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Edible Gardening

Thought purslane was a weed...how do you cook with it?
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

We were at the Farmers Market on Alemany yesterday and came home with a large bunch of purslane. Please, do you have a recipe for this weed? The gentleman said we could boil it or stir fry it. Would appreciate any suggestions. It is totally foreign to us. As a matter of fact, I used to dig it up and throw it into the compost. Now I am intrigued. It has a rather quaint taste.

- Tess

   
A: Dear Tess,

Most of the time, purslane is used raw in salads with a vinaigrette. It goes well with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, arugula, and other piquant greens. Try it in a pita with hummus and sliced red onion. It combines well with most Mediterranean cooking. For saute, cook in olive oil with garlic, then salt/pepper to taste. After steaming, serve with red wine vinegar. Experiment.


Fig variety recommendations for San Francisco
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

Both my Brown Turkey and Black Jack Figs are currently in pots. I do have interest of purchasing other types of figs like Desert King, Lattarula, Neveralla (AKA Osborne Prolific), Nordland, Pastillere, and Violette de Bordeaux. Which of these do you recommend for San Francisco? My yard is about 25 feet by 80 feet. My closes neighbor's house is about 30 feet away from my yard. Since I want to plant some of the figs in the ground, how concern should I be of the invasiveness of their roots. (I know it can be 3 times that of the tree height).

- Jadeland in San Francisco

   
A: Dear Jadeland,

Of the four varieties you mention, your best bets would be Osborne Prolific and Violette de Bordeaux. Fig roots can be invasive in search of water. They are best in the ground away from regularly irrigated areas.


What sort of edible can we trellis?
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

We're new to the Outer Sunset and new homeowners and we'd really like to espalier something edible to cover an ugly high cement/wood wall in our backyard (faces West). We thought about an apple tree but worried that our microclimate isn't right. What about a blackberry bush? Other ideas?

- Evelyn in San Francisco

   
A: Dear Evelyn,

You could trellis a blackberry (choose a thornless variety). Some blueberry varieties get 6' tall (Reka, Bluecrop, Blueray) and can be espaliered. You might consider Kiwi vines. The Issai is a fuzzless variety that is self fertile but it will also pollinate Vincent (a fuzzy one).


Can I grow cilantro outside in Marin?
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I love cilantro. Can I grow it outside in winter here in Marin? In a sunny spot or a shady one? It's my new favorite flavor but I wonder if I need to wait until spring to plant it. Thank you for whatever light you can shed.

- Elizabeth in Marin

   
A: Dear Elizabeth,

You can grow Cilantro through the winter. Choose the sunniest location you can either in the ground or a pot. Be aware that it will go to seed as soon as temperatures increase in the spring. Replant cilantro in early spring to carry you into summer. The pollen of the bolting cilantro is a good food source for beneficial insects. They will pollinate it for you and the seed harvested can be used (coriander) or replanted.


When can I plant beets and sugar snap peas?
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

When can I plant beets and sugar snap peas in my Mill Valley area? I planted beets this past spring and they did pretty well but the heat really burned the leaves leaving me to think maybe they are a fall crop. Thanks very much!

- Mary in Mill Valley

   
A: Dear Mary,

Beets prefer cool weather as you have found. They can be planted August through October for late fall to winter harvest. Plant again in February to early March for late spring harvest. Beets that grow through the winter months must be harvested by late April or May or they will bolt and start to go to seed (which is fine if you want to collect your own seed).

Peas can be planted at the same times. They also do not like hot weather and will stop flowering once temperatures are in excess of 75 degrees.


Harvesting lettuce
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I am growing red leaf lettuce in my redwood planter. I'm looking forward to my first harvest, but I have never really farmed before - when I harvest it, should I cut off the entire head? if I do, will it grow back?

