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Aloes Light Up Winter
  • Aloes are a sure bet for winter color in San Diego gardens. These succulents, ranging from ground-huggers to fantastical trees, send up spikes of blazing red, orange or gold flowers January through April. Some favorites are:

    • Aloe barberae (formerly A. bainesii) – Sculptural “Dr. Seuss” 20-30-foot tree aloe with rosy, striped flowers in some years. Frost tender.
    • Aloe plicatilis – Fan aloe to 3 feet tall prized for tongue-depressor-shaped leaves atop gray sculptural branching and scarlet flower spikes.
    • Aloe cameronii – Star fish aloe with chocolate-burgundy serrated leaves that form 3-foot wide rosettes. Fiery orange-red flower spikes.
    • Aloe ‘Cynthia Giddy’ – Two-foot tall and wide rosettes with speckled leaves and tall coral-red flower spikes. Reblooms.
    • Aloe somaliensis - Reptilian-patterned green and silver leaves and small stature are perfect for containers. Glowing red tubular flowers.
    • Aloe ‘Donnie’ – One of several 2-4-inch tall hybrids from Proven Winners, ‘Donnie’ has spotted leaves edged in pink. Ideal for containers.
Australian Plants for San Diego Gardens
  • Plants from areas around the world with Mediterranean-style climates like ours fit easily into San Diego gardens. One rich source is Australia and one of Down Under's biggest fans is Mo Price, a Master Gardener who lectures on Australian plants. Below are some of her favorites, all tested in her Encinitas garden. Give these flowering beauties good drainage and once established, minimal water unless otherwise noted.

    Dampiera diversifolia - This trailing groundcover, ideal for rockeries, slopes and containers, is covered with brilliant purple-blue flowers in spring and summer. Spreads up to 6 feet wide, but is not invasive or weedy. Tolerates moderate frost and some drought. Full sun, except inland where afternoon shade is desirable.

    Thryptomene - These tough shrubs 2-3 feet tall and wide bloom non-stop with dainty pink or white starry flowers that can be cut for bouquets. Not fussy about soil if well drained; easily pruned to shape. Full sun to part-shade.

    Dianella (Flax Lily) - Aborigines favor the fibrous strappy leaves of some species to weave baskets. Gardeners love them for their blue flowers with sunny yellow stamens that are followed by electric blue berries that last for months. Forms clumps 2 feet tall. Newer hybrids have variegated leaves. Moderate water.

    Eremophila (Emu Bush) - The name of these 4 foot tall and wide shrubs means "desert loving" which suggest how important it is to provide full sun and only minimal water. Tubular pink or yellow flowers in summer are followed by fleshy fruits popular with birds and other animals. Thickish leaves vary from green to blue- and gray-green.

    Grevillea lanigera (Woolly Grevillea) - Spidery pink and cream flowers cover this gray-green leaved shrub from January through October. Mounding to 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Many hybrids, including dwarfs, are available. Full sun.

    These plants and many other Australian natives can be found at specialty nurseries throughout San Diego County.

