Tips For Your Winter Garden
So far, it's been a chilly, wet winter. We'll hear what San Diego gardeners should be doing to take care of their plants during this stormy season, and how do prepare for the springtime.
Nan Sterman, garden journalist and author of "California Gardener's Guide Volume II." Nan answers calls for the Water Conservation Garden's Water Smart Pipeline on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons, and is host of A GROWING PASSION Saturday's at 2 p.m. on Cox TV Channel 4.
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The sunshine has returned to San Diego, and forecasters say it should be sticking around for a while. Buff winter really divan with a blast a couple of weeks ago with drenching rain and flooding, and even now, temperatures remain slightly below average. All of this poses some challenges for San Diego gardeners. What do you do when your back yard garden is a series of puddles, or, strangely, full of mushrooms? Is this a good time to be active in the garden or just to hope for spring? Well, luckily my guest, Nan Sterman is here with those answers. Nan is a garden journalist and author of California Gardener' Guide Volume two, and Water Wise Plants for the Southwest. She also writes a gardening.
STERMAN: Thank you so much for having me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Happy new year to you.
STERMAN: Happy new year. Happy sunny day.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, indeed. Happy winter sunny day. Now, we invite our listeners to join the conversation. Do you have questions about how to preserve your garden from the cold or from too much rain? Maybe you have questions about how you can use this excess rainfall or prepare your garden for spring. Give us a call with your questions and your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727 that's 1-888-895-KPBS. Well, as I said, gardeners around town are dealing with a problem in the typical for San Diego: Too much water. Gardens have been flooded, they're muddy. First of all, Nan, what does your garden look like These Days?
STERMAN: I've been pruning fruit trees. So my garden is just stacks and stacks of cut branches and twigs and fallen leaves. Which is typical of this time of year, I mean, it is winter. And so it ain't pretty. It definitely ain't pretty. If you're gonna come visit, wait another couple months.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, since we have had all this extra rainfall. People might think this there's no need for conserving water for a while. What message would you like to give to people about that?
STERMAN: This is not typical. We can't count on this. This is not the new normal. This is an anomaly. But beyond that, you know, rainfall is only about six percent. Of it meets only about percent six of San Diego's water needs. So enjoy the rainfall. Your plants are gonna enjoy it. But it ain't solving the problem. We can't change the path that we're on, and the path that we're on is being more conservative about our water use. We still have to do that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, when we have a period of rain like this, how do you adjust your regular watering schedule?
STERMAN: My watering has been off for -- this is January. Two months, maybe three. Since the rain started in -- well, we had a really wet October. Remember that?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, I do.
STERMAN: So the rain, my water was definitely off before then. So maybe since September my irrigation system has been off. There's no reason to. There's absolutely no reason to water.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So that's one of the ways people can take advantage of, you know, wetter conditions than normal when we have a lot of rainfall. Is there any other way that people can take advantage of an extra amount of rainfall?
STERMAN: Well, you can look at ways for helping the water stay on your property, rash running down the gutters and down into the street, and eventually into the ocean. We it look at ways of holding the water on site, by land contours, by a number of methods, and then is sinks slowly, percolates slowly, down, deep into the soil. Which is really where the roots need it. They don't need it at the surface, except for grass which only goes down maybe three inches or so. Well, nice turf grass. Their roots don't go down very far. But most of your plants have deeper roots than that. And they need the water deep. So really, if you can get the water to hang around long enough to percolate down, then that's better than directing it off your property, and in fact, we're now being mandated to hold water on site.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is that something that you really have to do before a rainstorm? Or can you do -- I mean is that something you have to plan ahead of time.
STERMAN: Yes, exactly. Because it involves contouring your property. And you might create a deep bed of gravel, say if you have a driveway that's not a concrete driveway. Or if you want to create a permeable surface for a driveway or something like that, you can excavate down several inches, fill it with gravel. Gravel has big, chunky, irregular shaped piece, so there's a lot of air space in between. When it rains issue the water gets trapped in there. Doesn't bothers you because it's below the surface and it doesn't make puddles. But it sits there and slowly infiltrates into the soil. And that's one way of helping the water sit there. Any place you could remove an impermeable surface concrete, asphalt, etc, and put in a permeable surface, whether it's pavers with space in between, my driveway is decomposed granite, compacted. But not compacted to the point woo it's impervious. So all of the water goes down into that big huge driveway space. Have another driveway that was there before we moved in, that's to a subterranean garage, floods all the time.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.
STERMAN: Because there's no place for the water to go.
A. I see. I'm speaking with garden expert Nan Sterman, and we're taking your winter gardening questions at 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. So that idea of having the water permeate your ground is different from having your garden just a mass of puddles.
