Friday, July 31, 2009

Where The Heck Are You Gardening? Ask the Snarky Farmer!

      All gardening is local. The outdoor plants that grow for me, may not grow for you. And vice versa (especially vice versa!). With that, it's time to delve into the Ask the Snarky Farmer mailbag!

     Gramma Dori writes: "I received two small azalea trees, with one having green houseplants planted with it. Could you tell me if I should keep them in the house or put them outside? And, when should I plant them in outdoor pots or in the ground?"

   You don't say where you live, and that can have a big bearing on where and when to plant azaleas. In the Central Valley area and foothills of California, they are best planted where they can get some filtered shade, such as the east side of the house. For those areas of coastal influence, they can be planted in full sun. Why the difference? Because the sun seldom shines along the Northern California coast in the summertime! And it drizzles! And it's cold! When I lived in Fort Bragg, I would drive inland two hours to Ukiah...just to get warm! But I digress...

      Wherever azaleas are planted, they need acidic soil and good drainage. You could plant them now, just be sure to mulch the area thoroughly to preserve soil moisture. azalea AND houseplants, together, in the same pot? Sure would help to know about those "houseplants"!  Depending on your climate, they may also survive outdoors. Are you sure that it isn't a bonsai specimen? Perhaps someone is trying to hook you into another time-consuming, expensive hobby!

     "Ortho's Complete Guide to Successful Houseplants" says this about growing azaleas indoors: "After flowering, many are simply used as indoor foliage plants. Most azaleas sold as houseplants are not hardy enough for northern gardens. To encourage an azalea to bloom again inside the home, put the plant outside in early summer. Bring it back inside in early winter, after the cool days of fall, and put it in a cool place until it blooms again. After flowering, provide at least four hours of curtain-filtered sunlight from a bright south, east or west window. Keep evenly moist. Discard drainage."


     Wendy asks: "Please tell me what you think of a product called Liquid Aerify, which is supposed to condition clay soil. Is it safe and effective?"

     Despite having acres of heavy clay soil, I have never tried Aerify. When examining an unfamiliar garden chemical, read the "Active Ingredients" or "Analysis" portion of the label, and then do your homework. Fortunately, the manufacturer of Aerify, Nature's Lawn and Garden, provides a link to that label

 You can read what Wikipedia says about that 60% active ingredient, Ammonium Laureth Sulfate. My big question is, what is in the other 40%?

Perhaps further clues are here at  their link to Aerify's Material Safety Data Sheet, which reads in part:

 If you are trying to improve clay soil, here is more info from the "UC Guide to Healthy Lawns":

"Organic material improves soil structure. Although often not necessary, organic material can be added to sandy soils to increase nutrient and moisture retention. Clay soils can also be amended with organic material to help loosen the soil and provide better aeration and drainage. Compost is the easiest organic material to use. It can be purchased at garden supply stores or can be ordered by the truckload. A rotary tiller works best to incorporate the organic material to your soil. A layer of 1 - 2 inches spread over your site should be tilled to a depth of 3 - 6 inches. Even though some fertilizers are from organic sources, organic amendments are not necessarily fertilizers and should not be substituted for them."

     There are those in organic gardening circles who maintain that all you need to do is place several inches of compost on the top of the existing soil; rototilling, they say, is harmful to the beneficial soil microbes. But that story is for another mailbag!


Saturday, August 1
Harvest Day at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center
Where:  Fair Oaks Park 11549 Fair Oaks Blvd. Fair Oaks, CA 95628
Time:   8:00 a.m to 2:00 p.m.
Cost:   Free admission
Information:  (916) 875-6913 

or visit
Victory Gardens are as relevant today as they were during WWI and WWII.  Then they were about reducing food costs and ensuring fresh, health and tasty home-grown food.  Today, factor in concern about the environment, need to reduce the amount of chemicals in the local water supply, necessity to use water wisely&emdash;all with smaller gardening areas and competing priorities for your time and energy.  Learn to be a Victory Gardener at Harvest Day 2009.  Discover how to plant and care for ornamental and edible plants in an environmentally friendly way, and yes, savor home grown produce.

Harvest Day is considered the Sacramento area's "premier gardening event."  It is truly a celebration for all the senses:

• Taste amazing varieties of tomatoes, grapes, and fruits
• Brush leaves and flowers and immerse yourself in the aromatic bouquet
• Listen and marvel at the activity of the beneficials (bees, birds, good bugs)
• See how to water your plants and not the street, sidewalk, or weeds (prepare for water meters)
• 30 booths dedicated to garden education (water organizations, honey , garden clubs, college horticulture departments)
• Explore the Fair Oaks Community Garden, a cornucopia of styles and crops.
• Visit the silent auction.
• Purchase:  2010 Master Gardener Calendar, grape plants


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