(Karen Boness | Sonoma Sun Garden Editor) Woohoo! Spring has sprung here in Sonoma. Isn’t it gorgeous outside? The hills are bright green from all the thirst-quenching rain. Shrubs and trees are blooming all over. Indigo blue California lilacs are in full glory. Saucer magnolias display their silky pinky-purple blossoms. Camellias droop with heavy magenta florets. There’s beauty everywhere.
I was recently walking down the bike path near the Vintage House and delighted in the dance of delicate white ornamental pear petals performing an air ballet as they floated downward.
One of the best things about this time of year is planting the spring garden. Whether you are new to gardening or an old hand at plant cultivation now is the time to get organized.
Installing and cultivating your spring garden is easier than you might think.
The first thing you need to do is embrace your inner decider. Do you want to grow some cool season veggies or are you hoping to fill in your ornamental beds with water-wise flowering specimens? Choose plants you love. Make a list and go shopping. You can order on line but it is a lot more fun to visit your local nurseries. Remember that your local nursery can order plants for you.
Next step? Build or prepare your planting beds. For first time veggie growers I suggest you install one or two 4’x4’x18” planter boxes in a location with at least six hours of summer sunshine. You can build the boxes yourself or find reasonably priced new boxes on Craigslist.
Make sure that gopher wire is installed at the bottom. Fill your boxes with good quality organic potting soil. The soil will settle over time so have extra on hand.
If you have existing planters or ornamental beds now is the time to evict those weeds –even if they are pretty. Don’t use poison sprays. Pull, pluck or hoe them. Get as many roots as you can. Amend your soil with compost. You can mix it in or just let it sit on top. If your existing soil is really wet you should wait a few days until it dries out before you turn it, work it or plant it. Working wet soil can destroy soil structure.
The last thing you need to do before installing your new plants is check your last frost date. This is the average last date that your area has potentially plant damaging frost. A really helpful resource is the color coded map found at www.plantmaps.com/interactive-california-last-frost-date-map.php. This map tells me that the city of Sonoma’s last average frost dates are April 1-10. Penngrove and Petaluma have a last frost date of March 31.
You can choose to wait until after the last frost date to install your plants or take a somewhat greater risk and install beforehand.
Install your seeds and new plants properly if you want to ensure horticultural success. Break up soil clods and pull out rocks. Don’t plant too shallow or too deep. The top of the root ball should be at grade. Watch for air pockets in your planting hole. Fill them in. Tiny rootlets can’t magically leap across 3” of airspace. Roots need firm soil contact. Don’t overcrowd. Provide proper spacing. Check the seed packet for recommended spacing and depth.
Keep an eye on your new garden after planting. So often we get busy and don’t check our new garden for days or even weeks. Defend your nascent plant children against predators as necessary. Be prepared to oust new weeds, pluck slugs, or set up a little bird netting if necessary.
Most of all have fun with your new garden. It’s an adventure that reaps many rewards!