California Gardener's April Checklist

Water shortages along with energy crises and other realities of modern living have taught us valuable lessons about conserving our priceless resources. And in our gardens, we all Californians have pioneered sustainable strategies that are beautiful and more appropriate to our Mediterranean climate.

Go to a nursery this month, and you’re going to see plants nobody had heard of a generation past. They come from the Mediterranean, Australia, South Africa, California’s wild areas, and plant breeders greenhouses. They’re plants that need less water and maintenance — familiar staples like lavender, innumerable succulents, natives, lawn alternatives and a lot more.

Watch what steals the displays. A recent San Francisco Flower & Garden Show was loaded with all the new breed of climate-appropriate plants. Among the most eye catching was Agave attenuata ‘Ray of Light’, together with white-trimmed, light green leaves in sculptural symmetry. Young plants, about a foot across gallon-size nursery containers, are ready made for a terra-cotta pot exhibited on a patio table.

Botanical name: Agave attenuata ‘Ray of Light’ (also called variegated foxtail agave)
USDA zones: 9 to 11 (find your zone)
Water requirement: Light
Light requirement: Full sun or partial shade
Mature size: 4 to 5 feet tall and 8 feet broad
Growing tips: For container growing, use a soil mixture, industrial or your own, formulated for cactus and succulents. This agave will gradually reach 5 feet tall and 8 feet wide, so be prepared to transplant it in the ground in a year or two.

JMS Design Associates

Landscape with lavender. There are lots of reasons to grow lavender: the beauty of the purple flowers and their fragrance, the gray color of the cushiony foliage, the bees and butterflies that are attracted. Lavender also is among our most dependable, low-maintenance landscape plants.

One of many uses: Volume plants as a ground cover. Edge a stroll (trim plants officially in the event that you want to have that look). Edge a border. Mix in a border. Grow in a pot. Plant underneath roses.

Choose from a number of lavender (Lavandula) species and varieties, depending on desired size, growth habit and intended use. Here are only a couple of several options:
Lavandula stoechas, or Spanish lavender, revealed: deep purple blossoms; around 30 inches tall; for borders, pots and cottage gardensLavandula angustifolia, or English lavender. ‘Hidcote Blue’: two feet tall, mounding; for mass planting, spotted in borders. ‘Blue Cushion’: compact expansion to 18 inches; low edging. Lavandula intermedia ‘Grosso’: quite fragrant; compact expansion to 3 feet; for hedges, edgingLavandula dentata, or French lavender: long bloom season; 2 to 4 feet tall; for hedges, edgingLavandula minutolii, or fernleaf lavender: over the smallish side, to two feet; good for boatsBotanical name: Lavandula spp
USDA Islands: 5 to 9 (some species less hardy). Not good in hot climates.
Water requirement: Light
Light requirement: Full sun
Mature size: 2 to 3 feet tall and broad, and bigger
Growing tips: Make sure the soil drains well. Control the size and form by shearing back the plant ( as much as half) after flowering. If the plants become dry and woody looking, it’s time to replace them. Some types can spread seeds and become invasive; eradicate young plants promptly.

Las Pilitas Nursery

Go for one from the wild. Until a few decades back, the only place I recall watching California fuchsia (Zauschneria californica) was 7,000 feet high near Echo Summit, as patches of red blazing through cracks in gray granite boulders. Nowadays it’s possible to see California fuchsia in your neigborhood nursery (Monrovia, a significant wholesaler, is one that develops it). California fuchsia was tamed, losing the majority of its scraggly, wild look but not its bright color and durability. It’s a dependable long-blooming summer continuing for dry sunny places, particularly slopes. Hummingbirds love it.

Botanical name: Zauschneria californica
USDA zones: 6 to 9
Water requirement: Lighting
moderate requirement: Full sun
Mature size: Greater than 1 foot to 4 feet tall and up to 4 feet wide, depending on range
Growing tips: quite a few varieties have been improved; ‘Ghostly Red’, with silvery gray foliage, is striking. Be sure that the drainage is fast. Reduce the plant back and eliminate dry foliage in fall.