STERMAN: Yes, definitely, definitely. Well, the thing is, the puddles are critical in the areas you walk through, right? You don't want to walk in puddles. But as long as the water doesn't sit there for weeks at a time your plants -- well, I shouldn't say that. So long the water doesn't stay there for maybe a week. Your plants don't care if there's a puddle at the end of the day. That's fine. The water will eventually any through, the soil will dry out a little bit. You'll get enough oxygen to the roots that they're not gonna drown. There's no problem. Really, puddles are inconveniences for us.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And not for plants.
STERMAN: Not that much, I mean, unless you really have a space where the water sits and the plants rot and they die.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And how long would that TAKE?
STERMAN: A long time.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's take a call, as I say, we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Vicki is calling from La Mesa, good morning, Vicki and welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, good morning, thanks. Yeah, I just had a quick question. With the rainfall being as it has been, is there any change in when we should be pruning our roses? Most of my garden is, you know, water tolerant. Buff I do have a beloved rose garden. And I really can't figure out when I should start pruning because right now, it's actually in flower, and it's looking for nice.
STERMAN: All right, I'm gonna answer this first by saying I'm not a rose Aryan, okay? So your rosarium friends might give you a slightly different answer. But as far as I'm concerned, if this is when you prune your roses, this is when you prune your roses upon so just go ahead and do it. And by the way, if you cut back on some of the water that you use on your roses, I bet you'd find that they're much less thirsty than you think.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Really.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because just driving around town, beautiful displays of roses just after this rain. Just amazing. But if it's the time of year to prune them, you say prune them.
STERMAN: Well, the whole thing is, we try to prune when plants are dormant. And they in theory should be dormant now. It's certainly cold enough.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes.
STERMAN: [CHECK AUDIO] so if that means you have to sacrifice a lot of what you have now so that you get that spring growth, as one of my friend who is I rosarian, he's no longer living, unfortunately. He used to say, every time you cut a flower, you're pruning your rose brush. Every time you cut a stem, you're pruning so when you do cut stems issue it's important to look at where you're cutting and how you're cutting because that's part of the over all pruning scheme.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Interesting. I don't want to leave that rainfall because we're bound to get some more between how and spring.
STERMAN: Oh, yes.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When we have a down pure, do you do anything special to your garden or do you just sit inside and look at it and say oh, this is lovely.
STERMAN: I cheer. No, you mean like protect the plants or something?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes.
STERMAN: No, no. What I protected the plants from is from the cold. Because I happen to be in a pocket [CHECK AUDIO] which of my plants will suffer in the cold. So I always try to remember the beginning of this is week to go out and move whatever needs to be moved that's in a pot closer to the house where it's a little bit warmer. I know where my warm pockets are, and I have this woven white cloth they use to protect crops of they call it floating row cover, and frost cover. [CHECK AUDIO] and I know what needs to be covered, some of the succulents in particular need to be conferred because I can't move them. But they're gonna get a little bit burnt in the cold weather. They will come back, I know that. But I really -- if I can protect them from getting a little bit crippled looking, I'm happy to do that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're taking your calls, your winter guard then questions at 1-888-895-5727. Nan is on the line from Ocean Beach. Good morning, Nan, welcome to These Days. Nan are you with us?
STERMAN: This is Tom.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm sorry, Tom. I'm sorry I called you know that. I'm very happy that you're on the line. What's your question?
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I don't know if it has anything to do with the winter rains but we have a bougainvillea, it's probably 30 years old or more. And something's eating the branches. Not such the leaves some people said maybe it was caterpillars and some people say it's rats. They, like, chop right through the branch. I don't know if it had anything to do with all the rain we had.
STERMAN: It would definitely be an animal. [CHECK AUDIO] with a tough jaw. It wouldn't surprise me if it was rats. We have had a terrible year for rats. I don't know that it would be any of the other critters that would typically come into why are garden. But I would look at the rat, as maybe my first suspect.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And is there anything besides like a poison or requesting that you can do to keep rats out of your garden?
STERMAN: A big cat. Other than that, you know, you can do live traps, you can do things like that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sure.
STERMAN: But it's an exclusion issue. Do you exclude them or do you kill them?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. I'm wondering, I just heard from people that they have been in suburbia, people have been seeing more wildlife, more rabbits. Is that because of this rain do you think in.
STERMAN: Not now. Because they would have to have been born last springing right?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah, yes.
STERMAN: In order for us to see more now. So I don't know if the rain has anything to do with it. But the rabbit, I'm assuming the bougainvillea is trained up, so a rabbet can't get up there, but a rat can.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. Exactly. I'm wondering though, when it comes to looking [CHECK AUDIO] and all of a sudden there are these mushrooms all over the place.
