Posts Tagged ‘Southern California Gardening’

We are deep into summer weather now and it’s proving to be even hotter and drier than last month in SoCal — no real surprise there. What’s also not too surprising is our general lack of enthusiasm for gardening lately. It always happens this time of year. Most of the plants are well past their big flowering and there are far fewer things to anticipate and look for as we walk around our gardens.

Of course that doesn’t mean that we can take a gardening vacation. There are fruits and vegetables that need picking and preserving, weeds to get rid of, and lots of deadheading to do. And, for goodness sake, pay attention to your thirsty plants. When the temperatures rise you need to give your plants additional water, especially the containers, sometimes as much as once a day. So put on your sunblock and get out there!

Things to do in your garden in August:

  • Deadhead roses and other repeat bloomers
  • Remove suckers from roses and prune lightly to improve circulation
  • Continue to spray roses and other plants for powdery mildew
  • Remove seed pods/berries from fuchsias, cut back by about a quarter
  • Pinch flowers off of coleus and cut back a bit if they’ve become too leggy
  • Remove spent bloom stalks from agapanthus, daylilies and society garlic
  • Pull spent stems from alstroemerias – yank them right out of the ground! Sounds violent, but it will encourage new blooms
  • Feed flowering plants, ferns, and tropicals
  • Harvest vegetables regularly
  • Keep an eye out for those voracious green monsters, aka tomato hornworms
  • Keep up with your weeding. Doing it after you water will make it much easier
  • In the mountain region, it’s time to get row covers installed to protect your crops from the cool night-time temps

The fall catalogues are starting to show up in our mailboxes and that means it’s time to start planning for fall planting and cool-weather crops. You can even do a bit of preparation for spring planting by taking pictures of your garden when it’s in full bloom. This winter when you’re ordering for next year’s garden you’ll have pictures to remind you of where the empty spots are and to help you decide on some new color combinations.

Stay cool!



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Mary Beth and I are crazy-busy in our gardens and in our clients’ gardens. To make things a little more challenging it’s also prime time for garden writing and we’re both a little overwhelmed right now. We’ll leave you with a few helpful tips to tide us over until we can catch our breath.


  • It’s time to take a walk through your garden to see what needs to be done. Do some of your shrubs need to be moved? Make a note of where the holes are and plan to get to the nursery for a few new additions to the garden. The next few weeks are when you’ll find the best selection of annuals, perennials and trees in your local nursery.
  • Weather on the East Coast and the Rocky Mountains is still all over the place, use your best judgement when putting new plants in the garden. It’s best to harden them off by keeping plants in a protected place and waiting towards the end of May before planting tender and semi-hardy plants, especially in the Rocky Mountains where the evenings are still quite cold. Don’t be fooled by the spectacular days peppered in here and there.
  • Dahlias, gladiolas and other summer flowering bulbs can be planted this month. (It’s a little late for this in SoCal, but if you do it right away you should still be ok.)
  • In SoCal it is time to get your tomatoes going. Plant your favorites and add one or two new varieties. Who knows, you may come up with a new favorite!

Feeding and Pruning

  • Lilacs should be fed in May. Work some lime into the soil if your soil is acidic.
  • For hydrangeas work lime into the soil for pink blooms. Blue blooms are a little more difficult to achieve organically. It is a years’ long process. Start by fertilizing with aged cow manure which tends to be acidic and mulch with oak leaves, pine needles, or other acidic organic materials. (Seems like a good post topic. We’ll research and get back to you with more info soon.)
  • Dead head daffodils and tulips, but don’t cut back leaves until they have started to die back.
  • Divide overgrown perennials, share a few with a friend.
  • In SoCal it’s time to feed citrus, avocados, and flower beds. And don’t forget your containers. All that lush spring growth needs food!
  • Keep pinching back fuchsias.
  • Prune azaleas, camellias, and other winter and spring-flowering shrubs, vines, and trees after they finish flowering.
  • Keep deadheading roses to encourage more blooms.
Enjoy this glorious season and all the beautiful flowers it brings.

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Barbara: Summer garden doldrums — I’ve noticed that I’m a little less enthusiastic in my garden lately. I’m pretty content to wander about doing nothing more than a little grooming here and there. But that’s all right because besides deadheading and keeping the garden tidy there’s not that much to do. The exception is keeping a sharp eye out for garden pests, because the sooner you deal with them the better off you’ll be. One of the pests that bedevils us this time of year is the rose slug.