- Mary in San Francisco

   
A: Dear Mary,

You can either gently twist the outer leaves off the plants or cut the entire "head" off, leaving an inch or so left. The lettuce plants will resprout from the nub to reform the heads. This is what they call "cut and come again".


Is there such a thing as wild carrots?
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

Is there such a thing as wild carrots? I've been finding them in various parts of my yard but I didn't plant carrots where they seem to be. Are they safe to eat?

- Sandy

   
A: Dear Sandy,

The wild carrot (Daucus carota) can be spread by wind. The dried seed head falls off the stalk and is blown into new locations. Even though the young root is edible, I would avoid it. Wild carrot looks very much like water Hemlock, a very poisonous plant (Think Socrates). Water Hemlock is prevalent in Northern California so sure identification of the wild carrot, or any wild food for that matter, is important.


Fertilizing artichokes
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I have an artichoke plant that has been producing for 4 years now - this year there are 5 plants that have regrown from the original base. is there any particular fertilizer that is best for a mature artichoke.

- Amy in San Francisco

   
A: Dear Amy,

At this time of year, feed your artichoke(s) with EB Stone All Purpose Fertilizer. They will benefit from some additional Kelp Meal or Seaweed Extract as well. Apply a fresh mulch such as the Greenall Planting Compost and lastly, use the Greenlight Slug and Snail to control unwanted pests, including ants. Ants and artichokes don't mix. They farm debilitating aphids on artichokes.


Growing vegetables this spring...
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I want to start growing vegetables, herbs and possibly fruit and I'm thinking of mainly using a green house since the weather in San Francisco can be unpredictable. Will the plants do well in a greenhouse and what fruits do well in San Francisco? Also, I read that I can grow potatoes from a potato I already have in my kitchen - will that way work or is it better to start from a seed? Thank you!

- Rebecca in San Francisco

   
A: Dear Rebecca,

Your vegetables and herbs will do fine in a greenhouse. If the greenhouse will be completely enclosed (closed doors and windows), the flowering vegetables will not have access to pollinators. It will be necessary for you to act as the bee. This can be done by gently shaking the plants once in flower (tomatoes and peppers) or transferring pollen with a fine artist's paint brush (squash, tomatoes, peppers). As for fruits, you can plant strawberries, apple, pear, southern highbush blueberries, persimmon, and plum with the greatest success.

As for potatoes, it is best to start from a "seed" potato. Most potatoes from the grocery have been treated to prevent sprouting. Organically grown, new potatoes can sometimes be used.


Fava bean planted as a green manure. Now what?
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I planted fava beans in November as a green manure on a raised, previously neglected, bed. When should I chop them and turn them under and how long will it take them to decompose before I can plant? They are starting to flower now. Also, when I turn them under, can I mulch the entire bed to help kill the prolific oxalis? Thank you.

- Suellen in San Francisco

   
A: Dear Suellen,

You want to turn the fava beans under before they begin to fruit so now is optimum. It will not take long for them to decompose, especially if you decide to mulch over the bed as well. You might consider the lasagna method of mulching too, especially with the Oxalis. Chop and turn under the fava, cover with damp newspaper, mulch, damp cardboard, more mulch. When it is time to plant, just cut into the layers. You can plant your bed in about 2 weeks with spring vegetables and flowers.


Growing herbs used in Thai and Indian cooking

Q: Dear Garden Guru,

Where can I find the following plants: Kaffir Lime - used in Thai cooking Curry Leaf
(Murraya Koenigii ). Used in Indian Cooking - avocado fruiting trees

- Kamana in Novato

   
A: Dear Kamana,

You can get a Kaffir lime at our store in Novato. Should they be sold out, we can send one from one of our other stores. We have Bacon, Fuerte and Hass Avocados at our other stores as well. Novato does not carry them. Bacon or Fuerte would do the best in your location. As for the Murraya, we do not carry it. It is not accepting of our climate. You will probably have to find one online should you decide to try growing it in Novato.