STERMAN: They're taking advantage of the water too. The spores have been this the whole time.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All the time. So if you're not a gardener, [CHECK AUDIO].
STERMAN: Don't eat them, whatever you do. Don't eat them. But I would just leave them, you know, unless there are so many of them that they're out competing your landscape, and it's hard to imagine that would be the case.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right.
STERMAN: You know?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Nan, Sterman, and we are taking your winter guard anyone questions at 1-888-895-5727. Any more tips to avoid cold damage and.
STERMAN: To avoid cold damage you can move your plants to a warmer spot in the yard, you can cover them with a protective cover. You know, in the open orchards, they turn on the water and they get everything wet when they know that a freeze is coming because the ice and the water will insulate the plants. With the rainfall, everything's wet anyway. So I don't know that we need to do much more than that. That's probably sufficient.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And just in case people don't know, what particular plants or vegetables might be most at risk from a cold snap.
STERMAN: Well, when we're talking about vegetables, remember that we're talking about [CHECK AUDIO] all my summer vegetables are completely gone. I don't expect them to be here. Because if they're annuals, they're dead by now anyway. And tomato technically are perennials but in our climate, they don't survive our winters. Of occasionally you'll get one here or there that does. But in general they don't. So don't worry about that. You can grow winter vegetables you can grow the cabbage and the kale and the broccoli and all that, they're much more resistant to the cold weather. But it depends on what you're choosing.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call, Maria is second calling Mira Mesa. Good morning, Maria, welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Good morning.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Hi.
NEW SPEAKER: I had a question, I'm new to the world of gardening. [CHECK AUDIO].
STERMAN: Where are you, again?
NEW SPEAKER: In Mira Mesa.
STERMAN: I'd do it. I'd do it.
NEW SPEAKER: Yeah? Is there anything specific I should know? I mean with the frost or the freeze start something.
STERMAN: No, you probably don't get that cold. Unless you're in a low pocket. Do you have any idea of what the temperatures at night get to at your garden?
NEW SPEAKER: No, I do not.
STERMAN: Look around your neighborhood, and look at the succulents in your neighborhood and if they Defendant's Exhibit look like they're browned or burned then chances are in your neighborhood you don't have any issue. You might get an out door therm meter, and you even can get out door therm meters, [CHECK AUDIO] so you can see whatever's going on from wherever you put the indoor part of it. That's really fun to do. And it will tell you the coldest cold and the warmest warm for a so many hour period. Anyway, look in your neighborhood and see how the succulents look. They should look fine. If you done any digging in your front yard or in your backyard?
NEW SPEAKER: Not really.
STERMAN: Get a good shovel and go out there and dig and see what you find. Because the gardens that I've done in your area, the soil is full of rocks. Now, I don't know if that's the case in all of the area. But in much of it, your soil is full of rocks, these lovely, round, big potato sized and sometimes bigger rocks. And you might find that discouraging, but actually the succulents love that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Really.
STERMAN: Yes, and I think the reason is that what I've seen is mostly a clay soil with these big rocks, so you're got the clay that holds the water, and the rocks that lets it drain through. [CHECK AUDIO].
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just really fast before we let Marie go, just, Nan, what temperature would be a threat if she got this out door temperature and see a certain -- what would be an indication to you that she should not plant right now?
STERMAN: She should just go ahead and plant.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just go ahead and plant, Marie.
STERMAN: If it's getting below freezing, I might wait a little bit.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay.
STERMAN: But chances are, it's not getting there. It's not getting there for long enough that that's gonna make a difference. Not where she is.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have to take a break, when we return we will continue talking about winter guard then with Nan Sterman, taking your calls thea 1-888-895-5727. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. My divest is garden journalist Nan Sterman, and we are taking your calls about winter gardening. The number is 1-888-895-5727. I know that you wanted to add something about the idea of finding rocks when you're planting your succulents, and the fact that you should use them, maybe even for mulching.
STERMAN: Yeah, well, we were just talking about this on the break. A friend of mine has a property in Mira Mesa, and when I did her garden, the installers hated it, because every time they put the shovel into the soil, they'd hit rocks. And they were gonna toss the rocks, they were just gonna throw them away. And I said, no, no, we gotta hold onto those, those are really valuable. Of course they thought I was crazy of arch we planted, we used the rocks, as many as we had, to mulch around all the plans rather than doing a plant or organic based mulch, and when we came back a few months later, all the plants that had the rock mulch were double the size of the ones that weren't. You keep it because it's your local material and you need to use it and find a way to use it. And also because it has value in ways that you may not know. So don't throw it away. Don't throw it away. Find a way to use it. Be clever about it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Before I go to the next call, and there are a number of people who want to join the conversation. A lot of people have these beautiful poinsettia now because of Christmas. I word, is there any way to keep those plants going through the year?
