By Helen Dake, U. C. Master Gardener of Napa County
Something changes when you put fresh flowers or foliage in a room. I have always believed this and have always tried to include plants in my garden that I could cut for the house throughout the year.
I loved learning about recent behavioral research that supports this belief. Studies suggest that bringing nature indoors leads to measurably better emotional well-being. People who have flowers indoors report improvement in their moods and stress levels. People who lived with flowers in their homes for just a few days reported a significant decrease in their stress levels and improvement in their moods.
Additionally, flowers in a home induce positive feelings in visitors. The space feels more welcoming.
These findings are part of a growing body of research demonstrating how the natural environment affects well-being. Recent studies found that walking in nature at lunch improves people's creativity and attention span in the afternoon.
The message for those of us who garden is to include flowers and foliage that we can cut and bring indoors. And now is the time to plant seeds for annual flowers you can cut this summer.
Although many favorite cut flowers (dahlias, lilies, roses) require planning, expense and preparation, annuals suited for cutting can be sown directly in the garden over the next couple of weeks.
Whether you set aside an area in your garden for cut flowers or add them to an existing vegetable garden, prepare the soil first. Remove all weeds in the planting area, work in some compost and a balanced fertilizer, following package directions. Rake smooth.
Most flower seeds need warm soil (at least 70°F) to germinate, so wait until the ground has warmed up. I usually direct-seed summer annuals in early May. After sowing, keep the bed moist. Think of the planted seeds as tender babies and check on them daily or even more often.
Once the seeds sprout and grow a bit, you can worry less about them.
If you have birds in your garden (and who doesn't?), you may need to cover the emerging seedlings with floating row cover from your local nursery or tulle fabric from a sewing or craft store. Snails and slugs love baby seedlings. Hand-pick them in the evening or use an iron phosphate snail bait.
Sunflowers can cheer up any room, and they are one of the easiest flowers to grow from seed. As long as the ground is kept moist, they will pop up in 7 to 10 days or less. You can choose from many colors and shapes. For cutting, choose varieties labeled as “branching.” A single plant will produce multiple flowers.
Cosmos are tall, airy plants with multiple blooms. Seed catalogs offer new varieties every year, but the classics (Purity and Sensation) germinate more easily. Cosmos will generally bloom in less than three months from the date you sow them.
Sometimes gardeners don't cut flowers because they don't want to lose their beauty in the garden. However, with many flowers, including cosmos, the more you cut them, the more they bloom.
Zinnias are the queen of summer annuals. If you are accustomed to regular zinnias, you will be impressed with some of the new varieties. Benary's zinnias produce giant double flowers with long stems in wonderful colors, including pastel salmon and pale green. The zinnia variety Persian Carpet starts reliably and covers bare patches with airy bright color.
Herbs can be brought inside, too. Basil Amaretto starts easily and produces lovely scented purple foliage with small, spired flowers that mix well with others.
You can find flower seeds on racks at local nurseries, but there is still time to order online for May planting. If you don't have the time or energy to start plants from seed, visit a local nursery and buy some flower starts. A six-pack or two of State Fair zinnias will provide bright, colorful bouquets all summer. A six-pack of almost any cosmos planted in a blank space in the garden will lift your spirits in the garden and produce blooms to bring indoors.
Think about sharing your flowers with a friend or neighbor. Studies suggest that when people receive flowers, their mood brightens and stays brighter for days.
Workshop: UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will hold a workshop on “Flowers and Foliage in the House” on Saturday, April 27, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m, at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Something changes when you put fresh flowers or greenery in a room. This workshop will cover choosing and planting annuals and perennials that work well for cutting, starting seeds, preparing your soil, direct-sowing seeds, selecting pollinator-friendly flowers and flower arranging. Participants will take home seeds and flower starts. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in/Walk-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).
UC Master Gardeners of Napa County have begun the process of re-establishing a demonstration garden in Napa Valley. For further developments, please visit the Demonstration Garden link on our website ( http://napamg.ucanr.edu/).
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:/napamg.ucanr.edu) 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.
May happened to be a busy month for me, with an out-of-town trip to celebrate a college graduation. I managed to plant the tomato seedlings I bought at the Napa County Master Gardener tomato sale, and a few peppers and eggplants found their way into the bed reserved for them. However, I am way behind on planting beans, squash, basil, cucumbers and melons.
Fortunately, planting a garden is not a now-or-never activity. The vegetables that love warm weather are still available in June, and we have a long summer, with plenty of time to grow many vegetables to maturity.
Before you plant, add fertilizer and compost to your vegetable patch. Warm-season vegetables need food to produce a crop, and it is easier to feed with a balanced fertilizer before planting than to try to fertilize around the plant roots later.
Determine how much space the full-grown plant requires before planting the seedling. Tomatoes, pumpkins and some squash take up a lot of room, and they can overwhelm smaller vegetables planted nearby. Consider what support your plants will need, and set that up at planting time so you don't disturb roots or break plant limbs when you get around to it later.
Vegetables to plant as seedlings include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash and cucumbers. You can sow seeds for beans, corn, cucumbers, melons and pumpkins directly in the ground. Check seed packets or plant tags for “days to maturity” to be sure the plant has time to mature before days start getting short and cool in October. If you plant a tomato or pumpkin variety that matures in 80 days or fewer, chances are good that you will get a harvest. Varieties that need 100 days or more may not ripen by the end of summer.
Many cool-season vegetables thrive in Napa Valley if planted in June, including beets, carrots, chard, fennel, green onions, leeks, lettuce, parsnips and radishes. In the hottest parts of the valley, plant them in areas that get afternoon shade.
Several annual herbs can be planted in June. Sweet basil comes in many different forms and flavors and can be an ornamental addition to the garden. Cilantro grows rapidly from seed to flower, so sow several times throughout the summer. You can also sow dill seeds now.
It is not too late to plant many annual flowers. Because I am trying to use less water, I'm not starting any new garden beds, but I am adding flowers to my vegetable beds wherever there is space. Some annual flowers that you can easily start from seed include marigolds, zinnias, nasturtiums, tithonia, cosmos, sunflowers and statice. These annuals and others are also available as seedlings at nurseries.
Be sure any flowers you plant won't shade sun-loving vegetables. My spring vegetable bed produced lots of salad greens, carrots, beets andpakchoias well as bachelor buttons and volunteer larkspur. These flowers kept the ground covered as I harvested vegetables, and they looked great, too.
Give your fruit trees a good, deep soaking in June, then apply a thick layer of mulch. I use homemade and purchased compost for this purpose. Mulching is important in the vegetable garden, too. I mulch the tops of beds with compost and the sides and pathways with straw. Besides conserving precious moisture, mulch makes the beds look tidy.
Soon I will have planted most of the summer vegetables I intend to grow this year. But now the spring vegetable bed has a lot of bare space. What can I plant there? For an avid vegetable gardener, the garden is never complete.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will host a workshop on the drought on Saturday, June 6, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the University of California Cooperative Extension Office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Understand the implications of drought in California and learn irrigation tips and strategies for low water use in a sustainable yard. We will also cover low water use landscaping plant resources.Online registration (credit card only)Mail-in registration (cash or check only).This workshop will be repeated in Yountville on June 14.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/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.