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Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - August 2, 2013

Garden Tips

Find out how fun it is to be a plant nerd

by Jack McKinnon

August is usually hot and dry giving us the ideal summer days to garden. It is also the start of harvest time. Of course, there is always clean up and summer pruning to do. Most importantly, we need to spend time in our gardens.

Plants, even "ordinary" plants, are quite complex. Every one of them is different. There is so much to learn about varieties and cultivars that few people ever get very much plant knowledge. Those who do, really get into it, are very interesting as are the plants they study. I call them plant nerds. We need more plant nerds.

My grandmother knew a great deal about African violets. She had pink, purple, miniature and exotic African violets. If you have a favorite plant, why not become a plant nerd about that one? You will never lack for conversation.

Here are the tips:

1. Harvest and keep harvesting. As vegetables ripen or are ready to pick, pick them. This will stimulate new bloom and new harvests. If you have too many zucchini, start harvesting the flowers, they make wonderful omelets and are great in vegetable dishes.

2. Take out plants that are finished with their life cycle. Annuals, biennials and some older herbaceous plants that are getting woody need to come out and make room for their replacements plants. Cultivate in amendments and replant with the next season's plantings.

3. Hot days mean adjusting water systems to accommodate the extra needs of garden plants and lawns. Check your controller for sprinkler times and adjust it accordingly.

4. Divide iris when the bloom is finished and the plants are going dormant for the summer. Dig out the iris bed and remove all dead or rotting rhizomes, divide them and replant just below the surface about one to two feet apart in well-amended soil. Water them in but do not over water.

5. Build a trellis as a sculptural element in your garden.You can use 2x2s, 1x1s and bender board to create an interesting arched structure for climbing vines. Use screws and construction staples to make the project solid and stable. Lay it out on the ground and then stand back and look it over before screwing it together. You may be amazed at what you can come up with.

6. Feed roses for new bloom. Remove water sprouts and suckers and as usual keep up the dead heading unless you want rose hips.

7. Clean up dead leaves and debris. Refresh mulch if needed. Some gardeners simply cut up all trimmings and leave them beneath the plants they were trimmed from. This saves hauling them to a compost pile and facilitates moisture retention and weed control.

8. Start seedlings of winter annuals and vegetables. Here's how to find out for yourself what to plant and when. Read a seed catalog or the back of a package of seeds. It will tell you what month to plant in your area. Be sure to check the date on the package; this will tell you the year and season they are meant for. By using this method, you can shop for seeds by season and have the freshest available.

9. Deep water trees by soaking the ground around the drip line. Do not do this on oaks due to the possibility of oak root fungus.

10. Relax and spend some time enjoying your garden. Bring out a radio and a cool drink and give yourself an hour or two to savor the summer.

Good Gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-879-3261, by email at Visit his website at


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