom. What they like best is nights that drop to 45° or 55°F and daytime temperatures of 80° or 90°F. Our gardens provide adequately warm days and cool nights, but our patios or porches often do not. They’re too warm and sheltered at night. So situate your cymbidiums away from protective house walls and don’t keep them indoors, or they’ll never bloom.

Recent advances in hybridizing have broken the size barriers and expanded the bloom seasons of cymbidiums. Standard or large varieties usually don’t bloom until they’re 4 feet tall. Miniatures, on the other hand, will bloom in 4-inch pots when they’re only a foot tall and may produce two to four spikes of twelve to twenty-four flowers on each. (Plants with flowers less than 3 Inches across are classed as miniatures.) Miniatures tolerate hot weather better – up to 115°F – and will bloom when night temperatures in summer are as high as 65 of higher than standard cymbidiums require to trigger bloom. Miniatures come into bloom in November and continue into March, while standards bloom from January to mid-May. So, if you have had problems getting cymbidiums to bloom in your climate zone or on your patio or porch, try the small-flowered varieties. They bloom more readily both inland and along the coast, and the bonus is that some of their flowers are highly fragrant.

Meanwhile, water cymbidiums enough to keep the pseudo bulbs from drying out and shriveling. Water should always drain right through. Cymbidium roots can’t survive in a puddle. As the spikes grow, stake them so they don’t get broken, and protect the plants from slugs and snails.


A California Shade Garden


I know the idea of writing about shade gardening while our temperature has been double digit may seem a bit oxymoronic, but what better time to contemplate a cool, shaded garden than during the middle of a heat wave.

Yes There Is Shade In Southern California

If you have native oak trees you can improve their health by planting native plants underneath them, the same thing is true for other mature, large wide-canopied trees that provide shade. And when I say shade, I don’t mean the kind that you get under your porch, I mean there must be some light for the plants to photosynthesize.

California Natives That Grow In Full Shade

These descriptions and photographs come from Las Pilitas Nursery, which specializes in growing and selling native California plants and is an amazing resource for anyone interested in native and drought tolerant gardening or anything to do with California plants and wildlife. Check them out if you want to build a native California garden or just love looking at California’s wonderful flora.

Here a few of the plants you can grow in California shade:

California Ginger

California Ginger is a charming little perennial with a slight spicy smell and heart-shaped. The flower is the best thing about this plant there are three petals with 1 to 2 inch spur-like projection. The inside is white with a red center. The flowers are about 0.5 to 1 inch wide. It is native in the redwood forest and yellow pine forest so it may need a little moisture.

California Pipe Vine

California Pipe Vine, also known as California Dutchman’s Pipe, it is a deciduous vine with one inch purple striped pipe-shaped flowers. Pipe vine likes part-shade and regular water. This California native vine has become fairly drought tolerant with time and seems to grow ok with Salvia spathacea, hummingbird sage on north slopes or under live oaks. This grows in shade in the central Sierras in moist places and the associated plants are Tellima, Heuchera micrantha and Umbellularia californica.

Bush Anemone

Bush Anemone is an evergreen shrub, 6′ by 3′ in the garden. Can be drought tolerant in town, but generally needs regular watering.

Red Stem Dogwood

Red Stem Dogwood is an elegant open shrub with creamy white flower clusters in spring and red stems.

Jack O The Rocks

Jack O The Rocks. grows in full shade but it needs regular water.

Douglas Iris

Douglas Irisis a delicate native iris with purple flowers. It is very drought tolerant in the shade. It likes a little mulch.

Island Alum Root

Island Alum Root is a two foot perennial with 3′ spikes of small pinkish flowers emerging from February to April. Needs part shade to shade.

To discover, learn more or purchase native shade plants check out this wonderful nursery:


Brighten Up Your Garden With Containers!


Summer is upon us – almost – and as the gloom of June becomes sunny July we’re going to be living outdoors a whole lot more. If your terrace, deck, balcony, patio, gazebo, swimming pool or wherever it is you park yourself is in need of some TLC, then the fastest and most economical way of brightening up that special spot is with containers!

You can use containers on steps, decks, and balconies. along driveways and fences or around trees, mailboxes, and flagpoles. Containers can also enhance permanent plantings or add an array of color to that July 4th barbecue.

If you’re too busy or don’t have a green thumb you can buy already created containers at you local garden store or have them planted for you.

For those of you who like to garden and prefer to do it yourself, here are some suggestions to get you going.

Choose your containers.

Garden stores carry a variety of pots, boxes, and hanging planters, but more creative choices — such as watering cans, hollowed-out logs, plastic-lined baskets, or even old boots — also can serve.

Containers should hold water well enough that plants don’t dry out quickly, yet permeable enough to allow for air circulation and drainage and with enough root space for the plants to take hold and grow.

If you’re placing them on an area that you don’t want water to damage, be sure the saucer you’re placing underneath has a high enough rim to catch what drains. But DON’T let the plants stand in water.

Select your plants.

My advice is to start with plants that you have worked with in the past or are crazy about adding to your portfolio and then building around them. Create compositions of plants that complement each other but vary in form, texture, and size. Repeat related colors to establish a theme, and then add a contrasting element for interest.

Group containers for effect.

Don’t stop with just a single pot — the more the merrier! Mix and match pots and plants to make a powerful statement.

Tend faithfully. Water often. Remove spent blooms and leaves regularly and make sure to enjoy the joy and serenity that a beautiful garden provides.



Dangers Of Organic Gardening!

