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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer



The seasoned gardener


published in The Union in Grass Valley CA


More information on soil preparation and mulching is detailed in Deer in My Garden, Vol.1: Perennials & Subshrubs and Deer in My Garden, Vol.2: Groundcovers & Edgers!

foxglove seedSummer-sown seeds
Gather seeds now for next year's garden

by Carolyn Singer
July 31, 2010

foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)I've had to be very careful these past few weeks as I walked past a foxglove (photo right) near my entry. Past bloom, the central stalk that was the first flowering in May has been loaded with maturing seed pods. Brushing against it even lightly would scatter hundreds of seeds.

Today when I bent a stalk carefully over a large pan to catch most of the seed, a tiny praying mantis landed on the seed, then scurried to the safety of the other harvested stalks. Some seed will be sown in an area of my garden where a sprinkler will hasten germination, providing many plants for fall transplanting. Most of this abundant harvest of seed (photo above) will be shared with students in my classes. And some will be stored carefully in my "seed bank".

The feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) and toadflax (Linaria purpurea that bloomed in early summer are perennials that will bloom again on shorter stalks if they are cut back to a few inches now. The seeds are not ready since they have just finished blooming. There will be plenty of seed to save from the second bloom.

Annuals (CA poppy, love-in-a-mist) and biennials (foxglove) return year after year with the hundreds of seed they produce, but each plant dies after the first season of flowering. Perennials get stronger each year. Young perennial plants should put all their energy into growing the first season, not into seed production. If you must seed-save, just a couple of seed heads will be an ample supply of fresh seed.

Santa Barbara daisyPlants put energy into seed production, so removal of faded flowers (deadheading) should be done as soon as flowers fade to encourage continued growth and repeat bloom. A few perennials (Santa Barbara daisy, photo left) are exceptions, blooming prolifically even with no attention to the faded blooms, freely self-sowing throughout the garden.

However, there are perennials that will bloom only once in the season. If the plants are mature and their seed pods add interest in the garden, especially for fall and early winter, don't bother cutting them back now. Two of my favorites (both deer-resistant) are Jerusalem sage (Phlomis russeliana, photos left & right below) and Mrs. Robb's bonnet (Euphorbia amygdaloides robbiae).
Jerusalem sageJerusalem sage

If the soil surface seems hard where you want to sow your seeds, spread one to two inches of compost first. This seed bed will ensure much better germination. Most fine seed does not need to be covered, but it does need to nestle into a soft medium. I've even used decomposing wood chips with great success.

In the vegetable garden, I will be seed-saving from three leeks I kept for that purpose. The blooms are very beautiful growing next to the tomatoes, and the honeybees are quite interested. The flowers are lasting so long, I expect that this will be seed for next year's crop of leeks. Broccoli raab seed saved from the spring crop continues to provide young greens for salad, older greens to stirfry, then seed for another cycle.

30% shade clothI'm utilizing shade cloth over the bed where I have recently sown carrots, beets, arugula, kale, lettuce, bok choy and leeks, and another where I have sown a summer cover crop ("soil builder") in preparation for fall garlic planting. Before germination, I use 40% shade cloth, and soon after tiny seedlings appear, I use 30% (photo left). The primary purpose is to lessen the drying effect of July sun, but there are other benefits. While I use a soft wand spray to irrigate the seeds, the shade cloth reduces the impact of water, keeping the soil surface loose.

Because the 30% shade cloth is so light, the vegetables usually push it up as they grow, although sometimes I use short pieces of bamboo to hold it off the ground.

The shade cloth also helps with some bigger challenges I face in my garden. The quail and finches feast on young seedlings, and I would much rather they continued to shred a chard plant that seems to be a favorite this season. An even greater challenge in summer is damage from the raccoons who visit nightly, digging for worms. The word is out that Carolyn's garden is the best place to be on a summer night!

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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