By Robert Williams, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
With consistently warmer weather at hand, our gardens are a flurry of activity. Bees and other pollinators are active, and many songbirds greet us with their chorus.
Napa Valley gardens will soon begin their most productive period, so now is a good time to review a few basics to ensure your success.
If you have not already done so, check your irrigation system. Young plants will fail without adequate water, so make it a priority to check timers, irrigation lines and emitters. Keep ahead of weeds and pests. Mulching with cloth, straw or wood chips can help reduce water use and weed growth. If you don't have one, designate a compost area for clippings and spent plants.
Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash are all heat-loving vegetables to plant now. Check local nurseries for unusual varieties. And if your summer garden is humming along, it's not too early to think about fall. Start seeds for cool-weather crops like broccoli in midsummer to ensure that seedlings are hardy and ready to plant in late summer. Thinking ahead allows you to plan for crop rotation and to order rare or unusual cultivars from a favorite catalog.
Deadhead roses to encourage them to bloom again; vigorous growers may need some summer pruning. Check container plants to make sure they're getting enough water on hot days; containers can dry out quickly. Keep your garden clean and tidy. By picking up and discarding diseased leaves, like rose leaves with blackspot, you can keep disease from spreading. Sanitizing equipment and practicing crop rotation will also help keep your garden healthy. While plants are growing rapidly, it's a good time to check on their fertilizer needs.
Make safety in the garden part of your everyday mindset. Safety goggles, gloves and closed-toed shoes offer an extra level of safety against accidents and unforeseen occurrences. If you use pesticides, review the labels to prevent poisoning humans, pets and the environment. If you have children in your garden, educate them about safe practices, too.
Keep garden tools sharp and in good working order. Sharp tools make garden jobs easier and alleviate fatigue. Before using electric tools, check cords for fraying or other safety issues. Also, make sure to use the correct tool for the job. Injuries are more likely when a tool is not meant for the task.
Working in the garden can be a relaxing and refreshing experience, but on warm days, be sure to stay hydrated. Protect your skin with sunscreen. A wide-brimmed hat and light-colored clothing can also help prevent sunburn. Even better, take frequent breaks and plan your garden activities in the cool mornings or late afternoon. Also on the safety checklist: use proper lifting techniques and wear adequate hearing protection when necessary.
As the summer season winds down, prepare for next year by saving seeds from the vegetables that performed best. (Save seeds from non-hybrids only; seeds from hybrids will not come true.) Consider letting some of your vegetables plants flower to support pollinators and beneficial insects. Compost unwanted plant material. Store tools properly when not in use.
By taking a comprehensive approach to summer gardening, you can look forward to a bountiful harvest.
Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will hold a workshop on “Rose Care” on Saturday, June 3, from 10 a.m. to noon, at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. The first spring blooms have faded, and many roses are beginning to show stress in the form of black spot, rust, mildew and aphid infestation. U.C. research-based help is at hand. Bring your questions. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.