Monthly Gardening Tips
The Gardening Tutor Buttons About Button Announcements Button Contact Us Button Links Button Who Needs The Gardening Tutor Button Services Button First Visit Button Before and After Button Testimonials Button About Button The Garden Shoppe Button Monthly Gardening Tips Button The Gardening Tutor Home Button

We are fortunate to have many different micro climates here in Sonoma County. The following are some helpful gardening tips and planting information. In order to be most helpful I keep the information general. Keep in mind that when suggesting plants and planting times they are basically for the Santa Rosa area.
- Mary

2011 Gardening Tips
December Bareroot season is just beginning
plus Gardening Tips for December
November Get rid of your lawn with the least amount of effort
plus Gardening Tips for November
October Planning your Garden
plus Gardening Tips for October
September Things to Consider When you Want to Plant a Tree
plus Gardening Tips for September
August Watch for Wasps...
plus Gardening Tips for August
July It’s not too Late to Plant Sunflowers
plus Gardening Tips for July
June Irrigation
Do it Yourself or Hire Out: Things to Remember
plus Gardening Tips for June
May Know Your Foe
April Have you Checked your Fencing?
plus What to Plant
March Weeding Takes Top Priority this Month
plus What to Plant
February Buy Gladiolus and Other Summer Flowereing Bulbs Now
plus What to Plant
January What is Bare-Root Season
plus Gardening
Tips for January
2010 Gardening Tips
December Shop Now for Hardy Winter Bloomers
November Sweet Peas!
October Avoid ‘Broad Spectrum’ Pesticides Whenever Possible
September The Balance of ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’ in the Garden
plus Gardening Tips for September
August What’s in a Name?
plus Gardening Tips for August
May Prune Spring Flowering Shrubs after Flowers Fade
April Time to Flush your Drip Irrigation System
plus What to Plant
March Bees and Yellow Jackets
Things to Do in the Garden and What to Plant
February Camellia Petal Blight
plus What to Plant
January Some Local Nurseries Have Gone Out of Business
plus What to Plant
2009 Gardening Tips
December I Have a Black Thumb; I Kill Everything
plus Things to Do in the Garden
November Lonely Tools
plus Things to Do in the Garden
October To Fertilize or Not to Fertilize
September “Help! My Container Plants Look Terrible”
plus What to Plant in September
August Be Careful Out There
plus Things to Do in the Garden
July Annuals and the Best Use of Your Money
June Keeping Plants Alive Until You Plant Them
plus What to Plant in June
May Weeds
plus What to Plant in May
April Irrigation Systems
plus What to Plant in April
March Mulch
plus What to Plant in March
February Pruning Roses
plus What to Plant in February

January Tools

The Gardening Tutor
Hands-on, Individualized Gardening Instruction
And Consulting
in Sonoma County
Santa Rosa, California

Hands-On Individualized Gardening Instruction and Consulting in Sonoma County

2011 Gardening Tips



Facebook has really turned into a great forum for The Gardening Tutor to share tips; it’s especially great because Mary can share photos with the tips! If you are reluctant to try Facebook reconsider giving it a try (you might just like it) and remember you can always stop using Facebook at any time.

  • Bareroot season is just beginning; berries and Rhubarb are in and fruit trees are just around the corner. If you haven’t cultivated the area where you will be planting your fruit trees consider doing it now before the soil is saturated by the rains.
  • Spring flowering bulbs can still be planted this month as long as the soil is workable.
  • Remember that Daphne that you wanted to buy last year but didn’t get to the nursery in time before they all sold out? December is a good month to shop for shrubs like Daphne and the sweet fragrance of the blooms will be welcome in early spring. Daphne enjoys great drainage so make sure to amend your clay soil with some aged compost; sandy soil will benefit from an addition of compost too.
  • It’s time again to prune Wisteria to 2 or 3 buds from the framework branches. You can usually tell if the buds are flower buds (fat) or vegetative buds (thin and flush to the stem). Wisteria vines get immensely heavy over time so pruning out some of the weight and keeping your vine as controlled as you can will be help eliminate future problems. Contact Mary when you are ready for some pruning tutoring.
  • If your soil is still workable (not completely soggy from rain) then you can still plant any of the frost hardy trees, shrubs and perennials that you’ve been meaning to add to your garden.
  • Bermuda grass may look dead this month but it’s just dormant waiting to return next spring with vigor. Dig out as much as you can now to save yourself extra work in spring.
  • Protect Cymbidiums from snails and slugs. Also, protect any newly planted or newly emerging plants from snails, slugs, earwigs and sowbugs.
  • If you have dormant fruit trees or roses you may want to spray with dormant horticultural oil this month to kill overwintering insects and fungal spores. Be sure to read the directions because some sprays need to be applied when the outdoor temperature is above a certain degree. Also, wear protection for your eyes and long sleeves etc. even if the product is considered ‘organic’. Check with your locally owned nursery for the right dormant spray to use for your plants. Mary mostly uses Neem oil for her roses but not everyone has good luck with Neem.
  • Continue to cut off the spent flowers (with the stem) of Pansy, Iceland Poppies and other winter annuals to encourage more flowers.