Veggies On The Run

As Spring is here and those who like to grow their own are preparing to do so, I had a question from a client about planting vegetables in raised beds. It appears she, like a good Girl Scout, did everything by the book: organic potting soil and fertilizer and a drip system for watering.  Yet her veggies grew with yellow leaves.

While it’s not as bad as having slugs in your garden it is annoying. So what’s a gardener to do?

Yellow leaves on vegetables usually mean they’re not getting enough nitrogen. The problem may well be that you filled your raised beds with “organic” potting soil and not a good quality amended top soil.

It’s come to my attention that some manufacturers of bagged organic soil are using wood products that have not had adequate nitrogen added to them in order to make them rot. Since they’re  “organic”, they can’t add sulfate of ammonia, a cheap source of nitrogen, to the shavings because sulfate of ammonia is not a natural source of nitrogen.

Raised Bed

Raw, un-rotted, un-nitrolized wood shavings will rob nitrogen from the soil in order to rot and this action turns veggies yellow from lack of nitrogen. To correct the problem you will need to add more nitrogen.

Blood meal is a strong organic source of nitrogen, but many gardeners don’t want to use it because it comes from feed lots. Alfalfa meal is also good but alfalfa tea gives quicker results. (There is a recipe for alfalfa tea on page 119 of “Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening, Month by Month.”) The good news is that your problem will eventually clear up. Once the raw shavings in the soil have fully rotted, they will release the previously stolen nitrogen into the soil and plants will get a huge boost.

If you filled your raised bed with potting soil instead of topsoil you might consider adding  top soil the next time the season changes and you plant new crops. Because, as the wood products in the potting soil rot, they decrease the volume of soil in your raised bed.


That Holiday Poinsettia … Grow It or Throw It?


Red Poinsettia

If you’re like me, you hate to throw a living plant away.  But do you really want to deal with those 5 Poinsettias you bought at Trader Joes to brighten up your living room?  I mean, they were only a couple of bucks … right?  But still …

It’s that “but still” that gets me in trouble every time. I guess it’s the thrifty Swede in me that hates to throw perfectly good things – particularly perfectly good – living things – away. So if you have no problem tossing, read no further.

However, if you’d like the environmentally-friendly, green task of redeploying your poinsettia(s) into next season, here is a step-by-step guide that, with proper care, dedication and a certain amount of luck, you too can make happen. And, if successful, you will receive the “Great Green Thumb Award,” for gardening above and beyond the call of duty!

Begin Here!

  • By late March or early April, cut your poinsettia back to about 8″ in height. Continue a regular watering program, and fertilize your plant with a good, balanced all-purpose fertilizer. By the end of May, you should see vigorous new growth.
  • Place your plants outdoors, where they can bask in the warmth of spring and summer, after all chance of frost has passed and night temperatures average 55° F or above. Continue regular watering during the growth period, and fertilize every 2 to 3 weeks.

    White Poinsettia Tree
  • Pruning may be required during the summer to keep plants bushy and compact. Late June or early July is a good time for this step, but be sure not to prune your plant later than September 1. Keep the plants in indirect sun and water regularly.
  • Around June 1, you may transplant your poinsettia into a larger pot. Select a pot no more than 4 inches larger than the original pot. A soil mix with a considerable amount of organic matter, such as peat moss or leaf mold, is highly recommended. In milder climates, you may transplant the plant into a well-prepared garden bed. Be sure the planting bed is rich in organic material and has good drainage.
  • The poinsettia is a photoperiodic plant, meaning that it sets bud and produces flowers as the Autumn nights lengthen. Poinsettias will naturally come into bloom during November or December, depending on the flowering response time of the individual plant. Timing to produce blooms for the Christmas holiday can be difficult outside of the controlled environment of a greenhouse. Stray light of any kind, such as from a street light or household lamps, could delay or entirely halt the re-flowering process.

    Marbled Poinsetta
  • Now this is the really boring part! Starting October 1, the plants must be kept in complete darkness for 14 continuous hours each night. Accomplish this by moving the plants to a totally dark room, or by covering them overnight with a large box. During October, November and early December, poinsettias require 6 – 8 hours of bright sunlight daily, with night temperatures between 60 – 70° F. Temperatures outside of this range could also delay flowering.
  • Continue the normal watering and fertilizer program. Carefully following this regime for 8 to 10 weeks should result in a colorful display of blooms for the holiday season!

Good luck and let me know how it all turns out.


Did You Know… Blueberries grow in California!


Yes, that’s right. Not your standard type, of course, which are common to the Northeast, but what are commonly called, southern “highbush”, because they grow to about 4 feet in height. And … they are not only extremely flavorful, but they can cope with both our hot weather and mild winters.
Think of it … these wonderful plants with their silver-green leaves and white blossoms make a fabulous edible hedge! How lucky are we!
There are several varieties to choose from and Bill Nelson of Pacific Tree Farms in Chula Vista recommends these:
• Misty – also known as Challenger, is a prolific bearer of good-sized berries that have terrific flavor. Nelson considers Misty to be the best all-around choice for San Diego area gardens.
• Georgia Gem – great flavor, very reliable under most climatic conditions; heavy production.
• Blue Crisp – a new introduction, good quality fruit, prolific producer.
• Star – very similar to Blue Crisp.
• Cape Fear – old-timer, quite popular and reliable, probably the most likely variety to be found at local nurseries.
And while these varieties are all self-fertile, they will produce more fruit if two or more varieties are planted together so they will cross-pollinate.
However, there is one VERY important thing to know before you go ripping out that old row of rosebushes, but … I’ll cover that in my next blog on

Did You Know
Beautiful Blueberries