The Spring Rush Is On

Pittosporum can be pruned aggressively now.

It is safe to say that any remaining frost damage can be pruned away. Frosted foliage and stems were only left through winter to help insulate inner stems from more damage by subsequent frost, and to avoid stimulating new growth that would be even more sensitive to frost. Now that there is no threat of subsequent frost, and surviving but damaged plants are growing anyway, there is no reason to retain unsightly frosted foliage. The few plants that do not regenerate probably did not survive.

Spring is the busiest time of year for most plants. By now, most have either bloomed or will be blooming soon. Early spring bulbs have already finished. Later bulbs will be blooming soon enough. Deciduous plants that were bare through winter are developing new foliage. Evergreen plants are likewise growing new foliage to replace older foliage that will get shed later in the year.

If necessary, flowering cherry, flowering crabapple, lilac, forsythia and mock orange (Philadelphus) can be pruned as they finish bloom. Flowering cherry should not need much; but flowering crabapple might be in need of aggressive structural pruning. Some of the older canes of lilac, forsythia and mock orange can be pruned to the ground, where their replacement canes are probably already emerging.

Overgrown or disfigured oleander, photinia, bottlebrush, privet, pittosporum and juniper that need restorative pruning can be pruned now. They recover most efficiently in early spring, and have plenty of time to develop plenty of new growth before they slow down again next autumn. If pruned much earlier, they would have stayed bare longer, since they would not have grown much through winter. Besides, almost all pittosporum are susceptible to disease if fresh pruning wounds are exposed to rainy weather.

Seed can be sown for any of the warm season vegetables and flowering annuals, such as zucchini, corn, okra, nasturtium, lupine and sunflower. Tomato, pepper, eggplant, petunia, marigold and busy Lizzie (Impatiens) can likewise be grown from seed, but are easier to grow from small cell pack plants. Cuttings of jade plant, iceplant, sedum and all sorts of succulents, as well as divided pups of aloe, agave and yucca, really get going well this time of year.

Spaghetti Squash

Winter squash will grow through summer.

Winter squash grow through summer. This includes spaghetti squash, Cucurbita pepo subspecies pepo. They thrive with warmth, rich soil and steady watering, to mature in late summer or autumn. They store nicely through winter. Technically, spaghetti squash can ripen earlier in summer. However, flavor improves with a bit of age. Mature fruits can stay on their vines until the foliage gets crispy at the end of the season.

Spaghetti squash fruits resemble melons. Most types get about four inches wide and eight inches long. Color ranges through creamy white, pale tan, yellow and golden orange. Fruits with pale color tend to have milder flavor. After cooking, the otherwise solid flesh pulls apart into squiggly bits that resemble spaghetti. The big seeds within may not be true to type. Related squash hybridize freely, particularly with zucchini.

The long vines of spaghetti squash can be somewhat sloppy. This can actually be an advantage. Such vines can sneak about into otherwise unused areas, like pumpkin vines. Alternatively, they might like to climb trellises or shrubbery. They are happy to grow from mounds too, and wrap around the perimeters. Fruits on the ground benefit from occasional turning. Superfluous and fruitless male flowers are good for frying.

Garden Rotation Shares The Goodies

Beans produce better in new territory.

Certain parts of the vegetable garden are ideal for certain types of vegetables. Wire fences are perfect for pole beans to climb. Corn belongs at the northern edge where it will not shade lower plants. Vegetable gardening would be simpler if it were like permanent landscaping. Instead, vegetable plants are seasonal and very consumptive. They prefer fresh resources. Garden rotation gives them more of what they crave.

Garden rotation, or crop rotation, is growing vegetables where they have not grown recently. For the most efficiently planned gardens, it happens seasonally. Alternatively, some types of vegetables might be happy to grow repeatedly in the same soil for a few years. Some vegetable plants are more consumptive than others. Some soils are more susceptible to nutrient depletion than others. A few variables are involved.

Furthermore, the various vegetable plants deplete distinct sets of nutrients. Conversely, they allow other nutrients to replenish. That is why garden rotation is so effective. For example, if beans grow in the same location for too long, they deplete their favorite nutrients. The nutrients that they use less of secretly replenish. Tomatoes or corn might appreciate the replenishment, without craving so much of what is deficient.

Eventually, vegetable plants can return to a location where they grew a few years earlier. Again, a few variables are involved. Some might return after an absence of only a single year. Consumptive plants, such as tomatoes and beans, should avoid a previously used location for three or more years. So should related vegetables. Peppers and eggplants are related to tomatoes, so should avoid the same used locations.