STERMAN: Yes. But not in the pot.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay.
STERMAN: You can plant your poinsettias, and they will -- they're actually very large plants of when you see a poinsettia that's in the ground, it can be 10, 12 feet tall.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Wow.
STERMAN: Now, the hybrids, you never know, okay? Because they have been hybridized to be little potted plantings and they're not hybridized to be long living and all that. So you can try it, but you I don't know if they're gonna make it or not make it. So we're talking about the fancy ones, but the ones that are just not so fancy, yes, they come from parts of Mexico where the soils are really sandy, so they drain well. So you want to find a spot that drains well in your garden. And they also come from arid climates so they don't need much dark. But what they do need is long, interrupted periods of dark at night in winter. So you want to put them somewhere where they don't get, like, street, you know, like streets or if you have good lighting in your garden, you want to find your dark spot. You want to find a place where they're just not gonna get any night time lighting and that's where you want to plant them.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And will they only bloom in the winter time?
STERMAN: Yes, they bloom after a long dormancy. Well, we don't really have the green houses where we grow poinsettias here anymore. But that's why they grow them in grown house so they can control the temperature and the humid id, but the lack is very critical for them, or lack of light.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's fascinating. Again, taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Charlotte is calling from north Clairemont. Good morning, Charlotte, welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, how much time do we have? I just come in, and now your -- my last name rhymes with your guest's last name. But I wasn't even going to talk about poinsettias, but I have one in the ground from last year. And I told my friend who brought me the one last year not to bring me another one.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.
NEW SPEAKER: Because I am depressed with that plant.
NEW SPEAKER: Well, it's in the backyard. But that's not why I called because I got a really interesting to ask Nan. Is it Nan?
NEW SPEAKER: Okay. The plant that I have, I have kept alive, it takes water quite a bit, ask is it doesn't have any of those lamps blowing on it, it gets the dark at night.
NEW SPEAKER: But I know all about the bract. It's not a flower. It's a bract.
STERMAN: The colorful part. That's right.
NEW SPEAKER: And they're coming out, and they're not overcoming. And I'm not really crazy about the plant.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So why did you call us originally, Charlotte?
NEW SPEAKER: What?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why did you call us originally?
NEW SPEAKER: Originally I called about a plant that I discover indeed a thrift store. Not a thrift store. In a bargain store. I had never seen one like it in my life. And the people, the cashier was Vietnamese, and I said oh, my God. What is this? And she said it's a ground lotus.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.
NEW SPEAKER: So I got very curious. I'm not an avid gardener. I do dabble, you know?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right.
NEW SPEAKER: And I love flowers.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So have you planted it?
NEW SPEAKER: Oh, yes. I have planted it, but it's not doing very well. It's called an abbey plantain. Have you ever heard of this?
NEW SPEAKER: It's an Asian plant. It is related to the lotus family. I've done research. I called the library downtown. And I have called the -- some of the stores. And I learned that it's called an abbey plantain.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, let's hear what Nan has to say about this. Thank you, Charlotte.
STERMAN: Well, Charlotte, I'm not familiar with it in that name. As Charlotte, have you found out what the botanical name is? The technical name of it?
NEW SPEAKER: Well, abbey plantain is what this nursery man told me it was.
STERMAN: The problem is, that's a common name.
NEW SPEAKER: Is it?
STERMAN: Yeah, that's definitely not the Latin name. The common names, this person's gonna have one common name for it, and another person is gonna have another common name for it. Which is why we never rely on common names.
NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, I'm into research myself.
STERMAN: So I'm gonna invite you to, if you can find the botanical name, send me an e-mail. Or post it on the KPBS website. Because this interview eight be posted.
NEW SPEAKER: I don't have access.
STERMAN: Can you get to a library with a computer there? An.
I can call the downtown library.
STERMAN: Well, if you can get someone there to send e-mail with the botanical name, and send me your phone be in, I'll call you back and I'll tell you what I find out.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Charlotte, thank you for the call. Of I appreciate it. You know, speaking of new plants. You're always trying new plants out.
STERMAN: Oh, God, yes, always.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So what's new in your garden over the past year?
STERMAN: Oh, a million things.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.
STERMAN: I've been planting a number of natives recently. I've planted some ribes, which are the native currants because I have an oak tree that planted itself in just the perfect spot.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Planted it says.
STERMAN: It did. It was amazing. I didn't realize it should be an oak. I tried a few other things in that spot and they didn't work. [CHECK AUDIO] and you don't want to water under a mature oak. But if you have an oak that sprouts in a spot where there's already plants underneath it, it kind of grows up with plants underneath it. It'll do much better. So I put the ribes underneath the oak because they take very little water. I don't want to over water that area. So I've got those in the ground. In the same area, I just planted some bulbs that, again, very dry growing but they're massive, massive sized bulbs and the common name is sea squill. But the botanical name, which is the name that anybody in the world would know it by is urginea. URGINEA, and the bulbs that I planted are about -- what size is that, Maureen? Melon size?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yeah.
