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Soil That Clings, Citrus With Zing

January 26th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune

Dear Garden Gal,
I started my winter vegetable garden from seed in November.  I planted dense rows of lettuces so I could thin and eat as they grow.  The baby lettuces are perfect for picking.  My problem is this:  When I pull them up giant clumps of dirt comes attached to the roots.  I hate taking all that dirt into the house to rinse down the sink.  Any tips on soil-free harvesting?

Signed,
Dirty on Del Mar

Dear Dirty,
To minimize those great roots doing their job when it’s time for you to your harvest try a few simple techniques.  Pick when the soil’s dry, either before morning watering or in the evening, well after watering.  You might want to loosen the dry soil around your designated picks with a knife or blade, cutting away some of the root hairs before lifting the plant, and shaking or tapping off excess soil. Or take a scissor with you at cutting time and shear off the baby lettuces, leaving the roots in the ground.  When removing all the foliage the remaining roots will die and decompose, adding organic matter to enhance your soil’s structure.  100_5401
If you’re using the lettuces immediately, take a pan of water to the garden with you to rinse the soil away from the roots.  When you’re done, water garden plants with the muddy stew.  And wrap your booty in a kitchen towel to absorb moisture on your way back to the kitchen.  Put your lettuces in a towel, too, so they’ll be crisp and dry for the salad bowl.

Dear Garden Gal,
Can you settle an argument?  My husband says our lemon trees are resting in the winter and so should not be fertilized. I say because they’re full of fruit this is the perfect time to feed them.  Who’s right?
Sour in South Pasadena


Dear Sour,

You’re both right, sort of.  Plants do not need to be fertilized when they’re dormant and not actively growing.  However, sometimes we fertilize when it’s convenient, as with rose clean up this time of year.  Many of our Southern California plants won’t access nitrogen (leaf growth) and phosphorus (shoots & fruits growth) until the soil heats up a bit.  So the fertilizer becomes a place-holder which will be used when the plant is ready.
Many types of citrus are ever-bearing, however, and prefer a heavier fertilizing schedule than, say, apples, which bear one crop during the year.  Generally, in areas that get winter freezes we fertilize citrus from late winter through the end of summer.  In South Pasadena, especially during this mild winter, you’re fine to fertilize all year round.  An established lemon tree gets about 1 to 1.5 pounds a year of balanced fertilizer, divided over the course of a year in three applications.
A complete fertilizer of the three macronutrients (Nitrogen-Phosporus-Potassium) is crucial.  Nitrogen is the main component we need to supply so watch out for too much or too little.  Too much nitrogen will show as lush green leaves with burnt tips.  Too much can be evidenced by the presence of aphids.  In spring they’ll show up to eat the tender suckering shoots and leaves.  Too much nitrogen will promote robust leaf growth at the expense of fruit production.  Too little nitrogen and your plant’s leaves will be yellowed with green veins (chlorosis).  Too little phosphorus will show in fruits diminished in size and number.
Make sure you’re adequately watering your citrus, too, even during this lovely winter.   Avoid weekly surface watering as you would water a lawn.  A slow irrigation every four weeks over the winter will promote deeper roots.   These conserve water and promote a healthier plant structure.

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