Cool-season vegetable transplants

One of the things that I enjoy about living in the Southwest is the ability to garden throughout the year.  Well, that may be a slight exaggeration – I don’t especially like gardening in July or August.  During those months, I simply like to view my garden out the window from the air-conditioned comfort of my home.  But, you’ll often see me outside spending January in the vegetable garden through the winter months.  

So far, this year’s cool-season garden hasn’t been very impressive.  In fact, it was quite disappointing.  Our drip irrigation system wasn’t watering this particular vegetable bed well because the tiny holes had become clogged from mineral deposits left behind by our notorious hard water.  As a result, a handful of romaine lettuce transplants survived, but none of the seeds that I planted in early October germinated except for the radishes and a couple of carrots.  

To make it worse, when I discovered the problem last fall, I was so busy trying to keep up with my landscape consulting that I didn’t fix the irrigation troubles.  Spring and fall for horticulturists is much like tax season for accountants, and little else gets done.

Well, I felt bad looking out at my sad little vegetable bed, so I cleared my calendar to give it a little TLC earlier this week.  First on the list was to pull out the lettuce plants, which had bolted and were ready to be taken out.  I was able to get a few radishes, much to the delight of my youngest daughter who loves them.

Before planting, I added a 4-inch layer of compost to help refresh the soil.  There wasn’t any need to mix it in with the existing soil – in fact, it’s better if you don’t do that.

Like many people, I find working out in the garden therapeutic and the stresses of day to day life simply melt away.  What made this day even better was that my husband came out to help me.  At this point, I should mention that he isn’t one of those men who loves to work out in the garden.  Oh, he does a great job at it, but he doesn’t like it – at all. Poor guy, he had no idea that the woman he married 30 years ago would turn out to be a plant lady who lives, eats, and breathes all things related to the garden.  

My darling husband took an entire morning out of his busy schedule to help me in the garden, fixing the drip irrigation system in my garden.  Forget flowers, if spending a morning out in your wife’s vegetable garden fixing irrigation doesn’t shout “I love you,” I don’t know what does.

The drip irrigation system in my vegetable garden is made up of a main poly drip line that runs up the center of the garden.  Micro-tubing, with small holes along the length, are then looped along the length of the main drip line.  We pulled out the old micro-tubing and replaced it.  

Once the irrigation repair was finished, it was time to add plants.  Luckily, there is still plenty of time to plant cool-season favorites.  To get a head start, I bought romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, and spinach transplants.  The rest I would grow from seed.  Irish Eyes Garden Seeds is one of my favorite seed companies.

Another seed company who I have used over the years is Burpee.  I remember perusing my dad’s Burpee seed catalog when I was a child and planning on which ones I would order for the little plot of land that he gave me in the back garden.  

I still order seeds from Burpee and was pleasantly surprised to receive a gift from them this Christmas – an advent calendar where each door opened up to a seed packet filled with one of their new 2017 plant introductions.  What an ingenious marketing tool!  Every morning, I felt like a kid again waiting to see what new seeds I would find behind the door.  

I selected ‘Dragon Tail’ radish, where you eat its purple seed pods and NOT the roots.  It is a version of an Asian heirloom radish and has a more delicate flavor than regular radishes.  I am very excited to see what this one does in my garden.  ‘Rido Red’ radish and ‘Bend and Snap’ snap peas also found a spot in the garden.

Marigolds and nasturtiums are always present alongside cool-season vegetables as they attract beneficial pollinators, discourage harmful insect pests, and just make the garden look pretty.  Imagine my delight when I saw new varieties of my favorite flowers in the advent calendar.  ‘Strawberry Blonde’ marigolds and ‘Orange Troika’ nasturtiums will add welcome beauty to my vegetable bed.  There were other seeds in the calendar that I plan on using including ‘Bend and Snap’ snap peas.  I plan on giving some of my seeds to my mother for her garden.  Burpee has a list of their new 2017 introductions, which you can access here.  I’d love to hear if you grow any of them.

Next to the vegetable garden is my young ‘Meyer’ lemon tree.  We planted it two years ago, and this is its first ever fruit.  Young citrus trees can take a year or two, after planting, before it produces fruit and I look forward to years of delicious fruit from mine.  

Meyer lemons aren’t true lemons.  They are a cross between a regular lemon and mandarin orange, and this gives them a sweeter flavor and a deep yellow skin.  The story behind Meyer lemons includes overseas exploration, threatened extinction, and Martha Stewart.