STERMAN: But I've seen them basketball size. [CHECK AUDIO] it has beautiful green leaves most of the year, come June or July, the leaves turn yellow and they fade to the ground. And then this flower stock emerges. I've seen them six feet tall with tiny tiny tiny white flowers, little star shaped white flowers like a big poker at the upon to. Lasts for six months, then that withers, and the leaves come back. Really fascinating.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes of it's never tired, that plant of it keeps doing something.
STERMAN: It keeps doing something. And if it doesn't have the amazing flowers, it has the leaves. And it needs no water. You grow it with no water. Except that comes down from the sky. And it's the coolest thing. Very, very poise Nous. I've been told that those were imported to the U.S. to be tested as gopher poison. And I don't know exactly what happened. I don't think it's being used. But they're very, very toxic, but --
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So not for where plants or kids are at. But it's a very interesting plants.
STERMAN: Yeah, and the interesting thing is, there are lots of things in our gardens that are toxic. But it's one of my favorite new plants. I've actually had it for a while, but I've just added those.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: 1-888-895-5727. Diana is calling from La Mesa. Good morning, Diana, welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi, it's actually Deanna.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Oh, Deanna. Thank you.
NEW SPEAKER: I'm actually calling about an ivy that I've had for about three ears or so. And in about October, I'd say late October, early sept, it just died. I've had it since it was a baby. You know, you can buy those little dollar plants for the hardware stores. And it grew to be about ten feet long so I thought to myself it was probably the pot and I needed to repot it and put it in a bigger one. And it -- I went out to water it one day, and you know, I didn't change any of my watering habits. And about a couple days later, I noticed that -- that the water had, like resurfaced itself, and it was just sitting on top of the pot. So I took out the excess water that I had maybe put in an excess amount of water. And after that, it just slowly started dying so I thought it had something to do with the cold. So I took it out of the cold and brought it into the house, ask it just kept dying. So I want to know -- I pruned off the dead parts which is pretty much all of it. So I want to know if that's gonna come back or what I did wrong so I can maybe do it right the next time.
STERMAN: Well, this is interesting, not seeing it, and based on what you told me. Do you know if it's alive now or dead now?
NEW SPEAKER: I'm not sure. I live in an apartment, I just have potted plant I'm not a green thumb at all. By any means.
STERMAN: Okay, that's fine. Listening to what you've described without knowing what else was going on in the situation, it sounds like maybe you drowned your plant. This is what we talked about having puddles in the garden. Well, in the garden, there's so much soil that water can permeate and percolate into the surrounding soil, and eventually it got away. And it eventually kind of goes away. But in a pot, it's held captive. So it could be that what happened was your plant roots got so big that they blocked the whole -- was there hole in the bottom of the pot?
NEW SPEAKER: No. And I e-mailed you, and you said well, I'm amazed that you've been able to keep a plant that long.
STERMAN: Oh, yes. I remember that. That was just recently. Thank you, nice to talk with you. So for first lesson is, you always have to have a hole in the bottom of the pot. And what I like to do is I always cover the holes in the bottom of the pot with a piece of, like, fiberglass window screen. What the does is it allows the water to go through, but it keeps the soil in the point. Okay? And you don't lose your soil because soil always kind of goes away. So you always want to -- and a good sized hole, not a little tiny whole. So you probably drowned your ivy. Is there any stem left? Is there anything left of the plant?
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I actually have it in the bigger pot that I switched it over to. And I've fully just put it in the house next to a window because I live, like, kind of where there's a stair well.
STERMAN: Yeah, the cold probably isn't an issue. Did you notice when you repotted it whether the roots were white or brown?
NEW SPEAKER: I don't remember to tell you the truth.
NEW SPEAKER: Is it safe for me to look at that?
NEW SPEAKER: Okay.
STERMAN: So white rights are healthy, living roots. Brown roots are usually dead roots. So far there's one clue. The other thing you can do is, if there's any part of the plant that's above ground, like a stem still, take your fingernail and just scrape it a little bit. If it's green right below the surface, it's alive. If it's brown, it's not, okay? I always call that the scratch test. Let's do the scratch test. And you might start at the far end and go all the way down to the base, because even if there's the littlest bit of green at the house, you have a chance that it'll come back.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And how can she encourage it to come back if indeed this plant is still alive.