Growing root vegetables
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

We live up on twin peaks and have an East-facing patio where we've been growing vegetables in pots. While our leafy greens have had some success, our root vegetables like carrots and beets have not. We grew them during the spring (April) but their growth was very stunted even after thinning. Do you have any tips on how to have success with these root vegetables in the future, and is now a good time to plant their seeds?

Thanks very much,
- Sunshine in San Francisco

   
A: Dear Sunshine,

In order for root vegetables to do well in containers, the pots must be deep enough and large enough to accommodate them. A half wine barrel is a good choice. The soil should be loose and well draining. Sloat Organic Potting Soil is ideal. It is recommended that Sure Start be incorporated into the soil at the time of sowing. Once the seedlings have sprouted, thin accordingly and feed with a liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion or Maxsea All Purpose at 1/2 strength every 2 to 3 weeks. Water regularly. There is a tendency for containers to dry out towards the edges so pay extra attention to those plants growing towards the sides. Root crops are best sown in early spring and harvested before the summer gets hot.


We help a first time gardener!
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I went to the Sloat Garden Center in SF and...I started my garden! It is amazing and I am so excited. I got
Mint
Kale- galega de folhas lisas
Lettuce Mix ë Molto Mescluní
Cilantro ëslo-boltí
Lettuce ë Yugoslavian redí
Swiss Chard
Lavender
Rosemary
and I have planted them in three barrels to start (mint is in it's own container) and I was wondering if you could give me a few tips on watering and care.... I have looked on the internet for this info but I am not sure who to trust. OR if you could provide a link to a trusted site. I am mainly looking for watering amounts etc.

Thanks!
- Lauren
   
A: Dear Lauren,

I am excited for you! The beginning of an adventure. If you did not pick up a preplant fertilizer (Sure Start), I would get some now. It can be applied on top of the soil around your herbs and vegetables to boost them into action. When watering the barrels, you want to apply water until you see it start to drain out the bottom. Usually, it is recommended to fill the container up completely but because the surface area of a barrel is so large, it is hard to add enough water to do this without turning the pressure up. Too strong a force will disturb the young plantings. You will probably only have to water 2 or 3 times a week initially and then taper off to 1 or 2 times as the plants put their roots deeper. A good rule of thumb, if the soil is dry 3" below the surface, it is time to water. Do try to water only in the morning as this decreases the chance of disease and reduces water lost to evaporation.

Read more about our container gardening tips here »

 
Is wild fennel actually edible?
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I see a lot of wild fennel on my walks around the city. Is it edible? And what parts are usable?

- Harold in San Francisco
   
A: Dear Harold,

The wild fennel is indeed edible. The new, ferny leaves can be used fresh in salads, soups or as garnish. The flower buds and green seeds can be used fresh as well to flavor vinegars and spirits or sprinkled in salads. If you are willing to dig for them, the roots can also be eaten. Be sure to wash them first in case herbicides have been used in the area, especially along city right of ways.
 
2 apple trees make better fruit!
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

Hi, We live in the Sunset and have a Gravenstein apple tree that usually gives us a great supply of apples. Last year our neighbor's apple tree died. This year we got very few blooms. I understand that Gravenstein trees need another apple tree in the vicinity to fruit. Is this true? Do I have to plant another apple tree or is there another way around this to make my tree happy. Thanks

- Rita in San Francisco
   
A: Dear Rita,

Yes, the Gravenstein apple does require a pollinator. You will need to provide another early blooming apple or crabapple at most 50 feet away. Apple varieties that may work are Gala and Yellow Transparent. Crabapples would be Profusion, Spring Snow and Louisa. The crabapple is probably the best choice because Gravenstein is a triploid apple variety, meaning that, it is essentially sterile. It is incapable of returning the pollination favor to the second apple tree! Gravensteins in the orchard setting have been grafted with "pollinator arms". Grafting is intimidating but can be accomplished successfully with a little research.