Care for Cactus and Succulents
  • The recent rains and warmer sunny days should have all aeoniums unfurled and in full face. Other winter growers like senecios and some echeverrias are also in their growth season. If you want to start cuttings, this is a great time to do it. Remember to allow cut ends to callus for a few days. If you want to use fertilizers, you can apply as directed on these plants now. Watering, even for winter growers, should be minimal unless the Santa Ana winds pay a visit. Be sure to watch for colder temperatures and rain. Keep protective plastic covers readily available to protect plants from hail. Hardware store plastic drop cloths or even shower curtains will help. Hail permanently pits the leaves of succulents. After rain, don’t let container plants stand in water.
Continue planting cool-season vegetables
  • Continue planting cool-season vegetables where frost seldom occurs. Cool-season vegetables include beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, endive, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, potatoes (white), radishes, rutabagas and turnips.
Don’t Irrigate in the Rain
  • Monitor irrigation and adjust it to suit the weather, which is very variable this month. Use the Be Waterwise calculator ( to find out how long your sprinklers should run. Shorter, cooler days reduce water stress on established plants, while bursts of heat, especially from Santa Anas, up the need for water. The changing season also can shift shadows to places that earlier basked in the sun, also reducing irrigation needs. Sprinklers may need to be adjusted too, to accommodate summer plant growth or the addition of companion perennials and annuals. Since months may have passed since your last check, inspect the system for leaks and water waste. With everyone watching water consumption, don’t irritate neighbors and drain your bank account by watering during a rainstorm. Hit “rain delay” on your timer whenever precipitation is forecast.
Extend the Life of Other Holiday Plants
  • Many other holiday plants – amaryllis, rosemary, Christmas cactus, kalanchoe, living Christmas trees – also can be moved into the garden and enjoyed for months to come. For a successful transition, start by removing the festive foils around pots to preserve root health. Avoid deadly over watering; as a rule of thumb, water thoroughly and don’t water again until the soil is almost dry. Amaryllis and Christmas cactus will continue to bloom and thrive inside for a few weeks in a sunny but cool spot. Living Christmas trees, rosemary and kalanchoe prefer to be outside as soon as possible. When moving these plants outside, “harden them off” with exposure to a cooler, sheltered area for a few hours a day. Gradually increase the time outdoors so the plant can adjust to temperature and light fluctuations. Given the danger of frost, don’t encourage tender new growth with fertilizer. By the time spring arrives, these plants will be ready for a permanent place in the landscape
Get Landscape Design Advice
  • Shocked by high water bills? Determined to transform your garden into a waterwise landscape but not sure where to begin? Jump-start your makeover with a professional landscape design consultation at The Water Conservation Garden. The 45-minute sessions are with consultants who specialize in drought-tolerant landscapes. Homeowners bring photos and dimensions of a targeted area; they leave with a design plan and plant list. Cost is $75 ($60 for garden members). Call (619) 660-0614, ext. 10, to learn dates and availability.
Grow A Backyard Orchard
  • January is the perfect time to add apple and stone fruit trees to an edible landscape. Nurseries tend to have the largest selection during bare-root season when these deciduous trees are bargain priced. Many are supplied by Dave Wilson Nursery (, one of California’s largest growers of fruit trees.  Here are some suggestions from Tom Spellman, Dave Wilson Nursery Southwest sales manager. Plant now but don’t allow fruiting during the first year while the tree becomes established. Grow a moderate crop the second year; enjoy a full crop in the third.

    Dorset Golden Apple – A very reliable producer, this apple requires minimal “chill hours” to set fruit, making it ideal for coastal as well as inland areas. Pick fruit as early as mid-June. Apples are bright yellow blushed with red and pink; flesh is crisp and firm
    Stark Saturn Donut Peach – Disc-shaped fruit with a dimpled center on this gourmet white peach ripens in July. Flavor is “very peachy with hints of almond,” Spellman says. 
    Red Baron Peach – This tree is beautiful – and bountiful. In bloom with double bright red flowers, Red Baron rivals many ornamental peach trees. Yellow freestone fruit is large and juicy.
    Burgundy Plum – This tree bears juicy ruby-red fruit from mid-July to September. A Japanese-style plum, it is a good pollinator for other plums and pluots. Deep burgundy flesh is sweet, without tartness.
    Flavor Delight Aprium – Apricot lovers generally can’t tell that this hybrid has been crossed with a plum. The breeding gives apriums greater adaptability than finicky apricots.  Fruit is gold blushed inside and out and ripens as early as mid-May.
    Arctic Star Nectarine – Sweet, juicy, low-acid fruit can be enjoyed starting in June from this recent introduction. Deep red skin is a vivid contrast with the white flesh.
    Bella Gold Peacotum – Peach, plum and apricot combine in this 2011 introduction. Golf ball-size fruit is amber with a red blush. Flavors reflect all three parents with an emphasis on plum and a hint of citrus. Attractive landscape tree with white flowers in spring. Needs a cross pollinator.
    Flavor Grenade Pluot – Oblong yellow-green fruit tinged with red “explode with plumy apricot flavor,” Spellman says. Late bearing and suited to low-chill areas like San Diego. Showy white flowers in spring. Needs cross pollinator.
    Dapple Dandy Pluot – Egg-shaped, cream fleshed fruit with marbled maroon and gold skin ripens in late July to early August. A consistent taste-test winner. Needs a cross pollinator.
    Flavor King Pluot - Garnet skin and fruit with a spicy scent and flavor make this a taste test winner and a favorite of backyard orchardists, who also appreciate its handsome form. Bears in late July into August. Needs a cross pollinator and good choice as a cross pollinator for other pluots.
    Spice Zee Nectaplum - This self-fertile combo of plum and nectarine bears large red fruit with mottled flesh with predominate nectarine flavor. Double pink flowers in spring and dark greenish-red leaves make it one of the most highly ornamental fruit trees. Long bearing season from June to August.
Harvest Rain
  • With average annual rainfall here of less than 11 inches, it pays to make the most of every drop. Start by redirecting water from gutters routed into storm drains to empty into the garden instead. A simple swale – a depression lined with gravel – also can collect runoff so it can percolate into the ground. Rain barrels too offer simple storage; most fill up remarkably fast, so install more than one if possible.