STERMAN: Well, I'd probably put it back outside. And I'd just leave it -- can you put it some place where tattoo gonna get rainfall? 92 you 92 new yes, I can put it on my patio.
STERMAN: Okay, well, assuming it's going to continue doing what it's been doing, I wouldn't water it much beyond rainfall. Just make that the soil's a little bit damp. You could also put a layer, like an inch layer of rounded gravel on the surface. That helps keep the water in, you but you don't have to water it as much. So just ease back on the water and see what happens.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Deanna, thanks for the call. And we're all routin' for your ivy. Thanks so much. We had a caller who couldn't stay on the line who had a question about his Ocotillo plant of he hasn't seen many here. He's wondering why. Do they not grow well here?
STERMAN: Ocotillos come from the desert. You see them in Anza Borrego. Oh, they're the coolest plants. Not many people wanna grow them I think because they're so spiky. Now that you're asking me this, I'm thinking why don't I have one of those? You know? Yeah, you want to grow them in soil -- first of all, they're gonna want full sun, they're gonna -- they probably wouldn't do so well right along the coast but back maybe a mile from the coast, you know, you don't want the coastal fog, they probably would not be real happy with that. They might be okay but I wouldn't expect them to do as well in that kind of an environment. They probably wouldn't flower very well. You want to be at least a mile back in the inland valleys, like Escondido, La Mesa, they do great, I'm sure. So you want to put them in full sun, you want to put them in sun that's gonna drain pretty. And you wanna make sure they're in some place where they're gonna be away from a walkway so you don't have any chance of anybody brushing up against one, 'cause that would hurt.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Hurt! Yes, it would.
STERMAN: Hurt, hurt, hurt.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Would it be good if you had one, let's say, if you received as a present, and it's in a pot, is this a good time to refer it or should you just wait?
STERMAN: I would do it now. You know, I know that people think that spring is the best time.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right.
STERMAN: But really, fall and winter are our best planting times. They really are. Our soil doesn't get that cold. So the soil's warm enough, the plant may sit there and look at you for a while, and not really do much. At least on the top it's gonna look like that. But it's pretty much gonna be active below ground. If it's not active, it's gonna be in suspended animation. The chances from it dying from the cold, it just ain't that cold.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. I got it. We have to take another break. When we return, more winter gardening questions with Nan Sterman. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Nan Sterman.
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, you're listening to These Days on KPBS. And my guest is garden journalist and author Nan Sterman issue we are talking about winter gardening and taking your calls and questions at 1-888-895-5727. Let's start right off with the phones, and Catherine and calling us from Poway. Good morning, Catherine, welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Morning, how are you doing?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Great, thank you.
NEW SPEAKER: I had a question. I have some perennials in my front bed and they're real leggy. Is it too early to cut them back?
STERMAN: What part of the county are you in?
NEW SPEAKER: Poway. And I have some penstemons and Texas rangers, some dusty Millers.
STERMAN: Well, the penstemons you can go ahead and cut right now. [CHECK AUDIO] the Texas rangers are a little woody. I don't know that I would cut those back far far. Do you usually cut them back?
NEW SPEAKER: You know what? Right now, they're actually -- they're looking very leggy.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What does that mean, looking leggy.
STERMAN: Go ahead and describe what you're think being issue that's a good question.
NEW SPEAKER: Well, as far as being leggy, they're just kind of tall and not real full. They don't have a nice, you know, full shape of they're just kind of tall and, you know, spindly looking.
STERMAN: Okay, so let me ask you this. How much sun do they get?
NEW SPEAKER: Probably -- I don't know, a little over half a day. They're toward the front facing -- they get the morning sun until, maybe, around, you know, 1 o'clock or something.
STERMAN: I just wonder if, when it comes to the Texas rangers, you might have them in the wrong spot.
NEW SPEAKER: Okay.
STERMAN: Because they really like full, hot sun.
NEW SPEAKER: Okay.
STERMAN: And you might want to move them. And this would be a good time to move them. But I think I would move them because you don't generally cut them back. The dusty Miller, you can cut back. And if -- do you get below freezing ever?
NEW SPEAKER: We do, especially this winter, I've noticed some frost in the morning on the grass.
STERMAN: Yeah, that's not that big a deal. Maybe wait a month to cut back the dusty Miller. I think you can cut the pen stamin back now. And I think I'd move the Texas ranger to [CHECK AUDIO].
NEW SPEAKER: Okay am all right. And what about Marguerite daisies?
STERMAN: Oh, just -- just cut them back and they'll just come back and look at you and smile.
NEW SPEAKER: Okay. Perfect. Thank you so much. All right. Bye-bye.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Gen's calling from Del Cerro, good morning, January, welcome it These Days. Gen are you there?
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I'm here.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Hi what's your question?