 
Greenhouse tomatoes
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

We've just installed a green house on our roof in the Mission district. We're particularly interested in raising delicious fragrant tomatoes, like I remember from my childhood, and haven't tasted in decades. What varieties do you recommend for our green house environment? Can you explain a little more about shaking plants in a green house to facilitate pollination?

Thanks,
- Tricia in San Francisco
   
A: Dear Tricia,

I would recommend the same varieties that do best out of doors in San Francisco. It is a good place to start. Any of the cherry types will do well. Medium sized fruits do best, Oregon Spring, Siletz, Black Krim, Early Girl, San Francisco Fog, Celebrity, Green Zebra, Nepal, Jetsetter and Carmelo.

Because pollinators do not have ready access to the greenhouse and the plants are not exposed to wind, you will have to gently shake the tomato plants. Shaking the plants dislodges the pollen from the flowers which then lands on other flowers. Shaking the plants in the morning and again in the afternoon will increase fruit set.

 
Replacing or amending existing garden soil
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

Can I use Sloat Organic Potting Mix in my garden to replace or add to existing soil? I haven't amended my garden soil since the garden was established 5 yrs ago.

- Lourdes in San Francisco
   
A: Dear Lourdes,

I would advise against using the potting soil as a soil amendment. The sand content is too high and the organic matter content is too low. The best product, in my humble opinion, is Sloat Forest Mulch Plus. This is a blend of organic material (wood and forest mulch) with 15% aged chicken manure. Great to mix into the existing soil and also to use as a top dressing.
 
Three great gardening questions are answered
Q:

Dear Garden Guru,

I am new to SF. Migrated from midwest. I have three questions.

1. TOMATO What is best Tomato producing (most prolific)...cant remember difference between determinate and indeterminate to grow in SF...back in midwest, Celebrity tomatoes made huge amounts, but I have planted 3 so far and I am already disappointed in their growth...seems we don't get enough HOT sun here in SF to get them to grow.

2. Strawberries...there are new types here I have NEVER heard of like Seascape..again I am wanting EVERBEARING....planted Quinalt and seascape...same issue as tomatoes..growth seems slow, perhaps due to SF cloudiness? What are best producers here in SF? Also...I see wild strawberries in sand at Fort Funston...what are these? Are they edible?

3. Manure...I always mixed manure with peat and supplemented with Miracle Grow to get plants to grow..where can I buy (or collect free) manure here? Your expert advice would be most greatly appreciated.

- JAM
   
A: Dear JAM,

I am sure you have heard Mark Twain's quote before, " The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."

To be sure, this year has proven to be one of the cooler ones. A cool May followed by an even cooler June has indeed put the brakes on many vegetable gardens. I think it is early yet to throw in the towel though, we all will have late harvests in our Bay Area.

1. Indeterminate tomatoes (I) have a viney habit and continue to form flowers and fruit throughout the season. Determinate tomatoes (D) are bush type and bear one or two crops. The tomatoes that do best in San Francisco are short season (early or cool weather types) varieties with a harvest date from 50 to 75 days. These tomatoes tend to be medium sized. Cherry tomatoes are also good. There just isn't the heat to produce large, beefsteak types. Our favorites are Stupice (D), Oregon Spring (D), San Francisco Fog (D), Black Krim (I), Early Girl (I), Green Zebra (I) Sweet 100 (I), and Sungold (I) and yes, Celebrity (I). It really is the cold weather this year. If it is any consolation, I live in a warm area of Marin. My tomatoes planted in mid April are about 4' now, have had enough flowers but are just NOW beginning to set fruit. Sigh.

2. The varieties of everbearing strawberries best adapted to your climate are Quinalt, Seascape and Albion. A slow start can be blamed on the weather and regular feeding will encourage growth. The wild strawberry you see is Fragaria chiloensis a native that makes an excellent groundcover and tolerates the sandy San Francisco soil. The fruits are edible albeit seedy and bland.