Garden rotation can also inhibit proliferation of some soil borne pathogens. In other regions, this is a more serious concern. Soil borne pathogens that infest mildly during their first year might flourish with the same host material during a second year. Garden rotation deprives them of that.

Lettuce

Lettuce grows through cool spring weather.

On the coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco, lettuce, Lactuca sativa, seems to grow throughout the year. None of it actually grows in every season. Some varieties merely produce late enough for varieties that produce earliest to replace them. Slightly farther inland, lettuce is really only a cool season vegetable of early spring and autumn. The last new plants should finish by May.

There are many varieties of lettuce. Some are more tolerant of warmth than others. They perform well both late in their early season, and early in their late season. Others are more tolerant of cool weather. They can start early in their early season, and continue late in their late season. No variety produces through the coldest part of winter. Warmth initiates bolting (bloom), which ruins flavor.

The three types of lettuce that are most popular here are leaf, head and romaine. Leaf lettuce is the most variable. It can be blotched, bronzed or reddish, with variably ruffly texture. Some types of leaf lettuce mature in about a month. Some of the more substantial varieties of head and romaine lettuce start early, and can take nearly four months to mature. They can get to a foot wide and tall.

Vegetables From Winter To Summer

Bell peppers wait for warmer weather.

Cool season (or winter) vegetables are now finishing their season. Some continue to produce later than others. Eventually though, they all succumb to warming spring weather. As they do so, they relinquish their space to warm season (or summer) vegetables. Many warm season vegetables want to start growing as soon as possible. Later phases must wait for space to become available.

Later phases are no problem. They actually prolong the season for plants that are productive for only a brief season. For example, if sown at the same time, corn seed germinates and grows into stalks that produce all their corn at the same time. If sown in small groups every two weeks or so, corn seed grows into groups of stalks that produce corn every two weeks or so. That is ‘phasing’.

Phasing is more common with the cool season vegetable plants. Most of them are true vegetables, rather than fruits that are classified as vegetables. Individual plants produce only once, and can not produce again after harvest. Conversely, most warm season vegetables are actually fruits. (They contain seed.) Many of the plants that produce them continue to produce after harvest begins.

For example, squash, pole bean and indeterminate tomato plants that start growing in spring can continue to produce until frost. (Determinate tomatoes and bush beans have shorter seasons, so can benefit from phasing.) Cucumber vines can produce until frost, but might get shabby enough (from aridity) for replacement halfway through their season. Pepper and eggplant thrive in warmth.

The various greens and the various root vegetables, which are truly vegetative rather than fruiting vegetables, should grow in phases.

Seed for corn, bean, root vegetables and most greens should go directly into the garden. Seedlings do not transplant well, and are expensive in sufficient quantity. Romaine and head lettuces are exceptions that produce well from seedlings. Tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber and squash seedlings transplant easily. If only a few are required, they are not much more expensive than seed.

Too Late For Pie

Shortly after this article posted three years ago, a leaky pipe was exposed, and has since been repaired.

Tony Tomeo

P71203Just a few feet downhill from where the old valley oak had lived for centuries (https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/09/11/goodbye-to-an-old-friend/), a pumpkin vine appeared shortly after the big oak stump was ground out. That was in late September, so was much too late for it to do much; or so I thought.

The vine grew very quickly! It is hard to say if it got water from a leaking pipe. A valve manifold that is visible in front of the stump in the original picture is completely obscured by the foliage of the vine in the second picture. With all the heavy work that was done right on that spot, it would have been very easy for a pipe or exposed valve to get damaged. (Water from a previously leaky pipe or valve could have contributed to the demise of the tree, by promoting the development of excessively heavy foliage that caused…

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This Is No Food Blog

Well, since writing this three years ago, and mentioning that I would not likely grow this squash again, . . . I grew it again. It is in the garden right now.

Tony Tomeo

P71129There are not many things that will grow in my zone that I will not at least try to grow if I have the space and resources to do so. I really like to grow fruits and vegetables, particularly those that I am familiar with from when I was young. They are just as productive now as they were then. The only problem is that I do not know how to cook. I can freeze, can or pickle large quantities of produce, but cooking is something that I leave to experts.

I notice that almost all garden columns or blogs include recipes for the produce grown in home gardens. Mine does not. Except for a few recipes for pickles, jams and jellies, I just do not have any recipes that I would share.

When I get big winter squash, I really do not know what to do with them. I…

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Pumpkin

Brightly colored pumpkins ripen in autumn.