    The Water Conservation Garden on the campus of Cuyamaca College in El Cajon has a good exhibit of a working rain barrel system. Details are at

How to Care for Florist Cyclamen
  • To keep your holiday florist cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) thriving, put the plant outside now. Dry heat or even a sunny window can kill these winter bloomers native to Turkey. A cool spot and bright, but indirect light will keep potted plants blooming into spring. They also can be planted in the garden; pick a shady place where you can enjoy the leaves artfully scribbled with silver and flowers that look like the folded wings of butterflies. Unlike other cyclamen, the tuber of florist cyclamen should be half in, and half out of the ground. When temperatures start to climb, flowering ends, leaves fall off and the plant become dormant. If it’s in well drained soil and not overwatered, it will come back to life in fall.
How to Harvest Some Winter Veggies
  • Many winter vegetables started in October or November are ready for harvest now. To enjoy their sweet tender leaves, cut cabbages when they are rock-hard; if they feel springy, they need more time. When broccoli buds are full and firm, cut the stalk with a knife. Leave both cabbage and broccoli in the ground and they’ll continue to produce, especially with the benefit of a side-dressing of vegetable fertilizer. Cauliflower, though, forms only one head. To keep it snowy white, pull the leaves up over the head and tie them to block out the sun. Harvest when the buds are full and close together. When they begin to separate, you’ve waited too long. If you haven’t grown lettuce, now is still a good time to plant seeds or transplants. The cool weather will give you a crop quickly, and “the cut and come again” harvest keeps you in fresh salad greens for weeks.
Learn to Prune Roses Correctly
  • Once a year, timed with bare-root rose season here, the San Diego Rose Society hosts a pruning demonstration at the Inez Parker Rose Garden in Balboa Park. In 2012, the free event is set for Jan. 7. Rose experts will demonstrate proper pruning and then attendees get to try their hand. Bring gloves and pruning shears to participate. Details are at

More Edibles Tasks
  • Plant dormant crowns of artichoke, asparagus and rhubarb. Also plant seeds of medium day-length onions such as White Sweet Spanish, Stockton Yellow Globe and Italian Red (short storage life) during February for bulbs in late summer. Plan ahead by ordering seeds of warm season vegetables for planting in the spring. To control diseases and pests, continue clean up of old tomato vines and other spent summer and winter crops.
Plant Heat-Loving Roses
  • To take some guess work out of rose buying, All-America Rose Selections (AARS), the association of rose growers and breeders that tests roses around the nation, has created Region’s Choice. This new program selects varieties that thrive with minimal care in specific areas of the U.S. For the San Diego and the Southwest, they picked 11 roses that tolerate heat and won’t fade in the sun. Among their choices are the flashy red-and-white-striped ‘Fourth of July,’ deep red ‘Opening Night’ and ‘Cherry Parfait,’ pure white ‘Iceberg’ and the eye-catching deep lavender ‘Wild Blue Yonder’ and smoky orange-red ‘Hot Cocoa.’

    See the complete list at  Look for them at area nurseries now during bare-root rose season.

Plant onion seeds
  • Plant seeds of medium day-length onions such as White Sweet Spanish, Stockton Yellow Globe and Italian Red (sort storage life) during February for bulbs in late summer.
Protect Plants From A Deep Freeze
  • Freezing temperatures aren’t unusual in this month. To protect vulnerable plants, start by being aware of your garden’s microclimates where cold air is likely to settle. Look for lower areas next to slopes, shaded or areas that face north. Then make sure the ground around vulnerable plants is well irrigated when freezing temperatures are likely; the moist soil holds heat and helps plants stand up to frost.

    Move potted plants close to the house; if possible avoid the north side since it tends to be cooler than other exposures. Protect very tender potted plants by housing them in a garage or shed over night.

    Plants that can’t be moved can be covered with sheets or drop cloths; be certain the fabric doesn’t touch the foliage since the cold material can damage leaves. In the morning, when the sun comes out, remove the cover promptly.

    If plants are harmed, do not prune away damaged foliage and branches; damaged portions may recover. Also pruning stimulates new growth that is extremely vulnerable to cold. Wait instead until spring, when temperatures moderate and new shoots can thrive.

Prune and Spray Deciduous Fruit Trees
  • Finish pruning dormant deciduous trees and vines before leaf buds start to grow. Also spray them with horticultural oil before buds begin to open to control overwintering insect pests. When new growth begins, feed them with a nitrogen fertilizer.