3. Manure is a good thing! You can purchase chicken and steer manure from Sloat Garden Center. We have a favorite product called Loam Builder which is a combination of mushroom compost,chicken manure and other goodies such as kelp meal and earthworm castings. You may be able to obtain horse manure at the stable on Shoreline just past the Olympic Club. Vegetables and soft fruits do like regular feeding. If you like liquid fertilizers, we like Maxsea and Foxfarm Grow Big.
Jam, please do not give up. Weather is a part of farming and gardening. On the flip side, lettuces, broccoli, spinach, beets, carrots, peas and other leafy vegetables have thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

 
Harvesting vegetables
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I planted a veggie box using some of your wonderful veggie plants. Can you offer some advice on the best way to harvest the red stem spinach, red lettuce and baby carrots? Do the greens just get cut from the bottom? The red stem spinach is growing very tall. Thank you soo much!

- Jamie in San Francisco
   
A: Dear Maria,

The best way to harvest the lettuce and red stem spinach (chard?) is to remove the outside leaves. They should twist off easily without cutting. Leave the younger inner leaves. This will allow you to continually harvest from your plants without removing them and starting over. The baby carrots should be thinned to 1/2 inch to 1 inch apart. For continual carrots, you should reseed every 3 to 4 weeks.
 
Issues with broccoli and cauliflower plants
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I am growing broccoli and cauliflower. The cauliflower is doing okay and are developing small, compact heads. The broccoli, however, is flowering and the "heads" are all spread out. They are in the same planter box. Any ideas on how to get the broccoli to produce more compact heads? Thanks,

- Michael in Pacifica
   
A: Dear Michael,

The loose heads may be a result of the variety you are growing. Raab types tend to be smaller and looser. Another factor in producing loose heads is temperature. When broccoli is beginning to head and temperatures are above 75, it causes the plant to "hurry up". This results in smaller, loosely held florets. It can not be corrected. Leaving the heads on longer in hopes they get fuller will lead to bitterness. Best to harvest what you have and wait for new side shoots. I would also suggest picking the cauliflowers when they look ripe. They may not be as large as commercial heads. One way to encourage good heading is regular watering and regular feeding.
 
Blueberry bush troubleshooting
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

Back in late March or so I bought both a bluecrop blueberry and another variety (that has no tag) from the Sloat Blvd location. The one that has no tag was loaded with blooms when I got it--some already forming fruit. Just recently the blossoms have stopped forming fruit though. The blossom goes from white to brown and the whole bud shrivels up and falls off. Otherwise the plant seems pretty healthy, although new leaves look a little wrinkled. Not sure if that's normal. The plant is in a large finished ceramic pot on an East facing deck so it gets lots of light. I planted it in acidic azalea soil. Do you have any idea why this might be happening? Thanks

- Michelle
   
A: Dear Michelle,

Blueberry flowers can die before producing fruit if the plants have experienced dryness or they were not pollinated. It is normal for the flower to turn brown before falling off but usually there is a forming berry behind it, mostly appearing as a flattish disc that eventually fills in. Crinkly leaves are an indication that you had aphids at some point sucking on the new leaf buds. An aphid infestation around the flower buds could also have caused them to fall prematurely. Keep your plants well watered and feed monthly with an acid formula fertilizer. The soil you provided is good. I think you should wait and see.
 
Help with veggie garden
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I would like to start a vegetable garden in our back yard. Would you be willing to come to my house to help me do this?

- Linda in San Francisco
   
A: Dear Linda,

We have a Garden Design Department that would be delighted to help with designing and coaching you with the process (see link here). If you need help installing, we have a referral list of local professionals, that our designer can supply. With the sun out, our designers are booking up quickly, so if you want to go this route, I recommend that you contact them sooner rather than later.
 
