1 A relatively wet spring has created an opening for more powdery mildew and other fungal diseases than we’ve seen in a few years. These damaging organisms are easier to prevent than to stop once they start. Sprays keep fungi from spreading to new growth.
One natural approach to controlling mildew on roses is spraying a dilution of skim milk. Haven’t tried it myself and would appreciate feedback from any one who does so we can check out results. The natural gardening experts say mix one part skim milk with nine parts of water (e.g., one cup skim milk and nine cups water), and thoroughly spray both upper and lower sides of rose leaves, as well as flower buds.
Other typical spring fungus diseases in California are powdery mildew, rose rust, and blackspot on roses, and botrytis or brown rot on fruit trees. All these can be prevented with springtime sprays, but don’t use on early fruiting trees like cherry. My Bing is at the hard, green fruit stage and I’m looking forward to the sweet, strong fruit in four to six weeks. We like eating the fruit right off the tree. For later harvesting fruit or ornamental plants, effective spray materials have triforine or chlorothalonil as the active ingredient. Since plants keep growing, spray every ten days to two weeks to protect the new growth.
2 Aphids love warm weather, and they multiply quickly, sapping the strength from a wide array of plants and producing sticky honeydew, which is a problem with my navel orange trees. The honeydew attracts ants. Instead of adding another spray for ants, I wrap the trunks and limbs of my orange trees with duct tape, sticky side out and watch the ants collect, replacing the tape every few weeks. Aphids are easily controlled with an abundance of ladybugs, or by periodic applications of insecticidal soap or malathion. Believe it or not, ants tend and nurture aphids, gently "milking" them for their sweet honeydew secretions.
3 My camellias, still young plants, have bloomed. I’m going to do a light springtime feeding, using a slower acting, balanced plant food. For larger plants, it may be time to do some pruning and shaping to help keep them proportional in your garden. It’s best to do this before new growth emerges. It’s smart to remove dead and fallen camellia flowers, since they tend to harbor spores that could lead to fungus next season.
4 I’ve got a great planting of Western sword fern that gives my shaded courtyard a welcoming green on the hottest summer days in the Sacramento Valley. To groom, cut off the old fern fronds nearly to the ground, so new ones, called fiddleheads, can come up unencumbered. Clean out any dead leaves from other plants as well. While you’re at it, don’t forget indoor ferns and palms. A little tidying up makes a refreshing difference in the appearance of many plants.
5 To grow your own vegetables this year, start seeds indoors now for planting outside in four to six weeks. Plant in containers that drain well, and cover them with light, sandy soil or planter mix. I use egg cartons with holes poked in the bottom of the cups. Keep the containers in bright light between 70 and 75 degrees. Water them in well with a half-strength solution of a balanced fertilizer, and shade them from the hot mid-day sun until ready to transplant. A visit to the heirloom seed Mecca in Petaluma (more on that later) means I’m trying lots of new tomato and squash varieties. We’ll see how the summer harvest progresses. Maybe I’ll even get a bodacious pumpkin for the fall!
Send me your spring garden shots. If I get enough, I'll create a photo collage of springtime around the country. Try to get them in before Mother's Day, May 9. I'll make it a gift to Moms. Don't forget to include garden fairies. Here's one I found in my own garden the other day -- My Grandniece Sophia!