The weather this past month should be enough to convince anyone that we live in a global environment. Colder-than-normal waters in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of South America are responsible for shifting the jet stream far to our north this winter. The result, now familiar to most people as La Niña, means lots of warm and dry weather for us on the South Coast. While there is still hope for measurable rain in the next two months or so, it has been decidedly summer-like for weeks. Pretty inspiring for gardeners maybe, but a bit confusing for some plants who like a bit of chill in the winter before starting spring growth.
Now is a great time to give shape to overgrown hedges of boxwood, pittosporum, and other evergreen shrubs. Cut them back hard to give them a new, crisp shape. As seasoned gardeners know, “hedges have edges” and sometimes you need to cut back to older wood to re-establish the original line. Done in late fall or early winter, you would have to look at that dead-looking wood for months, but done next month, the plant will soon burst forth with lots of new greenery. It may help to make yourself a template for corners or mark a stick with the desired height to move along with you. There’s nothing as discouraging as getting down off that ladder and stepping back to see that you’ve created a sloping top line or a canting side instead of the plumb and perpendicular one you were trying to achieve. Follow with a new topdressing of compost or an organic fertilizer high in nitrogen to give them an extra boost.
Another plant that responds to a good pruning now is fuchsia. If you have hanging baskets, trim them back to the rim of the pot and thin out any weaker stems. Upright bushes can be cut down by one-half to two-thirds of their original size. Again, a dose of fertilizer afterward will bring rewards in foliage and flowers. Use a more balanced one that has both nitrogen for leaves and phosphorus for blossoms.
Many perennials and annuals can go in the ground now either from seed or pony packs. Look for some to add that you can cut for bouquets later. Some easy annuals to consider are cosmos, cleome, godetia, sunflowers, and zinnias. Perennials such as alstroemeria, campanula, delphinium, penstemon, and yarrow make long-blooming plants and long-lasting bouquets. Don’t overlook bulbs (and tubers and corms) that produce lovely additions to both the garden and the living room. Dahlias, freesias, gladiolus, iris, narcissus, Persian ranunculus, and calla lilies are easy to find in nurseries and catalogs and easy to plant and grow.
The switch from cool-season vegetables to warm-season ones is also upon us. You can still sow beet and carrot seeds, but you can also add corn and beans to the mix. Swiss chard and other greens like arugula and spinach are made for this season. Lettuces, too, will germinate well and provide leaf cuttings in a few weeks, forming heads in late spring and early summer. If you have room inside to start seed of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, you can get a jump on the season by doing so now. As fruits begin to form in the orchard, thin them out to channel energy into fewer, tastier, and bigger apples, pears, and stone fruits such as peaches and nectarines. There is usually no need to thin apricots and plums. Check mulches now while the foliage cover is still sparse. It will be easier to spread when you can see what you are doing.
All the new plant growth is sure to attract a number of garden pests. Aphids will attack the burgeoning buds of roses and other flowering shrubs. Wash them off with a strong spray of water or rub them out with your fingers. Snails are hatching. Keep a close eye out for damage and pick them off as soon as you find them. Setting out dishes of beer will also attract them to death by drowning of their own volition. Whiteflies may soon reappear on their favorite plants: fuchsia, canna, and hibiscus to name a few. They can be trapped on sticky yellow cards hung in advance of their arrival. Should those late rains materialize, be sure to check the cards and replace them if they’ve gotten too soggy. Spring is upon us in the coming weeks and it is a great time to influence the course of your garden in the coming months.
Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.