    If you have peach or nectarine trees that have not yet begun to bud, now is the time to spray to control peach leaf curl. Two fungicides used to control debilitating peach leaf curl in peach and nectarine trees have been taken off the market. To prevent this disease, gardeners can make their own fungicide by following the directions in UC Pest Note 7481, Bordeaux Mixture (do an internet search for UC Pest Note 7481).

    The process requires buying a small quantity of copper sulfate and agricultural lime to make a stock solution of each chemical. Combine them and dilute with water to make the Bordeaux spray, which is applied twice while the trees are dormant.

    For more on peach leaf curl, consult UC Pest Note 7426 at

Spray dormant deciduous trees and vines
  • Spray dormant deciduous trees and vines with horticultural oil before buds begin to open to control overwintering insect pests.
Store Rain
  • Rain water collection is a new tool for gardeners focused on water conservation. Even with San Diego’s limited rainfall, roof run-off is substantial: One-inch of rain falling on a 1,000-square-foot roof can generate 600 gallons of collectible water.

    To learn more, visit the Rain Harvesting exhibit at the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon. Funded by the Ecolife Foundation and Ace Rain Gutters, the easy-to-duplicate setup features a 205-gallon rain barrel connected to a downspout and gutters on the garden’s warehouse. Overflow is stored in a 1,100-gallon tank nearby. The Garden, on the campus of Cuyamaca College, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. More info is at

Try Top Tomatoes
  • A sweet juicy tomato from the garden - ah, heaven! These days, homegrown tomatoes come in exotic shades of pink, purple, yellow and more and range from bite size to hefty four pounders.

    Scott Daigre grows more than 300 varieties of tomatoes for his Tomatomania sales, including the one at the San Diego Botanic Garden March 20 and 21. He also sells online at Here are some of his favorites:
    Green Zebra - Chefs discovered this green striped tomato and helped make it an edible garden classic. "It pushes the taste barrier," Daigre say. "It's spicy, tangy, different." Beautiful on a salad plate.
    Jaune Flamee - Another saladette tomato, Jaune Flamee (yellow flame) turns tangerine colored and often shows a pink blush when ripe. "It loves the heat and will produce forever," Daigre says. Taste is sweeter and milder than the typical "big red tomato taste."
Cherokee Purple - This American heirloom is considered one of the black-purple tomatoes but Daigre describes its color as closer to mauve. A slicing tomato, Cherokee Purple has "the most outrageous tomato taste ever." Plant is a consistent producer over a long season.
Sungold - Daigre calls this the world's favorite tomato... and no wonder. Its golden cherries are sweet and juicy, perfect for snacking and convincing kids to eat their veggies. An early, prolific producer.
Aussie - This pink-hued heirloom, Daigre says, is "everything a beefsteak should be." It bears later in the season when other tomatoes may slow down. Great in a sandwich.
Ramapo - If you crave the much-touted Jersey tomatoes, Ramapo is for you. It was developed by Rutgers University four decades ago and credited with starting the Jersey tomato craze. Off the market for 20 years, it's been reintroduced this year. Medium-sized tomato with great taste.
Yellow Pear - Another chef favorite, this lemon yellow, petite, pear-shaped beauty dresses up any salad. As reliable along the coast as inland. "It's kind of irresistible," Daigre says.
Marvel Stripe - This bicolor heirloom is yellow streaked with red. It really shows its beauty, though, when sliced; no two look alike inside. "It's like a pinto pony," Daigre says. "Plus it's lusciously sweet, succulent and wonderful."
View a Weed Gallery
  • Rain jump-starts weeds as well as prized landscape plants. But which weed is which? To ID these pesky plants, turn to the updated Weed Gallery on the UC Davis Web site. Photos of leaf shapes start the identification process. A click on any one leads to a line-up of likely suspects that includes photos of seeds and flowers, seedlings and mature plants. Tutorials on four different categories of weeds also aid in naming the culprit. Once the weed is identified, there are links to downloadable pest notes with tips on how to control and eliminate it.

    Bookmark this site for easy reference:

Win the Battle Against Slugs and Snails
  • Cloudy damp winter brings out slugs and snails. If these pests are nibbling on seedlings and other tender plants, here are some ways to fight back that won’t harm the environment.

    Start by eliminating daytime hiding places under rocks, pieces of wood or dense foliage. Handpick any snails found, put them in a bag and dispose in the trash. Potted plants and trees can be protected with a band of copper flashing that the snails and slugs won’t cross. Recently introduced baits made from iron phosphate and marketed as Sluggo or Escar-Go are safe to use around wildlife, pets and children. Another option is to introduce decollate or so-called “killer” snails into the garden. Search on line for a local distributor.

    More info on snail and slug control is at