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Sunset's garden guide.

IRIDESCENT RED JEWELS AGAINST THE INTENSE BLUE OF THE PACIFIC, flowers of tree aloe bloom just in time to signal the start of a new year. January is a great month to plant natives and sow wildflowers, but be sure to provide water if rains don't arrive. Central California gardeners also have many chores to attend to--from planting bare-root trees, shrubs, and vines to starting flower and vegetable seeds. Don't forget to keep the garden tidy to prevent disease from getting a fresh hold in your garden. January brings its own special pleasures, too, including a preview of spring color.

Bright and bold aloe

December through March, bold form and bright flowers ranging from vermilion to a rare clear yellow make the tree aloe (A. arborescens, shown on page 39) an asset to the winter garden.

Tolerant of drought, sun, and salt spray, this aloe is adapted to most California landscapes. Aloes prefer well-drained soil, with full sun along the coast and light shade in hot inland locations. Where temperatures dip below 29[degrees], grow in containers you can move for easy frost protection.

Starting this month, nurseries stock tree aloes in 1- or 5-gallon sizes (priced around $12 or $25, respectively).

A disease-resistant

new peach

A self-fertile new peach variety called 'Forst' not only produces tasty fruit but resists peach leaf curl (see item on page 41). When the tree is young, it is somewhat susceptible to this disease, but every year that passes increases its resistance.

Deep pink blossoms make this new variety an attractive addition to the home landscape. The freestone fruit has yellow flesh and good flavor; with proper thinning, fruit reaches 3 inches in diameter. It ripens in July, two weeks after 'Redhaven'.

Look for bare-root trees in nurseries this month; expect to pay about $12 for 5/8-inch stem diameter. Shop early--this newcomer will be in high demand.

Forcing spring color

Enjoy the color and fragrance of spring indoors by forcing woody flowering plants such as quince, plum, and forsythia into early bloom. Depending on what's in your garden, you might also try fothergilla, pussywillow, crabapple, and hawthorn. Branches of most spring-blooming deciduous shrubs and trees can be forced readily indoors in containers.

The closer to their normal flowering time, the faster the blooms will open indoors.

Start by cutting branches from the south side of the plant (these are the first to open), choosing ones with interesting shapes and plump buds. To speed water uptake, pound or split 1 to 2 inches of the base of the stems.

Place branches in water and leave them in a cool, dark spot until the buds begin to swell. Then move them to a bright location (but out of direct sunlight) to encourage flower color and hasten opening. Warm temperatures speed flowering, but flower color tends to fade faster. The branches really soak up water; keep an eye on the water level in the vase.

Recycling poinsettias

Keeping poinsettias and bringing them into bloom next year isn't easy, but it can be done!

After the holidays, keep the plants in bright light and water regularly. New types may hold their foliage into spring. After leaves and bracts start to drop, water only when soil dries out. Store in a cool (50[degrees]) spot, such as a corner of a garage, and keep soil barely moist. If temperatures are warmer, you may need to water occasionally, just enough to dampen the soil.

In the spring when night temperatures are above 50[degrees], place the plants in bright light and resume watering. Shoots should start to sprout from stems. Apply dilute liquid fertilizer twice a month.

In June, cut stems back to about 4 inches and report in new potting mix in the next larger size container. Until late August, periodically trim shoot tips with clippers to encourage branching.

Starting in mid-September, plants need total darkness nightly from 5 P.M. to 8 A.M. until bracts begin to color (usually around Thanksgiving). One easy method is to cover plants with a sturdy cardboard box every night. If you forget to cover the plant even one night, flowering will be delayed. While they're developing flowers, poinsettias must be kept at temperatures of 60[degrees] or warmer.

New way to plant trees

Studies of trees growing in the wild have found that the majority of roots were in the top foot of soil, spread over a large area. Thanks to these findings, basic advice about planting trees has changed.

Don't bother digging a hole twice as deep and twice as wide as the rootball, nor adding organic matter to the backfill. Instead, dig only to the depth of the rootball.

Then, working down to the same depth, loosen the soil in an area at least twice the diameter of the rootball. So that the tree won't settle latter, don't loosen the soil below where the rootball is to rest. Be sure to gently slope the sides of the hole.

As you plant the tree, spread out the roots; tamp soil lightly, but do not compact it around the rootball. Add 2 to 4 inches of mulch over entire area, keeping mulch away from the trunk. Water thoroughly.

Grow plump radishes

Disappointed with your garden-grown radishes? Common complaints are that radishes are too pithy, or long and skinny instead of round, or that they bolt (go to seed).

Choose the right varieties for the season. There are early (spring), midseason (summer), and late (winter) varieties. Don't plant early-season types later, or they will bolt.

This month, you can start sowing early varieties such as 'Cherry Belle', 'Sparkler', and 'Fuego'. For plump roots, sow in light, well-drained soil where they'll get 6 hours of sun. Sow 1/2 inch deep; thin to 1 to 2 inches apart when tops are 1 to 2 inches high.

Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers; they tend to promote top growth at the expense of root development. If you've used a lot of compost or manure to loosen soil, select a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 5-10-10 to temper foliage growth.

To avoid pithy radishes, harvest as soon as the roots have swelled. To prolong your harvest, sow seeds weekly over four to six weeks.


peach leaf curl

If leaves on your peach or nectarine tree have looked like the ones pictured at left, peach leaf curl is most likely the culprit. Caused by the fungus Taphrina deformans, the disease is best identified by the abnormal leaves produced in the spring.

Thickened and colored red or yellow, the affected leaves tend to drop prematurely. Repeated infections cause branches to dies back. Except for occassional irregular spots on the fruit, there is no decrease in fruit quality, but the decline in tree vigor will affect fruit size and production.

The fungus survives the winter on the surfaces of twigs and buds and is favored by wet spring weather; best control is a dormant spray applied as close to bud break as possible. (A tip on timing: spray when pussywillows are blooming.) Spray with bordeaux mixture or copper (wettable powders work better than liquid formulations) or lime sulfur; follow label directions carefully. Thoroughly cover twigs and branches. If rains are heavy, reapply spray to maintain coverage until bud break. Spraying is particularly beneficial for small, young trees, which can weaken easily.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Lincowski, Emely
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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