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Sunset's garden guide.

Sweet peas as a fragrant hedge

INTENSELY FRAGRANT SWEET PEAS BURST INTO BLOOM THIS MONTH in a profusion of pinks, purples, and reds. Filling in below are cosmos in pastel hues. You can plant cosmos this month, but in lower elevations wait until fall to plant sweet peas. Other planting opportunities abound: gardeners with a good supply of water can set out trees, shrubs, vines, ground covers, or other warm-season annuals or perennials. For those where water may be limited again this year, just maintaining what you have is the priority.

What are 'Jacob's Cattle', 'Black Turtle', and 'Agate Pinto'?

They are dry beans--easy to grow and rich in protein. Their names hint at a bonus: their colorful markings.

You sow and care for these dry beans much as you do for snap beans. The difference is in variety and the extra five or six weeks that dry beans take to reach maturity.

You can harvest dry beans from any kind of snap bean, but the best tasting are varieties selected specifically for drying.

Two mail-order sources with good selections are Johnny's Selected Seeds, 310 Foss Hill Rd., Albion, Maine 04910 (catalog free), and Seeds Blum, Idaho City Stage, Boise 83706 ($3).

Sow seeds 2 inches apart and 1 inch deep in rows 20 inches apart.

Beans need about 1/2 inch of water weekly during development. Once pods swell and mature, and then begin to dry and shrink, stop watering.

Harvest beans when pods are dry, their insides hard, and the plants have lost most of their leaves--12 to 14 weeks after planting. Pull up plants before pods break and release seeds.

If garden space is at a premium, you can harvest at the time you stop watering. Hang plants in a well-ventilated area to complete the drying process.

Citrus trees may need pruning this month

As citrus trees recovered over this past year from the December 1990 freeze, they produced many suckers and watersprouts, which some experts recommended leaving on for a full year to give the tree nutrient reserves.

Now that more than a year has passed and trees are in their growth phase again, this month is a good time to prune out any unwanted growth. Look for suckers at the base of the trunk (below the graft union). Water-sprouts appear on branches, in branch crotches (see photo at right), and along the trunk above the graft. Young growth can be snapped off with fingers. Use shears to prune off tough stems or to prune out dead wood.

If the tree is still too dense and bushy after pruning off watersprouts, thin out crossing branches, crowded shoots, and weak growth. Reshape the outer portions of the tree, if necessary.

Common-sense practices save water

Drought or not, the following water-saving gardening practices make sense. Most plants grow just as well with less water, making them more resistant to pests and diseases. You'll also be helping the environment by minimizing nutrient and chemical runoff.

Water plants thoroughly and deeply. This promotes deep rooting, so plants can withstand drought better. It also encourages healthy growth. If necessary, water plants individually when they need it, rather than running the entire irrigation system.

Apply water slowly. To avoid runoff, apply water slowly enough so that it can percolate into the soil. If necessary, shorten watering times and repeat the cycle.

Avoid overfertilizing. Too much nitrogen produces weak, floppy growth and increases the demand for water. Fertilize when plants begin to turn pale green, but before they are severely deficient.

Mulch the soil. A 1- to 3-inch layer of mulch holds in soil moisture, keeps plant roots cool, and smothers weeds, which compete for nutrients and water (keep mulch away from trunks and stems).

Protect plants from moisture-stealing winds. Warm, strong winds increase plants' need for water. They also batter foliage. Move container plants to sheltered locations. Valuable plants and vegetable gardens may benefit from putting up temporary windbreaks.

Is it really a watermelon?

Some of the newest oddities in the gardening world are watermelons with golden-yellow rinds (one is shown at right). Just like their greenskin relatives, they're juicy-sweet and refreshing on a hot summer day.

Three varieties to choose from are 'Golden Midget', a compact bush variety that's great for small gardens; 'Golden Crown', a 1991 All-America Selection with speckled leaves; and 'Sun F1'. The last two are standard-size vines that grow 6 to 9 feet long.

All are short-season varieties (70 to 75 days when directly seeded) and produce small, 4- to 8-pound, icebox watermelons.

Sow six seeds an inch deep in mounds a few inches high and 4 to 6 feet apart; thin seedlings to the three strongest plants. Or plant in rows and thin so that plants are a foot apart. Keep soil moist but not soggy; fertilize every four to six weeks. Harvest when tendril near the stem turns brown or when pale green stripes turn yellow.