Actually, it is a fruit; a rather BIG fruit. It happens to be one of the more familiar of winter squash, but is not too commonly eaten. Although it makes excellent pie, and provides edible seeds and flowers, pumpkin is more popularly known as jack-o’-lanterns or Cinderella’s ride to the ball. Pumpkin is not for every garden, since each big and coarsely foliated annual vine needs regular watering, rich soil and considerable space to grow all through summer to produce only one or two big fruit in autumn.

Most pumpkins are big and round, and have smooth and bright orange skin. Those grown for jack-o’-lanterns are brighter orange, and not quite as meaty. Those grown for pie are often a bit smaller and meatier, with a rustier orange color. The biggest pumpkins get too huge to move easily, but lack flavor. The flavors and densities of many weird modern varieties are as variable as the green, red, pink, yellow and white hues of their skins. Some pumpkins have been developed specifically for their seeds, which are known as pepitas, or are used for production of pumpkin seed oil.

Pumpkins Exemplify Ripening Winter Squash

Winter squash are replacing summer squash.

Zucchini is probably the most reliable of warm season vegetable through summer, even when tomatoes are having a bad year. A single zucchini plant produces enough for a household. Two plants produce enough to share with neighbors. Pattypan, crookneck and other varieties of summer squash may not be quite as reliably productive individually, but can be assembled as a delightfully variable team that produces early in summer, and is just now finishing.

The fruit of summer squash is best when immature and tender. It gets tougher and loses flavor as it matures. Because development of seed within maturing fruit exhausts resources, plants are actually more productive if the fruit gets harvested while immature. In other words, they can either make many small fruits, or a few large fruits. The plants have coarse foliage on big but relatively confined annual plants.

Winter squash is very closely related to summer squash. The shabby annual vines sprawl over much larger areas, and can even climb fences and shrubbery. The main difference though, is that each plant produces only a single fruit or only a few individual fruits that are allowed to mature completely through summer. Their ripening fruit is just now becoming available as summer squash are running out. The fruit is supposed to be best after frost has killed the foliage, which could take a while here.

Hubbard, acorn, turban, spaghetti, kabocha and butternut squash, as well as the many varieties of pumpkin, are the more popular types of winter squash. Unlike summer squash, winter squash can be stored for quite a while, and need to be cooked to be eaten. While winter squash do not produce as many fruiting female flowers as summer squash produce, they seem to make at least as many male flowers that can be harvested while still fresh.

Male flowers can be stuffed, battered and fried, or simply fried. After they have been pollinated and set fruit, female flowers are typically too wilted to be eaten. All squash produce more male flowers than female flowers. Even the most fruitful of summer squash produce about three times as many male flowers as female flowers.

It Will Soon Be Autumn

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Cool season vegetables replace summer vegetables.

From the time they get planted in early spring, tomato plants are expected to perform a bit better than they did earlier in the season. They start out with only a few early tomatoes, but quickly become prolific. Production continues to increase as the plants grow all through summer . . . until now. Newer leaves on top are not staying so far ahead of fading leaves below.

While the weather is still warm, it is difficult to say how tomato plants know that autumn will soon replace summer. They do not seem to be intelligent enough to realize that every day is imperceptibly shorter than the one before. Nor do they seem to be sensitive enough to notice if the nights get slightly cooler. They just know, and they tell all their friends.

If zucchini plants have not started to fade and sag, they will soon. As weather cools, they no longer grow faster than the mildew that they tolerated all summer. Any fruits that are present now should have time to finish developing, but there probably will not be many more after that. (Zucchini fruits are eaten before mature anyway.) Other warm season vegetables are in a similar state.

Acorn, Hubbard, butternut and other winter squash grow through summer just like summer squash do, but are not harvested until the vines wither in autumn and winter. Unlike summer squash that continue to produce many tender juvenile fruit to replace what gets harvested through summer, winter squash plants put all their effort into one or two large ripe fruit.

Warm season vegetable plants still need to be watered as the foliage slowly deteriorates. They only begin to need less water as they lose foliage and the weather gets cooler. They may like to be fertilized one last time, but will not not need it again. Any last phases of corn will stay thirsty later than other vegetable plants because they deteriorate slower, and are rather thirsty anyway.

Seed for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and certain other cool season vegetables can be sown in flats or cell packs now so that their seedlings are ready to go when the warm season vegetables relinquish their space in the garden. If space allows, seed for beet, turnip and turnip greens can be sown directly into the garden. Carrot seed should still wait for cooler weather.