Try this rather than guzzling grass. If you are thinking about planting a new lawn or replacing an old one, think about the water-saving, less-disease-prone alternatives to traditional lawn grasses that came to California generations past if we reverted to look like England or New England. Many California native grasses now available as sod are worth a close look. Here are just two that the farmers assert need 50 percent less water than traditional lawns.
Native bentgrass, revealed, has the appearances of a rather conventional lawn grass. It can be mowed to a minimal height and withstands household wear and tear. Left to grow naturally and unmowed, it can grow to a graceful meadow. It’s good in shade. Native Mow Free is a mixture of several types of fescue grasses that takes some shade as well as sunlight. It can be mowed for a regular turf look or left unmowed for a shaggy, lumpy look. It’s best to mow it at least a couple times a year. It works nicely on a pitch but is not considered a fantastic play lawn.Considering a new lawn is a big deal, try to check out examples of bud options that work in your town. Your regional nursery might have a demonstration of indigenous and other blossoms. Ensure you enjoy the feel, color and overall durability and looks. A helpful reference is The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative, by John Greenlee.

Margie Grace – Grace Design Associates

Test out arid farming for tomatoes. The most intensely flavored tomato you pick up in a late summer farmer’s market is apt to have been developed by a procedure called dry farming. This isn’t too much about water conserving but is a way to focus flavor in the mature fruit. It works!

Wish to experiment with dry farming this season? The basic method of a few dry-farming growers is to withhold water after transplanting tomato seedlings, forcing roots to go deep for water. That system makes me nervous. But there’s a more conservative strategy. Try it along with tomatoes grown conventionally as a backup.

Start this past month (in warmest climates) or next month with Early Girl, Sungold, Sweet 100 or another acceptable selection. If your soil is not moist, soak the ground first. Dig an extra-deep planting hole and then set seedlings in a depth where the stalks will be buried around the first leaves. Water deeply and frequently for several weeks or longer. Cease normal watering when the fruit begins to reveal. Withhold water till the plant begins to wilt or shows other signs of desire. There is a whole lot to this technique. For more detailed advice, download this manual from the University of California, Davis.

Even in case you can not go all of the way with dry farming, then there’s a good lesson: You’ll have tastier tomatoes if you don’t overwater.

Watch the guide to developing tomatoes

Prep for Cinco de Mayo. An important ingredient of several Asian and Mexican dishes, cilantro is easy to grow so fast you could plant it in early April and have leaves for guacamole from Cinco de Mayo — and also for the upcoming few weeks. Just keep in mind that 1. That is an expendable, short-lived yearly — easy come, easy go; and two. The herb’s enemy is hot weather, which causes it to bolt.

Start seeds or nursery seedlings in the ground (a vegetable garden or perhaps a flower border), in full sunlight or partial shade in hot climates. Keep the soil moist. Seeds will sprout in a week or so. Start cutting leaves for the kitchen when plants are 4 inches tall; even in the event that you don’t need the leaves, trim the plant per week to keep new expansion coming.

To grow a continuous crop, sow seeds every couple weeks. If the plants go to seed too quickly, think about the season over. Wait to plant again as soon as the weather cools off in fall or next spring.

More cool-weather plants and how to increase them

What Else to Do in April on Your California Garden

Almost everything’s growing actively, and there are probably more things to plant, prune and protect than you can manage — this month usually offers more backyard pleasure and action than any other time of year.

Plant annual blossoms. Except in cool coastal and mountain regions, fill pots and borders with heat lovers, such as marigolds, lobelia and petunias. For shady spots that the old dependable (and yes, overused) impatiens, revealed here, can not be beat — it will keep blooming until Thanksgiving or longer.

Plant perennial blossoms. For blooms this summer and summers to come, set out sun-loving, unthirsty types suited for our arid season: coreopsis, sage, penstemon.

Plant warm-season vegetables. Wait till the air and dirt have warmed up on your region (inland valleys are already plenty warm enough) to set out tomatoes and other heat lovers, like peppers and eggplants. All these are simple to begin today, in most climates, from seeds or seedlings: beans, beets, carrots, chard, corn, melons, squash. Watch more about growing summer plants

Choose and plant roses. Peak bloom period this month provides the opportunity to select the color you need from container-grown nursery plants. Watch for signs of aphids on buds and new development. Watch 6 deliciously fragrant roses

Plant herbs. Try herbs in a bed near the kitchen. Thyme and oregano are simple. Provide whole sun and a quick-draining dirt mix.

Fertilize. Virtually everything benefits from a complete meals this month. Give camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons an acidic fertilizer after bloom. Start your lawn on a monthly eating program or follow the program on the tag.

Watch for insects. Aphids specifically like hot fresh spring growth. Start with blasting them with water from the hose before you proceed to organic pest controls.

What is Happening in your California backyard? We’d really like to find a photo!

See related