Why you can plant these summer vegetables now for a winter crop

Five things to do in the garden this week.

1. Can you still plant tomatoes? I remember seeing some tomato plants in the garden department of a home improvement center at this time last year. They were leftover, popular cherry tomato varieties, which should be planted by mid-July to get the maximum harvest out of them. I planted them in October and they just sat in the ground until spring when they began to flower and fruit and did so wonderfully throughout the summer and now into the fall. Upon calling a local Armstrong Garden Center, I learned that they are currently carrying three tomato varieties – Stupice, Siletz, and Oregon Spring – which, planted now, should flower and fruit through the winter months. They are all heirloom, open-pollinated varieties, meaning that the fruit of each has its own unique quality (or qualities) that might include color, size, shape, juiciness, or taste.

2. Now is the time to plant Iceland poppies, also known as champagne poppies due to the way their chalice-shaped blooms, when held erect on their peduncles (flower stems), resemble champagne glasses. You will need to first heavily amend your soil with finished compost, whether you make it yourself from leftover vegetable and fruit peelings and garden trimmings and leaves, or buy it by the bag. Plant them in full sun and apply a water-soluble, 20-20-20 fertilizer every other week. Organic fertilizers break down in the heat of summer but not in cooler weather. Water from below because overhead irrigation damages the flowers. To keep your plot of poppies blooming at maximum capacity, deadhead the faded blooms on a daily basis by cutting the flower stalks just above the leaves that grow at thier bases.

Daffodil. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

3. When perusing flowers at the nursery for fall planting, select those in cell pack or six-pack containers, as opposed to four-inch or gallon size, in order to economize. Properly planted and maintained, these smaller plants will quickly catch up in size to the larger ones. When removing plants from their containers, regardless of size, check to see if the root balls consist primarily of soil or of roots. If roots predominate, they will be densely packed and interfere with proper plant growth and flowering potential. Soak such root balls in water for a couple of hours. Now you can vigorously shake the root balls underwater to loosen them up and then gently untangle the roots, if needed, to allow them to better spread out in the soil. Remember that soil ready for planting offers no resistance when you plunge your shovel or trowel into it; ideally, such luxurious soil should go down to a depth of at least eight inches. Fertilize bi-weekly with a water-soluble granular product.

4. Wherever you happen to live in Southern California, you can find daffodil (Narcissus) varieties that are suited to the cold or lack of it in your area, varieties that re-bloom year after year and never need to be dug up, chilled, or otherwise coddled from one year to the next. There is only one requirement they share in common when it comes to garden longevity: complete absence of soil moisture during summer, no matter how hot it gets; otherwise, they will rot. If it were not for the drought that seems to never end, I would say “never water your daffodils.” However, when it does not rain during the winter, it would be appropriate to apply water to emerging shoots in January or certainly in February when most rain in Southern California historically falls. Reliable, small-flowered daffodil varieties that will persist as long as you live and beyond include paperwhites, Chinese sacred lilies, Minnow, Trevithian, and Grand Soleil d’Or. Similarly, indestructible large-flowered daffodils include Arctic Gold, Ice Follies, Falstaff, Gold Court, and King’s Court.

5. Following a recent column where trees for fall color were mentioned, I received an email from Susan Savoainen who gardens in Banning. “One tree you left out is persimmon, which has both colorful leaves and ‘ornaments’ of orange fruit,” she wrote. “Another is pomegranate which has nice golden leaves in the fall.” Now is an excellent time to plant these and other deciduous trees, whether fruiting or strictly ornamental. There are two types of persimmons: astringent, such as Hachaya, which are bitter until they soften, and non-astringent, such as Fuyu, which can be eaten either hard or soft. And yet, astringent varieties when they soften are significantly sweeter than the non-astringent types. In a kind of breakthrough where persimmon sweetness is concerned, it was discovered that Sharon, an astringent persimmon variety developed in Israel, was rendered sweet after being exposed to air enriched with carbon dioxide. Thus, treated in this way, Sharon and perhaps other astringent varieties can remain firm yet still be exalted, following carbon dioxide exposure, for unsurpassing sweetness.

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