Rose slugs are tiny, green worms that are the larvae of the rose sawfly. Heaven knows why they’re called slugs. They don’t look like a slug and they don’t leave a slime trail. Both the name and their appearance cause a great deal of confusion when you want to find a way to get rid of them. The most important thing to remember is that they are not caterpillars and you’ll see why this is an essential bit of knowledge in a minute.

When you’ve got rose slugs, you know it. These little creepies will skeletonize your rose leaves seemingly overnight (they don’t eat the buds or flowers) — one day you’ve got beautiful green, glossy leaves and the next day the plant looks like it was hit by a bomb. It is not pretty!

In Southern California the rose slugs have hit in a big way in most of my neighbor’s and client’s gardens. They are voracious and can make a mess of a rose bed in just a few days. As with most garden pests it’s important to treat for them as soon as you notice any leaf damage. Here, following the principles of Integrated Pest Management, are methods of control in ascending order of potency and potential harm to the beneficial insects in your garden.

Remember that the rose slug feeds on the underside of the leaf, so this is where to look for them and where to spray.


  • Search & destroy — a great release for your aggressive tendencies. Flip rose leaves every morning and squish, or pick off the little worms. Not for the squeamish. This method can work, but you’ve got to be persistent and if you’ve got a big infestation this is a stopgap at best. So the next step is…


  • Water — this is a safe and effective method for many garden pests (works especially well for aphids). Dislodge them with a strong stream of water. Frankly, I haven’t found this to be effective for rose slugs, but it’s worth a try.
  • Insecticidal soap. You should spray in the early morning or in the evening when the wind is calm so that you don’t get drift and it won’t harm the good bugs who are not out and about at these times. Aim your spray on the underside of the leaves, it needs to hit the bugs to work.
  • Neem Oil works by suffocating the pest, so be sure you cover the underside of all the leaves.
  • Spinosad works by excitation of the bug’s nervous system. It must be ingested, so it affects only chewing and sucking insects. That said, be aware that it is toxic to honeybees for 3 hours, so spray in the evening when bees are back in the hive. It will take a couple of days to see any results and you may have to spray more than once.

Now for the bit about sawfly larvae not being caterpillars. The reason this is important is that it means that Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) will not work. I can’t tell you how many times otherwise knowledgeable gardeners have recommended Bt for this problem. Even our local nursery swore that it would work. It won’t and you’ll be wasting your money if you use it for this purpose.

If you have exstensive leaf damage it might stress your plant, but it’s not fatal. Simply strip off all the leaves and they’ll grow back again in a few weeks. Also, it helps to know that if you’ve just planted some new rose bushes this year they were probably raised in a nursery using non-organic methods. The transition into an organic garden will make them more susceptible to pests than your other plants for the first season. Don’t despair, just give them time to get adjusted.

Here’s where I extol the benefits of organic gardening — again. Boosting your soil with compost and feeding your plants with rose tea (click here for the recipe) will make them healthy enough to resist most pests. And organic gardens will attract all kinds of good creature who will help you with your gardening — beneficial bugs and birds especially. (Every afternoon the birds come by to pick bugs off my plants.) So I’m not aiming to have a completely pest-free garden. After all there needs to be a little bit of bad stuff to feed the good guys.

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Here again is a grab bag of tips. In some ways I like these posts the best because this is pretty much the state of my brain at any given moment — a jumble of random stuff. Drives me crazy sometimes, but on the other hand it’s always interesting.

Putting a little focus on it, here are some tips on what you should be doing in your summer garden in Southern California in the next few weeks. Next week Mary Beth will provide garden tips for mountain dwellers whose gardens are just coming into their full spring bloom.

Tip #1 — Feed plants each time you water your containers.

These plants are wholly dependent on you for their nourishment so don’t neglect to feed them often during the growing season. Use enough fish emulsion to color the water and your plants will be healthier and your blooms more colorful. (Thanks to locally famous rosarian Bea Grow for this tip.)

Tip #2— Deadhead flowers.

This is one of the garden chores that I really enjoy. Wandering through my garden with a pair of snips and clipping off dead flowers is contemplative and will encourage your plants to create more blooms than they would if left to their own devices.

Tip #3 — Strip diseased leaves.

As you are deadheading, keep an eye out for diseased leaves. Strip them off the plant and throw them away. Doing this will go a long way to preventing a full-blown problem down the road. And while you’re at it, give those plants a good spray from the hose. This will wash off bugs and spores. Doing these two things might be all you need to keep your garden relatively disease free.

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