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Sunset's garden guide.

A SURE SIGN OF SPRING, BRILLIANTLY HUED TULIPS HIGHLIGHT THE scene at San Francisco's Pier 39 during Tulipmania (for details of this year's show, see Garden Calendar on page 82). Visit and make notes of your favorite varieties to plant next fall in containers and in the garden. March brings opportunities: in mildest climates, it's time to plant frost-tender vegetables and flowers outdoors, and time to take advantage of the last of cool weather and spring rains to establish trees and shrubs, particularly natives.

Jute netting holds soil

If you plant wildflower seeds now (and if there's enough rain), they'll sprout and grow quickly, and keep spring rains from washing soil from barren slopes. For best results, rake or loosen the surface of the soil before seeding. Scatter seeds according to package directions.

On steeper slopes, cover the area with jute erosion-control netting to keep soil from washing away. Be sure to stake the netting every 3 to 4 feet. The wildflowers will sprout and grow right through the loose netting. After a few years, the netting breaks down and disappears.

To find the netting, check well-stocked nurseries or order by mail. One mail-order source is Harmony Farm Supply and Nursery, Box 460, Graton, Calif. 95444; (707) 823-9125. The netting costs 60 cents per linear foot (4 feet wide) or $70 a roll (4 feet by 225 feet).

Shamrocks for the border, or indoors

Shamrocks are popular indoor plants, especially easy to find in nurseries this month because of Saint Patrick's Day. The three-part leaves of the ones pictured at right--Oxalis regnellii--are emerald green or deep purple; white flowers appear intermittently throughout the year.

Keep plants in bright light, and water when soil surface is barely moist to touch. If they get leggy, they probably need to be moved to a brighter spot. Cut back sprawling foliage, then feed the plant; new leaves will unfurl quickly.

In mild climates, shamrocks can be grown outdoors as perennials. They make an interesting addition as a ground cover or accent in a partly shady border. Give them well-drained soil high in organic matter. Plants can tolerate dry summer weather. A shamrock in a 4-inch pot costs $3 to $5.

Feeding citrus through the leaves can help

According to research at the University of California at Riverside, citrus is one plant that responds well to sprays of nitrogen on the foliage. Although not meant to replace fertilizers worked into the soil, foliar feeding works well as a supplement. If your citrus plants are pale green and not fruiting as productively as they should, spraying the leaves will help. Timing is important, especially with oranges and grapefruit, which benefit the most if sprayed before bloom or after petal fall. Lemons can be sprayed at any time to boost their growth.

When spraying, choose a water-soluble plant food and follow label directions for foliar feeding. Look for fertilizers whose formulation uses urea as the nitrogen source; this type of nitrogen is absorbed most readily through the leaf.

The best time to spray is early in the morning or late in the day. The worst time to spray is on a hot, dry afternoon when the plant may be under temporary water stress.

Best disinfectants for pruning tools

One of the best ways to prevent the spread of fireblight on susceptible plants such as pears, apples, hawthorn, pyracantha, and photinia is to prune out infected parts. Often seemingly healthy wood is already infected, so disinfecting the pruning tools between cuts is very important.

Recently, scientists at Kearney Agricultural Center in California's Central Valley tested various readily available, commonly recommended disinfectants. The disinfectants tested were Clorox, hydrogen peroxide, Listerine, Lysol concentrated disinfectant, Pine-Sol, and rubbing alcohol.

The findings: that soaking or spraying pruning blades for a minute or longer in either full-strength or 1-to-5 solution of Clorox, Lysol, or Pine-Sol brought the most consistent protection. Dipping the blade quickly often does not disinfect properly. Clorox generally did a better job for quick dips, although none of the disinfectants proved completely effective.

Although Clorox is the least expensive and generally most effective, it corrodes tools quickly and ruins clothes that come in contact with it. Lysol caused the least damage to clothes and tools, but is less effective as a dip.

A new how-to booklet on drip irrigation

A new 14-page booklet, Drip Irrigation Guidelines from the East Bay Municipal Utility District, discusses when and where to use drip irrigation, and how to design an efficient system.

Especially helpful for beginners are actual photographs of the components assembled in the correct position. The booklet includes necessary technical data, such as maximum flow rates and pipe size. A scheduling chart provides detailed monthly information on watering times for EBMUD's service area.

The free booklet was designed with both homeowners and professionals in mind. For a copy, write to East Bay Municipal Utility District, Box 24055, Mail Slot 107, Oakland 94623, or call (510) 835-3000.

Red-hot poker for spring color

If you need late winter to early spring color for a sunny spot in the garden, consider red-hot poker (Kniphofia uvaria). This cheerful plant, also called torch lily, does well with no summer water, even in hot inland locations.

The bright orange drift in the Berkeley garden pictured above flowered from mid-January through March.

Plants spread underground from thick, cord-like roots, forming tufted clumps of arching grassy leaves that grow to 2 feet tall; flower stalks add another 2 feet.

Many new varieties have been developed, some with softer colors in white, pale yellow, and soft coral. Depending on the variety, plants can flower from early spring into fall, so you can extend bloom season.

Use red-hot poker with other flowering perennials, as a mounding ground cover on dry slopes, or as an accent plant with shrubs. Plants are widely available. A 1-gallon container costs $5; the common red type is also sold in prepackaged plastic bags ($3 each).

Leaf spot on pansies

During rainy weather in winter and spring, pansies and Johnny-jump-ups can become infected with leaf spot, a disease that begins with the appearance of brownish or black spots on the leaves (see picture at left). Spots can enlarge and coalesce, and then infected leaves get slimy and drop off.

A fungus causes the disease; spores are spread in water or air. The fungus overwinters on plants and debris, and spreads quickly from rain or overhead watering.

The best cure is prevention. Remove and discard any severely infected plants. When you buy new plants, check them carefully at the nursery; remove any spotted leaves before planting out. To discourage spores from spreading, try to keep foliage dry.

Spray with a fungicide as soon as spots appear on leaves (follow label directions) to help control the disease; you may need to spray more than once.
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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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Lincowski, Emely
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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