Planting Suggestions for December:           

  • Perennials-Cyclamen and Primroses
  • Annuals-Breadseed Poppies, Iceland Poppies, Pansies, Nigella damascene (seeds)
  • Trees and Shrubs-Bundle up and go out to see what locally owned nurseries have to offer



The Gardening Tutor Facebook page is getting rave reviews. Check out our page.

  • Want to get rid of your lawn with the least amount of effort? This is the perfect time of year to do sheet mulching to smother the grass instead of renting a sod remover or digging it out. Sheet mulching uses cardboard to help smother the grass and mulch and winter rains to help condition the soil so that you can plant your new garden design in spring. Call Mary for more information at 707-545-6863.
  • If you like fruit trees and there is a special variety you are looking for, order your bareroot fruit trees now from your local nursery. Bareroot plants start arriving in local nurseries in January. If you know where you will be planting your bareroot plants you can prepare the soil now while the soil is moist but not soggy. You can add compost amendment and/or weed and turn over the soil in that area.
  • Plant sweet pea seeds starting this month for oodles of blooms in spring!! Sweet peas like rich, well draining soil and a sturdy trellis with thin wires to climb on. You’ll need to protect from snails, slugs, earwigs and sowbugs. Sweet peas are a ‘cool season annual’ so they love the cold weather!
  • Cut back to basal growth (new foliage at the base of plant) plants such as, Oregano, Aster, Lobelia cardinalis and Monarda. When you are ready to learn more about how to care for your plants contact Mary for a consultation.
  • Leave fuchsias unpruned to allow them to go dormant.
  • Continue to plant cool season annuals. Remember to protect the plants from snails, slugs, sowbugs and earwigs. Since it’s getting later in the planting season, consider planting 4- inch plants instead of six-packs. The 4-inch plants will have a larger rootball to help them become established in your garden.
  • Wildflower seeds can be sown once the rains arrive in earnest. You will have better success if you first weed the area and keep it weeded once the wildflower seeds start to germinate.
  • Make gardening more fun and easy by preparing your planting area before you purchase your plants. You’ll be able to come right home and plant all your babies instead of risking losing them because you run short of time.
  • Resist the urge to go out and prune every plant in your garden. Lilacs, Rhododendrons, Forsythias, Camellias, Ribes and many other winter/spring bloomers are pruned just after their flowers fade.
  • Snails and other plant eaters love to hide out under fallen leaves; continue to clean up fallen leaves from around vulnerable and newly planted plants and bulbs. You can allow fallen leaves to biodegrade around plants that are not susceptible to damage by these pests.
  • Your blueberry plants will appreciate a nice layer of acidic mulch such as the leaf drop from redwood trees (move aside the larger leaves and collect the more decomposed humus underneath). Keep mulch about 6 inches from the trunk of the blueberry shrub.

To read more tips for October see the archives.

Planting Suggestions for November

  • Bulbs: Ranunculus, Hyacinths, Freesia, Daffodil, Dicentra spectabilis and all other spring flowering bulbs, tubers and corms
  • Annuals: Calendula, Pansy, Iceland Poppies, Primroses, Breadseed poppies
  • Shrubs and Trees: Cotoneaster, Pyracantha, Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’



In many ways, gardening is like shopping for clothes. For instance, do you ever want to buy a new swimsuit in September (when it’s really hot here in Sonoma County) but realize that swimsuits were in the stores beginning way back in the cold of April? By the time you think of getting the suit, if you can find a store that has suits, the choices are dismal. Stores stock most of their clothes for the next season not for the current season. This is why, when you’re cold in February it’s hard to find a turtleneck sweater because the stores are stocking spring dresses!