What vegetables can I grow in the shade?
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I need a good list of edibles that I can grow out in the Richmond (15th and Balboa). I have a big yard, but it gets lots of shade because of buildings and trees from neighboring yards.

- Steve in San Francisco
   
A: Dear Steve,

Shade is hard on vegetables. They really need at least 6 hours of full sun to do well. Edibles that can tolerate part shade are blueberries, rhubarb, horseradish, lettuce and parsley. If you are able to be at home for the day, observe where the sun hits and for how long it is in your backyard. There may be more sun than you think, especially now that the days are growing longer. One of our staff at the Third Avenue store will be happy to discuss your options.
 
When to plant edibles?
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I live in San Francisco in the Fog Belt and am in process of completely re-landscaping my backyard. I have a very large pine tree that, sadly, is terminally ill and am getting it removed. I'd like to plant edible fruits & vegetables in my yard in addition to some other items. My goal is to plant in February and March. Question 1: is it generally acceptable to plant most things in those months? Are there certain plants that should NOT be planted in late winter/spring? Question 2: Since I have to take down a large tree and will have a bare yard to start, what are some nice plants for the area that grow relatively quickly to make the yard look good and provide some privacy? Thanks!

- Rula in San Francisco
   
A: Dear Rula,

While our climate is moderate enough to plant year-round, plant availability changes throughout the seasons. Most basic plant material is available in March (February is iffy depending on the weather) but many heat loving or cold tender plants don't become available until April and May. Spring and summer vegetables become available in mid-February, though March and April are the better months to plant. Cold tender plants such as basil, tomatoes, peppers and melons won't really start growing until the weather warms up and could be damaged or killed by a cold snap or heavy rains. Recommending a broad selection of plant material via email, without knowledge of your garden exposure, soil type or irrigation, is unadvisable. I recommend that you bring that information into one of our stores and pick the brain of one of our qualified Nursery people. Better yet, contact our Design Department (415-388-3754) for a consultation or visit us on the web.
 
Meyer lemons without flowers?
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I have Meyer Lemon flowers but no lemons. Has been three years now. I feed it and water also. Why no fruit. Second Q. I have two blue berry plants. Four years old. Loads of flowers no berries. HELP

- Chase in San Francisco
   
A: Dear Chase,

I suspect that you may be keeping the Meyer Lemon and the Blueberries too dry. Plants will shed their flowers and fruits to conserve moisture. Another possibility is that the flowers are not being pollinated. Where are the plants located? Bees are more scarce and if the plants are in hard to reach places or where there is a lot of wind, normal pollinators may not be visiting you.
 
What kind of apple tree to plant?
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I am interested in planting an apple tree in Bernal Heights. I have heard Anna's and Dorsett Golden do well. I have also heard that most apple trees need a second tree to pollinate. What do you think of planting grafted trees (two types of apple on one root stock)? Are they strong enough? Do they develop problems later? There are crab apple trees about 100' from my house. Would they be pollinizers? Thank you so much for your help!

- Lori in San Francisco
   
A: Dear Lori,

There are self pollinating apples that will do well in your neighborhood. They are Yellow Transparent, Fuji, Red Fuji and Golden Delicious. They are also low chill varieties. If you are interested in a tree that has more than one variety, the best form is an espalier. It is sometimes the case that one of the varieties fails on a multi-grafted tree. A single trunk form would look lopsided whereas an espalier would still retain its shape. A new arm could be produced from a side branch of the variety above or below it. Crabapples can indeed help pollinate fruit apples.
 
Growing GMO-Free seeds
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

This is my first year to have a vegetable garden. I'm looking around to purchase good seeds that have not been genetically altered and I'm looking for heirloom varieties. Do you carry these types of seeds or can you give me some advice?

- Julie in Mill Valley
   
A: Dear Julie,

We do indeed carry these seeds. We carry an all-organic line of Botanical Interest seeds that contain no GMOs. 142 varieties of vegetables (many heirlooms) and flowers. You can read about them in our current March/April Gardener's Notebook. All of the Sloat stores carry them.
 
