It seems like I “Google” something nearly every day. I can barely remember what life was like before the information superhighway. For subjects like gardening, however, information from your own neck of the woods is the best.
Locals have knowledge of weather patterns, plant behavior, pests and diseases, flowering sequences — you name it, there's a neighbor or friend or local expert who can help you.
I'm fortunate in that lots of people ask questions of The Mountain Gardener about gardening here in our unique part of planet Earth. Here are some recent inquiries. You might be wondering about the same things:
Know your weather zone
We all rely on the “The Sunset Western Garden Book” as the bible for gardeners. With each new edition, I eagerly look to see if they've figured out that Felton is not in Zone 7.
Sure it was pretty cold around here in January, but even with climate change, San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley are not as cold as a Zone 7.
Even considering microclimates, we can grow a wide variety of plants that would not survive in the Sierra foothills, the Gabilan range or other Zone 7 areas. I wish they would ask local nurseries and knowledgeable horticulturists what the weather is really like here.
Knowing the climate in your area helps determine what you can grow in your garden. It's confusing to both new and seasoned gardeners alike.
Here are some tips to help you determine in what zone you garden.
Zone 7 has the coldest winters in our area. Very high ridge tops, such as the Summit area and the most northern portions of Bonny Doon, lie in this zone. My records show average winter lows ranging from 15 to 25 degrees based on 20 years of input from gardeners in these areas. This does not apply to other areas of Zone 7, just those around here. Record lows have occurred during freezes in 1990, 1996 and 2007, but as gardeners, we rely on average highs and lows to help guide our planting times. Spring weather comes later in this zone, with the growing season mainly from April through October.
Zone 15 encompasses most of our area. Winter lows average 20 to 30 degrees. The valley floor of both San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley lie in this zone and are what I call a “cold 15.” Cold air sinks and is trapped in these areas. Often, there is damage to the tips of oleanders and citrus, while gardenias and tropical hibiscus need a lot of extra protection. There are warmer parts of this zone, though, where the growing season starts in March and ends in November. These areas rarely get a freeze after March 15 or before Thanksgiving.
Zone 16: Those who live up off the valley floor but below ridge tops live in this “banana belt.” Pasatiempo also falls in this thermal zone. Light frost can occur during the winter, but mostly the winter lows in this zone stay near or above freezing. You might have cold pockets on your property, however, so plan accordingly.
Some gardening tasks are dependent on the weather. Many shrubs, perennials and grasses are to be pruned after danger of frost is past, and many vegetables should be started after this time, too.
As a reminder, the estimated date of our last frost is March 15. I've kept a weather journal for my area, the San Lorenzo Valley, since 1992. Based on my records, we may get a few frosts, especially after a storm, in late March or early April. But for the most part, we have mostly passed the chance of having a heavy frost. Still it’s a good idea to have a cardboard box or blanket ready to protect your young seedlings.
I hope this helps in choosing plants that will thrive in your garden.
What to plant now
Now’s the time to plant cool-season vegetables from starts or seed, such as chard, snow or shelling peas, spinach, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, lettuce, mustard and onions. You can also sow seeds of beets, radishes and carrots directly in the ground.
Inside, it's time to start your warm-season vegetable seeds, such as tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. Usually you start them inside about eight weeks before the last spring frost. Counting back six weeks from when nighttime temperatures stay in the mid-50 degree range also works to figure out when to start.
For those who enjoy container gardening, try combining some colorful chard with parsley, alyssum and Johnny-jump-ups. In another large pot, grow some kale and spinach along with window-box sweet peas. All stay compact, and you can harvest healthy greens close to the kitchen door.
Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.jannelsonlandscapedesign.com to view past columns and pictures.