Well, that is what is happening in the January vegetable garden.  What is growing in your winter garden?

 

Have you ever gotten a sunburn?  Maybe a better question is, “Who hasn’t?”


Well, did you know that many plants can get sunburned too?

I recently made a house call for a client who was worried about her newly planted citrus trees.


This particular client had a large courtyard where she had several new citrus trees planted in pots.

The citrus had been planted that spring and she began to notice the leaves on her orange tree turning yellow as the summer progressed.


Now yellowing leaves can indicated a number of different problems.  But in this case, the diagnosis was rather simple – this citrus tree was suffering from sunburn.

Here are some common signs of sunburned plants:

– The areas of the leaf that are yellow are in the center and NOT along the tips or edges.

– Often, the yellow areas begin to turn brown.

– Signs normally occur in the summer months.

– The sunburned leaves are generally located on the south and west-facing parts of the plant.

– This particular citrus tree was located in an area that received full, reflected, afternoon sun. 

So, what can you do to prevent sunburned citrus?

In this case, the solution was simple – moving the citrus tree to another part of the courtyard that received afternoon shade was all that was needed to prevent further sunburn damage.

Citrus do best when planted at least 10 – 15 ft. away from walls, which absorb the heat of the day and re-radiate it out toward your citrus.  

Avoid planting where they get the full force of afternoon sun.
If your citrus trees suffer sunburn every summer, you can provide temporary shade using shade cloth. 

Have you ever had sunburned plants?  What did you do to prevent furture sunburn?

This is the first of a new series called “Garden House Calls” where I share the answers to questions that I am often asked in my work as a horticulturist and landscape consultant.  

I love living in the desert Southwest.


I really do, except in August.  That’s when I start to tire of the long, hot summer and yearn for fall.  By September, the days begin to shorten and the weather begins to cool and I plant my cool-season vegetable garden.


One of the things that I love most about gardening in the desert Southwest is that you can grow fruit and vegetables all year long – even in the midst of winter when most of the country can only dream of growing things outdoors.

 Where else can you look outside and see delicious vegetables coming up and picking them fresh for your table in January?


Oh, and how about the citrus fruit that not only provides us with sweet, tart fruit – but also adds bright color to our desert gardens?

Over the next few days, I thought that I’d share with you what I have harvested from my winter garden in hopes that you will be inspired to grow your own desert Southwest winter garden.

Even if you don’t live in a mild winter area, growing vegetables is not all that different in other regions, except for the calendar.  So, you can always pick up some helpful tips from vegetable gardeners who live in other places.

Tomorrow, I’ll share my first-ever success in growing a vegetable that has given me problems in the past.

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Baby Watch Update:

Our second-oldest daughter, Rachele, is expecting her first child soon!  She is in the Navy and currently stationed in California – about 7 hours away from us.

She is being monitored closely because of the baby’s low birth weight and now the latest ultrasound shows a lower level of amniotic fluid.

Rachele has been seeing having weekly ultrasounds, stress tests and seeing the doctor.  On her last visit, she was told that they may have to induce her maybe a week early.

So, what does that mean for me and my husband? Well, I had to reschedule a speaking engagement on “Updating Your Landscape”.

Our plan is to hit the road as soon as we get the call from her that she is being induced and/or in labor. Hopefully, we will get there before the baby does!

Meanwhile, I’m off to pack my bags!

Earlier this week, my husband and I were doing some last minute Christmas shopping, which included as stop at one of my sister-in-law’s favorite stores.


Next door, stood a grocery store – but not just any grocery store.  No, this grocery store describes itself as a “boutique, gourmet market” and it has the prices to match.


My husband wanted to go inside to see what types of food they had – I think he was hoping for samples.  He is also much more adventurous than I am when it comes to food and gets excited when he hears the word ‘gourmet’.


So we ventured inside to the fancy grocery store, which looked like anything but a grocery store.  There were pine scents being wafted about and I saw about thirty Christmas trees decorating all the aisles.


What really got my attention while walking through the store was the produce section.


This section of the store was rather dark, except for the produce, which had bright lights showing the perfect-looking vegetables.

I’ve never thought of the produce section of a grocery store as beautiful, but this certainly was.


The vegetables were perfectly displayed and I must confess that I almost wanted to eat kale because of how nicely it was arranged.

Seriously, there was not a single wilting leaf or blemish to be seen.  It was almost as if the vegetables were airbrushed and Photoshopped.


The other side was arranged with brightly colored citrus fruit.  