Powdery mildew on zucchini plants
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

Last year I had a lot of trouble with powdery mildew on my zucchini plants. I read somewhere that I should treat the soil with a copper spray before I plant zucchini this year. What do you recommend?

- Pat in San Francisco
   
A: Dear Pat,

You could spray the copper spray on the existing soil to kill any over wintering spores but the truth of the matter is that the spores are already blowing about anyway. First, make sure to prepare the soil well so that it will hold adequate moisture between watering. Stressed plants are more susceptible to disease. We like Loam Builder for the ground and Organic Potting soil for containers. The addition of Agricultural Lime will provide necessary calcium which not only inhibits blossom end rot, but also helps with disease resistance. Choose varieties that are hardy such as Burpee Hybrid or Black Beauty. Avoid getting the leaves wet and water only in the mornings. It is normal for zucchini to have silvery white patterns on the leaves. Don't confuse them with powdery mildew.

There has been recent research that shows zucchini were protected from powdery mildew by spraying them with a water/milk solution. That's right, milk. Spray the plants in the morning every other week with a solution 1 part milk to 9 parts water. Resist the temptation to increase the milk. Not only did this spray act like a foliar food, but infections were controlled by the spores contact with calcium in the milk.
 
Growing peas
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

When is the best time to plant Sweet Pea starts? When are they for sale in garden centers? Thanks.

- Lisa in Novato
   
A: Dear Lisa,

Alas, the best time to start sweet peas in your climate is in October. Planted in the fall, they develop strong root systems and then take off in the spring. Both seeds and starts are available. The second best time is in February. Our stores will have jumbo packs of tall growing sweet peas available in straight colors. Shorter Knee High varieties will be available as mixes. Our store in Novato regularly stocks them each spring but feel free to place a special order so that they will obtain them as early as possible for you.
 
Patio lemon and herb garden
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

As a chef, my edible garden is very important to me. I currently hold a SE exposed patio in SOMA with good light in the absence of fog. I grow many herbs and a dwarf Meyer lemon tree. My lemon tree shows slightly yellowing leaves. I'm guessing lack of nitrogen and other trace minerals? Also the tree is producing several new flowers and buds. I'm worried the small tree cannot produce or support too many whole sized, ripe fruits. Shall I prune and reduce the crop size? One more quick question pertaining to the other herbs. Any recommendation to increase the crop and longevity of the delicate herbs? Cheers,

- Dave in San Francisco
   
A: Dear Dave,

It is common for Citrus trees to yellow up in the winter. It is safe to feed them, even in the winter, as a green, well fed tree is actually better at surviving extremes of weather. We like the Growmore Citrus Growers blend which contains all the trace elements Citrus need. You can supplement with the EB Stone Citrus Food to provide more nitrogen. Citrus are notorious for producing more fruits than they possibly could support. The plant will thin itself when the young fruit is the size of green peas. There is no need to prune other than to shape.
As for the herbs, you may want to plant more of what you use most. I am thinking you mean things like Basil, parsley, chive, and thyme. Basil, by nature, peters out in winter unless you are growing it in a greenhouse. Thyme, being a woody shrublet, tends to pout in the winter. To encourage herbs to resprout more quickly after a pruning, feed them with a liquid fertilizer 1/2 strength every time you harvest. I like to plant herbs in 3's. I rotate the harvest among them and it ensures I have enough when I need it.
 
Planning an herb garden
Q:

Hi gardeners,

I am envisioning a small, kidney shaped herb garden right on our front lawn. I'm thinking about a raised bed, nothing too complicated, probably borders of some kind of stone or hardscape. What sort of herbs grow best in our climate? And can you offer any process insight in design?

