Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - April 2, 2010

Garden tips for April

Advice to guarantee flowers and fruit in summer

by Jack McKinnon

April is the garden gate to the summer show. This is the month to shop, prepare, plan and plant your beds for the mid-summer results you want.

I will give 10 tips that will guarantee flowers, fruit and produce two, three and even four months from now. The key is following them and adding to them. By adding to these and a hundred other techniques that master gardeners have given freely, you make your garden unique. And that is where the unforgettable years in gardening come from.

Here are the tips:

1. Visit the great gardens in our area this week. Don't wait or you will miss the show that is on now and the beginning of the show that is coming. This will also, if you are observant, expose you to the gardeners at work in these gardens. They are busy moving pots around, spreading compost, mulch and new plants for the summer. Take notes, pictures and ask questions.

2. Gardens to visit are Filoli in Woodside, Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, Sunset Magazine in Menlo Park, Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, the Japanese Garden in San Mateo Central Park, Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park and the Japanese Tea Garden also in Golden Gate Park.

3. Visit at least four nurseries and take notes on what is available now in six packs and four-inch pots. Look at the annual flowers, the vegetables, perennials and the ornamental plants for color, texture and foliar show.

4. Ask the nursery experts, either the Q&A person or the manager, what is coming for summer. If their supply is already in ask to be shown what is new and what will be the best for your garden environment (sun, shade, drought tolerant, etc.).

5. Buy compost or screen out your compost in your bin. Plan on having enough to put a three-inch layer over all of your beds. If you don't have enough of your own making then buy the remainder from a garden materials supply such as Lyngso (19 Seaport Blvd., Redwood City), Ciardella's (1001 San Antonio Ave., Palo Alto) or Common Ground (559 College Ave., Palo Alto).

6. Plant strawberries, cucumber, squash, zucchini and any other gourds on mounds. This keeps the fruit up and if possible, hanging and dry. When any of these fruit sit on the damp ground they rot. Even commercial organic strawberries are grown on large mounds covered with a ground cloth to keep them dry.

6. Plant tomatoes toward the end of the month and plant them two leaf nodes up the stem. Cut the bottom four leaves off, and plant the stem about three to four inches deeper than they were in the nursery container. This will get roots started deeply and near the surface. I read last year about gardeners in Santa Cruz who put a fish in the hole when they planted their tomatoes apparently with great success.

7. Play classical music to your plants. For proof that this works go to Half Moon Bay Nursery on Highway 92 just east of Half Moon Bay and look at all the flowers they have growing. They constantly play opera music to the whole nursery.

8. For ornamental beds, plant ground covers and borders to provide a living mulch and a colorful framing for walkways, beds and berms. This technique is centuries-old and still creates a stunning effect. Ground covers such as ornamental strawberry, pacasandra, polygonum, creeping thyme and baby tears work in partial sun and shade. Dollar for dollar, month for month, impatiens are still the best bedding plant for color.

9. This is a good time to buy roses. When the buds open up in the nursery you can see the actual color of the flower. Sometimes this helps in the decision-making process. Choose "Hybrid Tea" roses for cut flowers, climbers for trellises and fence applications and shrub roses for filling in. Remember that roses are a full sun plant and also like to be fertilized regularly in order to bloom through the summer.

10. Finish up your plantings with mulch. I like fir bark, leaf and chip litter and wood chips for ornamental applications and hay, straw and organic compost for herb and vegetable gardens. The complete garden planting will include fertilizing and watering in the new plants. This will set the show for summer.

Good Gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-879-3261 or 650-455-0687 (cell), by e-mail at jack@jackthegardencoach.com. Visit his website at www.jackthegardencoach.com.

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