The same thing can happen with gardening in Sonoma County; when it’s hot in September it’s time to prepare for the winter vegetable garden and replace summer flowering annuals, like cosmos and zinnias, with winter flowering annuals, like pansies and Iceland poppies. The winter annuals can get a good head start on growing their roots while the soil still holds the warmth from summer weather.

Trees, shrubs and natives can go in at this time of year too so that the winter rains can help the roots grow in the nice moist soil! All that’s needed is to keep the new plantings watered until the rains arrive in earnest and then, for months, there’s no need to think about watering unless there is a dry spell. By November, it’s time to think about what fruits and roses to buy at the beginning of bareroot season in January before the selection dwindles down to nothing. Unlike the end of season sales at clothing stores, bareroot season is like a ‘reverse sale’ buying bareroot saves money; one would pay several times more later in the season for the same plant that is potted up and sold in a container.

Bulbs are another project that helps if you plan ahead. Bulbs that will be planted in fall can and (for best selection) should be ordered early in the summer months; most mail order companies will then ship at the right time of year for the bulbs to be planted. The same holds true for other bulbs; spring planted, summer blooming bulbs are ordered in fall. Paying attention to what bulbs are coming in at the local nurseries will pay off with the best selection; purchase the bulbs early and keep them dry and cool for planting out when the time is right.

Another way that gardening is like clothes shopping is when it comes to design. Whether one is putting together an outfit or a garden the principles of good design are the same. Would you ever wear all your jewelry at one time? Then why put out every single garden art piece you own in one area of your garden? Like a special necklace on a solid colored background, a single focal point plant backed by a mass planting of a single, low growing species can be very calming for a meditative garden. On the flip side, wearing a bright colored dress of oranges and yellows with solid taupe shoes and belt would be like having the almost confetti like colors of flowers in the English style garden grounded by some large pots of a solid color placed where the eye can rest. Of course, you can just have fun in your garden design like the newest fad in clothing and then switch out the design the next planting season if you want something more classic.

2011 Tips

We are getting great feedback from our Facebook page! Now, Mary is able to show photos and share ideas and techniques with you in real time. ‘Like’ our page and let us know what you think by commenting on the page.

If you missed the article about The Gardening Tutor in the San Francisco Chronicle you can view the article here.

  • Do you feel like getting out in your garden this month and pruning everything? Many plants need to be left alone at this time of year and not be asked to produce lots of new growth from fresh pruning cuts. Your energy would be better used by pulling weeds and mulching your garden. When you would like help learning which plants to prune and which plants to leave alone contact Mary for a consultation.
  • Buy wildflower seeds now! For best selection shop now and save the seeds to plant out once the rains have moistened the soil.
  • If you would like to add some autumn interest to your garden, shop now for trees and shrubs while they are showing their rich reds, oranges and yellows.
  • Containers can now be planted with lots of winter interest plants. There’s no reason to look outside this winter and see only dried up or dormant plants when pansies, Iceland poppies, cyclamen and primroses can be looking back at you instead.
  • Some perennial weeds like Bermuda grass are going dormant now but once the rains come winter annual weeds will start popping up! If you plan to plant wildflower seeds spend some time weeding the planting area first. For best results, weed the area, water to germinate more of the weed seeds, weed again and then plant your wildflower seeds. Better yet, weed now and then wait for the rains to germinate the annual weed seeds and then weed again before planting. At the Demo Garden Mary sows wildflower seeds in November.
  • Many local nurseries are having their fall sales. You can find some great plants for up to 40% off the regular price. If you have hard, dry soil in your garden make it easy on you, the soil and your new tree or shrub by keeping the plant in the container until the rains have moistened the soil enough to be easily workable. Remember to keep the container plant watered. If you would like to learn more about how, when and what to plant contact Mary.
  • It’s not you. If your Mandevilla vine, Lantana, Bougainvillea, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ (purple fountain grass) do not survive our Sonoma County winter; these are all frost tender plants. In general Sonoma County gardens can experience frost days from Halloween (October 30) to tax day (April 15). In the Demo Garden we have frost into the beginning of May each year.
  • For more October tips view the archives.

