Columnists : Joan Swenson

Tuesday, Feb 10 2009 09:18 PM

Joan Swenson: Pre-emergent deadline here, and it's never too early (or late) for tomatoes

Sunday is your deadline to put down pre-emergent herbicide and get good results preventing the growth of spotted spurge and crabgrass, the weeds that are the bane of the summer garden. Feb. 15 is the last day for expected frost in the Southern San Joaquin Valley and the soil temperatures start climbing, if they already haven’t, thanks to some 80-plus degree days this month. Once the soil temperatures start rising, tiny crabgrass and spurge seedlings will begin their rapid growth.

While I was scattering the granules a couple of weeks ago, I noticed in some parts of my yard that I had some common groundsel, a winter weed, growing fairly thickly. If you have lots of weeds, clearing them away will improve the effectiveness of the pre-emergent you put down now.

WINTER WEEDS

On the subject of weeds, Richard Shiell of the Kern County Rose Society reminded me that once the green leaves are off your roses, you may use Roundup to kill any winter weeds in the area. “Nothing like having all the good foliage gone to make applying herbicide foolproof,” he said in an e-mail.

However, if Roundup hits green foliage on roses, it will cause death or severe damage, distorting and stunting the new growth. Roses may not be able to recover from Roundup damage, so be slow to tear out the roses — wait and see how they do. Remember when spraying Roundup to avoid windy days, so that the nonselective herbicide does not drift onto desirable plants. However, if you do hit plants that you didn’t intend to, you have several hours to hose off the chemical and prevent damage.

TOMATOES ARE COMING

We’re talking tomatoes at our house — the Burpee catalog is marked with sticky notes and I already bought some unusual seeds from Renee’s Garden (Rainbow’s End heirlooms and Garden Candy, three different colors of cherry tomatoes) and I know that beautiful little tomato seedlings will be available at nurseries in the coming weeks. It is tempting to get them in the ground quickly, hoping for an early first tomato.

A warm February does not guarantee a warm March. March is notoriously chilly and windy in Bakersfield. So if you decide to plant early tomatoes, plan to protect them with wax hot caps, plastic milk cartons (cut off the tops and upend the jug over the plants, remembering to remove them on sunny days) or other arrangements to protect the plants from the cold.

Tomatoes won’t start setting fruit until nighttime temperatures get above 55 degrees, which may be several weeks away. We have typically planted tomato seedlings we bought at nurseries in early April and had plenty of fruit all summer long. You can wait until Easter and be fantastically successful with your summer tomatoes. No big hurry.

But if you want to get a hop on growing tomatoes from seed, you certainly may. We’ve used Burpee’s seed-starter kits in the past, with little cubes of starter soil in plastic planting cells, sort of like tiny pony-packs with a plastic lid that creates a greenhouse effect. You can start the plants indoors this way — or with your homemade version of old pony-packs, cleaned out and filled with commercial potting soil. Starting tomatoes from your own seeds means you can try tomatoes that aren’t available as seedlings in local nurseries — and you can hand off extra plants to friends.

GARDEN CLUB MEETING

The Bakersfield Green Thumb Garden Club will meet at 9 a.m. Feb. 21 in the Church of the Brethren, Palm and A streets. The program will be “The Growing of Almonds in Bakersfield” by Joe Mcllvaine, president of Paramount Farms.

The “Plant of the Month” will be the camellia by Helen Maas. All are invited to enter the mini show at 8:30 a.m. A garden magazine sale will benefit the group’s 57th donation of trees to Sequoia National Forest.

A tour of Helen Maas’ camellias and Diane Zumbrunnen’s orchids will follow the meeting. Directions to their gardens will be distributed at the meeting.

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