Order seeds from one of the following sources. Catalogs are free unless noted. Harris Seeds, 60 Saginaw Dr., Box 22960, Rochester, N.Y. 14692, (716) 442-0410; Ornamental Edibles, 3622 Weedin Court, San Jose, Calif. 95132, (408) 946-7333 (catalog $2); Thompson & Morgan, Box 1308, Jackson, N.J. 08527, (908) 363-2225.

Two tough perennials that keep on blooming

For a striking combination of blooms from summer to fall, try growing deep blue Caryopteris clandonensis 'Dark Knight' and apricot-colored 'Wesser River Sandstone' yarrow. Both thrive in full sun and take moderate water but can tolerate considerable drought once established (blooms may be fewer).

Grown as a shrubby perennial, 'Dark Knight' caryopteris is a compact form (reaching about 1-1/2 feet) of the species. Foliage is green instead of silvery gray; flowers are deeper blue (some nurseries sell a similar-looking unnamed species). To prolong flowering, cut off faded blooms. In mild climates where the plant does not freeze back in winter, prune it nearly to the ground in spring.

'Wesser River Sandstone' yarrow is one of the new colorful hybrids and has large flowers and upright growth to about 2 feet. Cut flowers are long-lasting, and dry well.

If you can't find plants, ask your nursery to order 'Dark Knight' from Monrovia Nursery Co., Azusa, California; and 'Wesser River Sandstone' from California Flora Nursery, Fulton, California.

Curing floppy flowers the English way

Instead of staking overly vigorous and floppy perennials like asters, campanulas (such as C. lactiflora), and Shasta daisies, English gardeners train them not to flop.

The trick is to cut them back when they reach about a foot tall. This makes them grow shorter and sturdier, but blooming will not be affected.

Have you fed your mulch lately?

When bark mulch decomposes, it uses up nitrogen. When it is used as compost and worked into the soil, it can deplete the soil of nitrogen that would otherwise be available for plant growth. To make sure your plants get enough nutrients, you should work fertilizer into the soil before adding the mulch.

The National Bark and Soil Producers Association has tested fertilizer rates. For a fertilizer such as 20-10-10 or 16-9-12, it recommends working in 2-1/2 to 5 pounds of fertilizer per 500 square feet of mulched area.

Follow a regular fertilizer program to maintain plant growth. Check plants every three to four weeks. If green leaves look yellowish or pale, apply more fertilizer (according to package directions).

Pesticide alternatives in two new books

Many homeowners prefer to use the least toxic pest controls in and around the home. Some are discussed in our report beginning on page 115. In addition, two recent books make useful references on the subject.

Common-Sense Pest Control, by William Olkowski, Sheila Daar, and Helga Olkowski (The Taunton Press, Newtown, Conn., 1991; $39.95), discusses basic concepts necessary to identify and solve a pest problem. It includes chapters on pest habits and habitats, controlling pests in nature, and integrated pest management (IPM).

The book offers specific information about beneficial organisms, pesticides, and pests of the body, home, structures, and indoor and outdoor plants. Included is information on the biology of the pest, damage it causes, how to monitor and detect pests, and methods of treatment. The 715-page book includes black-and-white photographs and line drawings.

Pests of the Garden and Small Farm: A Grower's Guide to Using Less Pesticide, by Mary Louise Flint (Publication 3332, Agricultural and Natural Resources Publications of the University of California, 6701 San Pablo Ave., Oakland 94608, 1990; $25), provides a comprehensive look at dozens of insects, mites, diseases, and weeds that infest the garden.

Based on IPM's scientific techniques, information in the 276-page book is adapted to small-scale gardening. Included are photographs and line drawings that help identify problems quickly. Recommendations emphasize nonchemical controls.

New plastic mulch warms the soil better

A breakthrough in plastic mulch combines the best characteristics of clear and black plastic but eliminates the bad ones.

Like clear plastic, this thin, translucent-green film allows infrared rays to pass through and warm the soil. But unlike the clear version, it excludes most visible light so weed growth is greatly inhibited. Black plastic also excludes light, but it doesn't allow as much warmth through.

Tests show that the infrared-transmitting (IRT) mulch alone was as effective at maintaining soil warmth at night as black plastic and a row cover combined. IRT mulch is available from Johnny's Selected Seeds, 310 Foss Hill Rd., Albion, Maine 04910 (catalog free). Cost is about $7 (postage extra) for 4 feet by 50 feet.
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:Swezey, Lauren Bonar
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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