NEW SPEAKER: I'm sorry, I'm calling because of my vegetable garden. I have always had a beautiful garden every, every year. And every step all the way through. The problem with it is that the rain has taken over and the weeds are growing. Weeds as tall as up to your knees. I wasn't able to go out and pull anything or work in the garden because I had a hip removal. That floored me. The care givers that I have that help me don't touch the garden. And so I've got a man that came around ringing door bells and he said he would clear my weeds and all that in the back and everything. But I don't want him to come in and cut them out. I want him to pull them out.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, what can Gen do with all these weeds.
STERMAN: Well, Gen, know, you're right. He should pull them out. Then after he pulls them out, I would ask him to get some straw from -- where are you Gen?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Del Cerro.
STERMAN: Del Cerro and go to La Mesa or Lemon Grove, one of those neighborhoods that have feed stores, and buy a couple of bails of old straw, not new straw. Old straw, the stuff they don't really want to use for the horses anymore. Then I would spread that thickly between your rows and around your plants, so you don't get -- that'll help keep the weeds from coming up again.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's fascinating.
STERMAN: It won't eliminate it, but it'll definitely keep the weeds down. It's mulch. But you mulch --
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Interesting. So what kind of plants should go into the garden now if you're actually gonna be planting.
STERMAN: Well, this if you want to grow vegetables, this is still a fine time of year to grow the root crops. So it would be carrots and things like that that, beats, cabbage, call flower etc. This is a great time of year to go to the nursery, because this is the time of the year when all of our bare root perennial plants come in, so artichokes, strawberries, rhubarb, potatoes are gonna be coming now, and onions. And all the bare root fruit trees. They look like sticks. They look like sticks. You go, that's gonna grow? It's just roots hanging off, you know 'cause what they do, they just harvest them, they wash the dirt off the roots, they bundle them up, and they wrap them so that the roots don't dry out, which is critical. And they ship them just like that. It's the least expensive way to ship those plants. And so this is the best time of year because this is when the nurseries have the biggest selections so you can plant new peaches and nectarines and apricots and pluots. I had an articles in the Union Tribune just a week and a half ago about pluots which are fantastic.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us again what they are.
STERMAN: Pluots are a cross between an apricot and a plum. And you seem them in the market. They're, you know, like, $2.50 a pound. So there Dapple Dandy, and there's Flavor Grenade. There's all these cool names.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sounds fabulous.
STERMAN: And they look like an odd plum. And flavor grenade, I mean, what does that tell you, right? You bite into it and all your salivary glands just fire. In fact, mine were doing it just knowing about it. So they're fantastic fruits. And no different to grow than any of those others. So the peaches, the nectarines, the plums, apricots, apples, pairs, convince doesn't do so well here. But grapes, just thinking what else. Figs. All of those are in the nursery now, bare root, and you have your biggest selection. And oh, blue berries too. Best time to buy them.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call of Erin is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Erin, welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you, I have a question regarding my wisteria plant. I've done a lot of reading of when to prune it, yet it always seems to go about 2 or 3 of the new growth months behind. And now it's pretty much covered the Persian Gulf lathat we have and I'd like to just cut it way back, but I also know that with the temperature the way it is, I don't know that that's the best thing to do. And I just wanted to kind of get some advice.
STERMAN: If you're going to cut it way back, this is the time to do it. Okay? When it's dormant, it's all dormant right now, there's no leaves and no flowers on it correct?
NEW SPEAKER: Correct.
STERMAN: This is the time to do anything drastic to it. And pat welsh has a wonderful story about growing a wisteria that was the wrong color. And she got really frustrated and cut it back to the ground, and I think she even had somebody dig it out, and it came back the right color. So it's, like, those things are so tough.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's spooky.
STERMAN: There's actually probably a reason for it. But she doesn't go into that of she just reefs it as a fun story. You about you could really whack those things and they're pretty -- if it's established like it sounds like it is, they're pretty darn resilient to being cut.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you, thanks erin for the call am Marty is on the line from San Diego. Good morning, Marty, welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Hello.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Hi.
NEW SPEAKER: Can you hear me okay in.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Perfectly.
NEW SPEAKER: Okay. I have two olive trees, one in the front yard, and one in the backyard. And we want to plant -- We want to grow grass underneath them. And we've been told by a couple of people that grass won't grow underneath olive trees because of some chemical they put out or something. And I was wondering if you could tell me if that's true or not.