I would be afraid to pick any fruit, or vegetables for that matter, in fear that I would cause a cascade of produce falling to the floor.

Needless to say, we didn’t see any samples and the prices were so high that we walked out after looking through the store.

I did enjoy seeing how fancy a grocery store could be.

How about you?  Have you ever shopped at a “boutique, gourmet supermarket”?

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The baby countdown has officially started!

My second-oldest daughter is having her first baby in January and we are so excited.

She is going in for weekly monitoring right now since the baby is underweight from where it should be.  But, the doctor isn’t worried and as long as they are monitoring her closely, I’m not too concerned – just a little bit concerned 😉

Sadly, our daughter can’t come home for Christmas (she is in the Navy and stationed in California), since she is too close to her due date.  But, we sent off her packages to her and my aunt and her family, who lives near the base, will have her over for Christmas.


In the meantime, I am getting ready for my annual Christmas cookie baking with my kids, granddaughter and nieces and nephews.

Every year, we make and decorate cookies that we serve at our family Christmas celebration.  The kids love showing their parents the cookies the decorated.


Last year, we make sugar cone Christmas trees.  The kids loved spreading buttercream frosting on sugar cones and then decorating them.

This year, we will be making chocolate, peanut butter Christmas trees – Yum!  I’ll be sure to post photos and a ‘how-to’ next week!
I have spent the past few weeks indoors whenever possible avoiding the desert heat.  While I do venture outdoors occasionally to do consults and take a weekly tour of the garden to make sure everything is okay.
 
We did lose a small tree and some branches during a fierce monsoon storm over the weekend, but I was grateful for the rain and the cool temperatures that followed.
 
Last week, I showed you some of my favorite plant photos.  This week, I would like to share with you some of my favorite DIY blog posts, most of which you can do inside.
One of my favorite DIY projects was creating natural air-fresheners.
 
I don’t know about you, but I do not like the heavy, artificial smells of air-freshener sprays – not to mention the idea of chemicals floating through the air.  So, the idea of making air-fresheners using  plants definitely appealed to me.
 
 
I hope you are inspired to make you own!
Do you have a citrus in your garden? I do.  
 
Mine are quite young – I have an ‘Arizona Sweet’ orange tree and a ‘Meyer’ lemon.
 
Growing up in California, we always had citrus trees. When I was a young girl, I remember picking lemons from our large lemon tree in the backyard. We later moved to a larger ranch-style home which had several citrus trees and I honestly never paid much attention to these them, largely because I was a teenager and had much more important things to think about – like boys and how to get the perfectly-permed hair (it was the 80’s).
 
Now that I am all grown up and permed hair is thankfully in my past, I do pay attention to my citrus trees. Every winter, I look forward to the fragrant blossoms that cover citrus trees. These blossoms slowly turn into tiny citrus fruit. As spring progresses, some of these small, green fruit end up dropping to the ground, which leads to a host of questions from worried gardeners.
 
Well, I want to put all your worries to rest.  This is a normal occurrence. Citrus trees produce more blossoms than it can grow into mature fruit. They do this in order to attract the most pollinators and after the flower petals drop, little green fruit is left behind, which ideally grow into large delicious fruit that will be harvested in winter. However, the tree cannot support that much fruit, so the tree figures out how much fruit it can grow to maturity and then drops the rest.
 
For those of you who have young citrus trees, most of the little green fruit will drop.  Citrus trees have to have a large root system and a lot of leaves to support a good amount of fruit and that only comes with age. So, if you see tiny, green citrus on the ground every spring – don’t panic.  It is all part of the normal cycle of growing citrus.

Last week, I was visiting one of my favorite clients when I noticed that one of her citrus trees was showing signs of sunburn, which led to me explaining to her that even citrus trees need sunscreen to prevent sunburn in many cases.

You can see the lighter-colored bark and some cracks as well along the branch. It turns out that citrus trees are very susceptible to sunburn.
 
So, why is a sunburned citrus tree something to be worried about?
 
Well, when a tree becomes sunburned, it often forms cracks in the bark and within these cracks, damaging insects or fungus can find a nice home.  Frost damage can also cause cracks in the bark.
 
In recent years, I have had to deliver bad news to people whose citrus trees became infected with sooty canker, which is a fungal disease that affects the branches and trunks, which takes root underneath the cracked, flaky bark.
 
 
Several times, I have had to tell homeowners that their much-loved citrus tree was badly infected with sooty canker and had to be removed.  You can read more about the signs and treatment of sooty canker, here.
 
