Chuparosa Justicia californica. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)
1. Consider planting the three sisters – corn, pole beans, and squash – in a portion of your vegetable garden. Build a mound three feet wide and one foot tall, flattened on the top. Plant four to seven corn seeds six inches apart in a circle on the top of the mound. After the corn is six inches to a foot tall, plant bean seeds six inches away from each corn plant and two winter squash seeds at opposite ends of the mound, three feet away from the beans. It is desirable to plant a winter squash such as spaghetti squash since its prickly leaves deter pests. The beans provide nitrogen for all three plants while the squash grows horizontally, totally covering the earth. In so doing, the squash foliage serves as a living mulch, preserving moisture in the soil to extend the interval between irrigations and squelching weed growth.
2. For the vast majority of ornamental plants, the best exposure for them in Southern California is half-day sun. Those living in a balmy coastal environment would be the exception and could grow most ornamentals in full sun as well. We often hear that since our climate is Mediterranean – rain comes only in winter and the rest of the year is hot and dry – plants imported from other Mediterranean climate zones are suitable for growing here. Yet Southern California heat generally eclipses that of other areas of the world with a similar winter-summer weather regime. Thus, plants that grow in full sun in Mediterranean countries, as well as in the Mediterranean climates of southwestern Australia, South Africa, and Chile, may need relief from full sun when grown here.
3. When planting seed directly in the ground, water at least once a day until three sets of true leaves (not cotyledons or seed leaves) have developed. At this point, you can probably water every other day but keep an eye on the seedlings since sudden hot weather can dry them up in a hurry. It is also a good practice to water early in the morning, which will keep a reserve of moisture in the soil, to be taken up by roots in the case of an intensely hot day.
4. It is critically important to plant seeds as well as annual flowers and vegetable seedlings procured in six packs or plastic cells, in good soil with readily available minerals required for growth. It makes sense to spend on soil amendments and organic fertilizers to be worked into the soil before you plant because without proper preparation your seeds may sprout and your transplanted cell-grown flowers and vegetables may grow a little, but they will not produce the quantity and quality of flowers and crops that you desire. Of course,if you have regularly incorporated compost into your soil and mulched for many years or planted a leguminous cover crop last fall that has been dug into the earth a month prior to planting, additional soil preparation will not be necessary.
5. Some succulents go dormant once May arrives so if you see no new growth in the coming months, do not despair. Still, you do not want to overwater them since this could lead to root rot. Some of the succulents that go dormant now include kalanchoes, sedums, senecios, dudleyas, aeoniums, and aloes. Once summer begins to wane, you will see them start to grow again.
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