Regards,
- Eric in San Francisco

   
A: Dear Eric,

Herbs that do well in your area are: Rosemary, Spanish Lavender, sage, parsley, Santolina, chive, and marjoram or oregano. Thyme and basil can be fickle. You may want to reconsider the kidney bean shape. A square or rectangle is more conducive to the classic herb knot and easier to work with. Choose plants that contrast in foliage color. After the size of the bed is decided, graph paper and colored pencils are very helpful. Each square could represent 1/4 ' so consider planting two 3" pots per foot. Use a different colored pencil for each herb. In other words, 4 squares in a row would be colored the same. It might be worth looking at some of the DIY and HGTV links or calling our Design Department to schedule a consultation. The number is 388-3754.
 
Tomato plants
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

My tomato plants always look beautiful when I get them in the ground. I
water and fertilize and then right after the plants flower they turn yellow
and spindly and they don't fruit very well. What am I doing wrong?

- Liz in San Bruno
   
A: Dear Liz,

Yellow and spindly tomatoes don't fruit that well do they? Believe it or
not, I suspect that you are loving your plants too much. Over watering
tomatoes will wash away all the nutrients you so lovingly applied, it also
reduces needed oxygen in root zone and makes the plant susceptible to
disease. Your plants should be deep watered 2 to 3 times a week. If the
plant is seen wilting in the middle of the day, ignore it. Tomatoes will
close their stomas in the heat of the day to prevent water loss by
transpiration. They will perk right back up by late afternoon. If the plants
look droopy in the morning, they need water. Too shady a location will also
cause plants to be spindly but you usually see that effect immediately. If
the leaves are showing some signs of browning, your plants may have
Verticillium or Fusarium wilt. These are soil borne pathogens and there is
no chemical control available. Warm and humid conditions will hasten the
onset of wilt. It is highly recommended that you plant tomatoes labeled
with "VF" (Verticillium/Fusarium) on the label as these are resistant
varieties. Should there be an "N", that means resistant to root knot
nematodes. Hope this helps for this year's crop!
 
Growing salad greens
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

I'd like to know the best way to grow salad greens throughout the summer. Can I plant them in succession so that I'll have 4 months of salad? Also, I live in a foggy pocket of the east bay - does that make a difference?

Thanks,
- Beth in El Cerrito
   
A: Dear Beth,

The easiest way to get your summer greens going is to start with pre started cell or jumbo packs. You can always supplement with a sowing of seed.

Should you opt for seeding only, be sure that you do not bury the seeds too
deeply. The best results with lettuces and greens is to prepare the bed (be
sure to mix in Loam Builder and Agricultural lime) so the soil is nice and crumbly. Sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil and then water. The seeds will settle into the soil at the right depth. Carrots and Lettuces need UV light to germinate! You do not need to pull up whole heads, it is better to cut the plants off about an inch above the soil. The greens will quickly regrow. Feed with a liquid fertilizer such as Maxsea All Purpose after cutting. Should you want to pull up whole heads or the plants begin to slow down coming back, you can resow or plant every 3-4 weeks to keep a fresh crop coming. The fact that you live in a cool, foggy location is actually a blessing for growing greens. They do not like it hot. We actually recommend planting in part shade in our hotter areas.
 
When should I start planting?
Q: Dear Garden Guru,

Recently I moved from San Bruno to San Carlos. When is the ideal time to plant my garden seedlings? I wonder if it too early to start my garden (particularly tomatoes)?

Thanks,
- Mara in San Carlos
   
A: Dear Mara,

You can start your gardening projects right now. This would include planting your seedling vegetables (peas, greens, strawberries, cabbages, kales, beets, carrots, onions, spinach), as well as the tomatoes, beans and squashes and basil. All Sloat Garden Centers now have the most varied vegetable selection of the season. As you plant during this cool spring weather, please keep in mind that tomatoes need consistent warmth. If you want to plant tomatoes now, you will need to protect them from cold nights.
Plant, Water, GrowPlant, Water, Grow