STERMAN: Okay. I'm gonna tell you something a little different. I don't know about the chemical. It's a potential. What he's talking, some plants put out a chemical from their roots that kills any plants that try to grow around them. It's a way of keeping competitors away. It's called allelopathy. I have never heard specifically that olives are allopathic, and I've seen them in garden with other things growing around them, so I would would doubt that. But it's possible. But I wouldn't plant grass under an olive tree for a number of reasons of your olive tree is very, very drought tolerant. Your grass is going to need a lot of water. And you water them completely differently. I would keep them separate. They don't go together. You know? They're not a match. Put the grass where you have an area that you're gonna water heavily, and only put in as much grass as you're gonna use. Don't over do the grass. And keep the olive trees in an area that you keep drier, and don't over water them because you'll risk killing your olive trees too.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We just talked a little about pruning wisteria, what about pruning trees this time of year? Does the same thing hold?
STERMAN: Yep. Interesting that's deciduous, that loses its leaves, and so it's bare this time of year. So if you're going to prune it, basically, this is the time to do it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. Joe's on the line from Oceanside. Good morning, Joe, welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank enforce taking my call. My question regards California oak trees. I've dug out are four of them from my friend's place in Santa Barbara, which has got a similar climate, I think, to mine. And I'm trying to transplant them. I did a good job. They're only about a foot tall. And they're turning brown on me here within about 3 or 4 weeks and I'm wondering what I can do to save them.
STERMAN: The leaves are turning brown?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are the leaves turning brown Joe in.
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, they're turning brown now. The leaves are. Youa awe.
STERMAN: Well, you probably have coast live oaks which are a wonderful native plant. There's a lot of different native California oaks. So you gotta know [CHECK AUDIO] or one that will grow here. But you probably are not digging them deep enough, all right? They have to be -- their roots go down pretty deep pretty quick. So you may not be digging up the whole thing. Or you may be disturbing the roots in the transplant process that they're not making it. Are you potting them up when you get them, Joe? IS that what you said? Are you putting them into a container and putting potting soil in?
NEW SPEAKER: I haven't put any potting soil in yet. I've just taken the original soil. But I did expose the roots in the process cause I got real small ones. In the past I've tried to dig out oak trees that are 2 or 3 feet tall, and like you say, their roots are just too hard to get to and they die right away. These are just little seedlings, like I said, maybe a foot tall. And I did expose the roots in the process of digging them out, but they're still in the original soil.
STERMAN: So you dug them out, their roots were exposed, then you put soil in the pot and buried the roots?
NEW SPEAKER: Yes.
STERMAN: You may have disturbed them too much. You might want to try it again, and this time cut the best you can, cut around the perimeter, about, oh, a diameter, maybe six inches, 8 inches in diameter, and try to keep the soil in tact around the root, and go down about the same depth, at least. And just try to keep that root ball in tact without, you know, bare rooting it and then repotting it. And see if that will help. That probably would make a difference. But the fact that you're bringing the original soil is a good thing because there's all kinds of beneficial microbes in that soil that's gonna help those trees adapt to a new spot.
NEW SPEAKER: Uh-huh. Okay.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Joe, thanks for the call. Let's 19ing in a last call from Bonnie in Ramona. Good morning, welcome it These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, I also live in an area where we have coast live oaks, oak wood land and chaparral, and I've planted quite a few natives right around my house and landscaped area. And I have -- my sister-in-law is going to be getting married at our place in May. And I'd like to plant some perennials and possibly annuals right about now so that they would -- something that will be nicely blooming in the middle of May. And she's wanting the colors of red, orange, and magenta.
STERMAN: Oh, my God. You know what? Don't ask me that in two seconds. There are -- that's gonna be a challenge. Off the top, okay, if you plant your California poppy seeds now, it may, depending on how the weather is, they may still be blooming or may may look like crud. So you jest you don't know. Magenta? Ooh. Let's see, Clarkias are wild flowers, some of them still bloom magenta. I don't know that they'd still be blooming in May. They could. There is a variety of monkey flower, called ruby silver. I always have to stop and think if it's ruby slipper or ruby silver. That's a beautiful magenta flower. You could plant that. What was it? Red?
NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, and she's knowing of -- I want them for the beauty of the area but also she -- I'm gonna be doing the flowers for her wedding. I'm probably be buying some, but I'd like to grow as much as I can to actually have for cut flowers as well.
STERMAN: Oh, man. This is -- this is a wonderful wish list. I don't think you're gonna be able to do it. For one thing, very few of the native plants that flower are good for cuts. So this is -- you know what? Send me an e-mail. Let me think about this one. It's a tall order.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And that's Nsterman@growingpassion?
STERMAN: No, no. That's a different one. E-mail me at info at plant soup.com.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Info@plant soup.com. We have to end it, Nan.
STERMAN: No, no!
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's over. I want to thank you so much for speaking with us and giving us such good advice.
STERMAN: I have so much fun doing this. Thank you so much for asking me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's Nan Sterman, and if you would like to comment, please go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days. You've been listening to These Days on KPBS.