My husband’s happy place is in his yard. Around this time of year, he spends hours deep in thought, cultivating his land, composting, relishing the odors of moist, tilled earth.
He’s prepared a bed for me to plant in the front yard. But what to plant in the middle of winter? The predawn hours are still pretty cold around here. I don’t want to purchase new plants only to kill them.
“This time of year, you can plant the cool-weather flowers such as pansies, snapdragons, and calendula,” said Fausto Palafox, owner of Mission Hills Nursery (missionhillsnursery.com; 619-295-2808).
“In terms of annuals with colorful foliage, as our nights get cooler the ornamental kale do well and color up pretty. For shady areas of the garden, the cyclamen is one of the popular cool-season plants. It’s also a good time to start some of the plants that will bloom in the spring, such as foxglove and delphinium.”
The Kelly home has multiple gardens: flower, vegetable, and a low-water shrub garden. In my veggie plot, Palafox suggested, “This time of year, you can plant leafy produce such as lettuce, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi — any of the leafy-type vegetables are your safest bet. Also, artichokes and rhubarb. And fruits such as strawberries will do well.”
What about the possibility of frost?
“Most of these plants can handle some frost. One little nip at night, especially along the coast, is no big deal. But persistent frost, especially if they were recently planted, will damage the plant. You can drape a frost cloth over the top of them to provide protection [Easy Gardener 10'x12', $15.99 at Mission Hills Nursery; DeWitt N-Sulate 10'x12' frost cloth, $12.99 at Walter Andersen Nursery]. But even just a cotton bed sheet will help. For most, such as the pansies, you’re better off protecting them from the rain more than anything else because the rain tends to trash the flowers.”
If you are planting a garden now or planning on a garden next month, Palafox continued, “You should start amending your soil, adding some organic material. We sell an organic product called E.B. Stone Planting Compost [$11.99 for 2.8 cubic feet at Mission Hills Nursery; $7.99 for 1.5 cubic feet at Armstrong Garden Center] and GreenAll Soil Booster [$7.99 for 1.5 cubic feet at Mission Hills Nursery].
“Both of these products bring organic material into the soil. A starter-type fertilizer is also good, especially if you are putting in mixes or mulches that do not contain fertilizer. You want a combination of nitrogen and phosphorus potash. We sell starter fertilizer Sure Start [$7.99 for a four-pound box at Mission Hills and Evergreen Nurseries]. That helps get everything going when you first plant. You can mix the starter fertilizer in with the soil boosters.
“The one other product we suggest is called DynoEarth [$19.99 for five pounds at Mission Hills Nursery], which is basically a humic acid. Humic acid helps augment the soil by getting better water retention and attracts the fertilizer, especially nitrogen, to stay around. Often, the nitrogen just washes through the soil, especially in the summer months when people tend to water more. The humic acid makes the fertilizers more available to the plants.”
For sprays, “For the dormant trees, there are different types of dormant sprays that help minimize disease or fungus that attack as the trees begin to grow. In the case of evergreen trees such as the citrus, it’s an ongoing thing. But in the cold weather you typically don’t get much in the way of bugs. Bugs don’t like cold weather. After a week or two of warm weather, citrus will start pumping out a lot of new tender growth, and that’s what the aphids go after. Make sure you put some kind of a pesticide on them early on. Neem oil is an excellent product [Green Light Rose Defense, $10.99 for 24 ounces at Mission Hills Nursery; Green Light neem oil, $11.97 for 16 ounces at Home Depot].”
Palafox left me with one last tip. “We carry a seed line called Thompson & Morgan, and they always introduce new plants that you won’t find with any of the other seed companies [packages start around $2.79].”