By Jane Gates
Signal Staff Writer
As temperatures warm in Santa Clarita, the likelihood of rain dwindles away. After this past year the sunshine is welcome, but garden plants will need irrigation just as the cost of water rises for the summer. Lawns are the biggest water guzzling part of the landscape. So as you do spring cleaning, consider where, when and how to use your lawn to get the best possible use of your water consumption.
Use your lawn as a functional or design element only, not as a way to fill empty space. Then, enliven your chosen lawn areas with a spring tune-up.
Spring cleaning means it’s time to reset your irrigation system so you water slowly and deeply early in the morning before the heat and dry air steals away the moisture. You still don’t need to water heavily yet. Make them appropriate for spring; long enough to thoroughly sink in, but short enough that the water doesn’t wash away.
As temperatures warm and weather begins to dry, it’s time to plant warm-season vegetables into your garden. You can comfortably plant seeds of root crops like carrots, beets, radishes, parsnips and salsify.
Some edible plants can be planted from seed. The slower growers like tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos and eggplant, often do better planted from seed indoors earlier in March or planted now as young plants already started in six-packs or pots. Root vegetables are always better off planted from seed in soil without fresh manure. Manure can cause roots to fork. Transplanting usually is less successful with these vegetables, so just thin seedlings of root crops, and leave the strongest one in place to grow on.
Grow vegetables in amended soil with plenty of compost. Soil in all parts of Santa Clarita tends to be low in organic matter. It doesn’t matter whether your area is primarily sandy, clay or decomposed gravel. Make provisions for regular, efficient watering. Most vegetables are not very drought tolerant so make sure they do not dry out. Artichokes are an example of one of the more drought-tolerant vegetables that will grow well here. Water vegetables efficiently by growing them in well-defined, raised gardens or by using carefully designed drip systems.
Give your vegetables at least 6 hours of sunshine and keep your growing area well weeded. Watch carefully for insects like aphids, and hose them off right away before they become an infestation. Avoid planting cool-season vegetables, like head lettuce, cabbages, broccoli and peas. They no longer have time to reach maturity before they wilt under the coming heat.
Look at the design of your landscape. You may find that areas with little traffic will look better and require less water if you plant them with attractive, low-growing ground cover plants like Dymondia, sedum, festuca grass or other attractive low plantings. Non-living, permeable stone or cement alternatives, like pavers, stepping stones and brick, offer decorative alternatives to plain gravel. Or, convert small open spaces into seating areas, build in a small hot tub, or a fire pit, or fence them in as play areas for kids or pets.
We are at the end of the cool-season garden, so the best time to plant California natives, seed flowers and woody trees and shrubs is coming to a close.
Lots of herbaceous flowering plants, ornamental grasses and annual flowers will enjoy being planted, divided and transplanted now. Potted trees can also be added to your landscape now. All of these will need supplementary watering to help them grow strong before scorching summer sun arrives.
Keep all plants trimmed and cleaned, but wait for autumn for severe pruning. You can certainly plant and prune whatever you want at any other time of the year, but your chances for success with the big jobs are considerably reduced heading into summer.
One other thing to do is to explore our local neighborhoods and enjoy the native flower displays happening on hillsides and ravines everywhere. Due to years of drought, this year’s rain has woken up a storehouse of native wildflowers and set them into a colorful celebration.
They serve as a reminder just how decorative our natural native plants can be. And that you can actually buy seeds for many of them to fill in areas of your yard where you don’t want to spend a lot of time, effort and money in fussing over a garden. Natives can provide amazing color, beauty and ease of care while helping out our local butterflies and bees — all with minimum work.
For more information about gardening in the Santa Clarita Valley, visit Jane Gates on YouTube at https://youtube.com/user/Janieg8s.