Thankfully, there are things we can do to reduce or eliminate the chance of sunburn to our citrus trees.
 
 
1. Allow citrus trees to grow their lower branches. They will help to shade the trunk.  A bonus for citrus trees grown this way is that the most fruit is produced on the lower branches that also tastes sweeter.
 
 
2. Protect exposed trunks and branches by using citrus paint (available at your local nursery) or by simply mixing white latex paint water so that the resulting mixture is 1/2 paint and 1/2 water. You can also purchase tree wraps made from burlap, which can also help to protect them. Avoid using oil-based paint. 
However, if you allow the lower branches of your citrus tree to grow and the trunk is shaded, than you don’t have to paint them. 
3. Don’t over-prune your citrus trees.  The photo above, is an EXTREME example of what not to do.
 
Citrus trees should be pruned in March, and concentrated on removing dead, diseased or crossing branches.  Avoid pruning more then 20% of its foliage in any given year.  *Remember, that the leaves make food for the tree, which will in turn, produce delicious fruit. If pruning leaves you with exposed branches, then coat them with citrus paint.
**See how to protect citrus from the damaging effects of a heat wave – here.
 
I always wear sunscreen whenever I venture outdoors.  Years spent in California at the beach as a teenager, trying to tan my fair skin did not work.  Now, I try very hard to protect my skin from the desert sun.  I do however, often forget to wear my hat as it does mess up my hair 😉
 
So, do your citrus tree a favor and make sure it is protected from the sun – either by its branches or by ‘sunscreen’.
Do you like the idea of using household cleaners that are natural? I do.
 
Did you know that citrus has natural cleaning properties?
 
It does.
 
I just finished making up a batch of citrus cleaner and wrote about it in my latest Birds & Blooms blog post that you can read here…
 
 
 
So, if you have a tree filled with citrus, or even if you have to buy some at the grocery store – this cleaner is well worth it!
 
 

This past week, I was blessed with harvesting produce from two different gardens.


One was from one of my vegetable gardens…


About a 1/4 of my side vegetable garden is planted with cauliflower.  

Over the weekend, I was able to harvest my first cauliflower of the season.  

Now, I am aware that some of you may not care for cauliflower.  Personally, I like it raw but NOT when it is cooked.

I’ll share with you a little secret that I have used to get my kids to eat cauliflower…


I cut the tops of the florets off, dice it and then sprinkle it on top of our dinner salads.  It looks like grated cheese.  I also slice carrots, celery and cucumbers to add to our salads, which not only add great flavor to salads – they are also a great way to get more vegetables into my kids 😉

The cauliflower was so delicious – it tasted like butter – seriously.

The next harvest was of another kind and from a different garden…


On the family farm, my mother has a large grapefruit tree.  

Now, as anyone who has ever had a grapefruit tree can tell you – these trees are overly generous in the amount of fruit that they produce.


Luckily, my mother has 4 kids who are more then happy to help share with her bounty.

With my husband standing ready holding grocery bags, we picked some delicious fruit from the tree.

*While all the grapefruit looked ripe, some were not quite ready to be picked.  If they did not come off fairly easily when lightly pulled/twisted, then we left them alone.

If I am going to be perfectly honest with you, I do not like to eat grapefruit – at all.

But, I have another purpose in mind for my newly picked grapefruit – I am going to make a natural cleaner from it using vinegar.

I promise to blog about it soon, so hold onto some of your excess grapefruit or maybe offer to take some off of your neighbor’s grapefruit tree 🙂

Freezing temperatures are coming tonight and forecast to last for the next several days.


Take a drive down the street in your neighborhood, you will probably see landscape plants covered with assorted sheets, towels or frost cloth.


Those that don’t protect their frost-sensitive plants such as lantana, bougainvillea, yellow bells, orange jubilee or hibiscus will soon have plants that look like this…


In most cases, you do not have to cover your frost-sensitive plants when temps dip into the lower 30’s.  

There is nothing wrong with allowing the top growth of your ornamental plants to get frost damage.  You just prune it away in spring.

For those of you who don’t like the look of frost-damage, then you will need to protect your plants from the cold.

**If temperatures are predicted to dip into the 20’s – then I do recommend protecting them from frost because temps this cold can kill a plant.  

I wrote a blog post earlier this year when temps hit the low 20’s.  It talks about how to protect plants from frost (and how NOT to) along with the types of plants to protect.

You can read it here…


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I hope you are having a great week.  I must confess to being a little behind on writing blog posts this month with all the Christmas goings on 🙂