Planting Suggestions for October

  • Bulbs: Freesia, Anemone, Alliums, Ranunculus (and all spring flowering bulbs)
  • Container Plants: Asparagus ‘Meyeri’, Cyclamen, Pansies, Satureja douglassii (Yerba Buena-good for spilling over rim of container), flowering cabbage, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (Black Mondo Grass), Sedum ‘Angelina’
  • Ground Cover: Rubus rolfei, Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’, Sedum ‘Angelina’



To help yourself decide which tree to plant, ask yourself why you want a tree. Do you want fruit; summer foliage to shade the house; bare branches in winter to let in more sun; a focal point; to add some colorful blooms above your head; to attract birds and other wildlife; or to hide the neighbor’s house?

Be careful when choosing a tree because it’s your favorite and you simply ‘have to have it.’ Many gardens today are simply too small for the mature size of some trees, such as Sequoia sempervirens (Redwood), Ginkgo biloba (Ginkgo), Liquidambar (Sweet gum), or Magnolia grandiflora, as well as many others.

When the description of a tree says, ‘fast growing’ or something similar, be aware that fast growing trees may fill in quickly but they also tend to have weak branches that can snap in the wind. This does not necessarily mean ‘never’ plant a fast growing tree, it means that formative pruning while the tree is young and keeping the tree in good form when mature will be extra important.

Formative pruning is important for all trees, especially those trees that have narrow crotches (branching that grows more parallel to the trunk or other branches creating a tight angle where the branch begins). Branches with narrow crotches can grow together (known as ‘inclusion’) and lead to problems in the future. Included branches can tear apart and leave a shredded open wound on your tree.

In years past, when digging the planting hole, gardeners would dig the deepest hole they could in which to plant their tree. Today, horticulture science knows better and we disturb the soil only as deep as the soil level of the tree in the container. We also know today to disturb the soil two to three times as wide as the width of the rootball in the container so that the new roots have an easy time getting established. Also in the past, gardeners added copious amounts of amendment into the planting hole. Now, we know to only add a small amount of amendment (especially if the soil is really poor) or no amendment at all in the planting hole so that the new roots grow into the native soil instead of staying in a highly amended small area.

Many trees come from the nursery with a stake that is tied right up on the trunk. When you get your tree home and are ready to plant it, replace that nursery stake with a sturdy stake placed about 6 inches from the trunk. Use a tree tie and make certain to cross the tie between the tree and the stake (this allows the tree to move a bit in the wind which will strengthen the trunk).In high wind areas you may need three stakes and in no wind areas you may be able to plant your tree without any stake at all.

Remember to consider the mature size of the trunk and canopy of your tree when deciding the placement of your tree next to your house, other buildings or fences.

If you would like to learn more about planting your trees, shrubs and other plants or more about pruning contact Mary.

    2011 Tips

Do you want more photos and gardening tips? Sign up for the newsletter and receive Mary’s monthly newsletter with design idea photos, pest photos, and other information. We never share your email address with anyone for any reason! You can contact Mary directly and ask her to sign you up or sign yourself up on the website.

  • Spring flowering bulbs will be arriving in local nurseries this month; shop early for best selection. Remember to choose plump, unblemished bulbs for your garden. Alliums, Anemone, Crocus, Freesia, and Sparaxis are just a few of the choices you’ll have.
  • Fall is ‘plantapolooza’ time in our area! You can begin planting trees, shrubs, some perennials and all frost hardy plants (including winter annuals) now. Keep all new plants watered until the rains arrive, helping to establish the root systems over the winter.
  • Continue to weed out Bermuda grass and other invasive grasses before they go dormant for the winter and come back twice as bad next year.
  • If you did not amend your veggie garden soil with aged compost in August you can still add it now. If the compost is not aged (and you plan to add a lot) you’ll need to wait about 4 weeks before you plant (if you are only adding an inch of compost you do not have to wait to plant-thanks Wendy at You can tell if manure type compost is aged when it is no longer hot to the touch and it smells like earth and not ammonia.
  • Birds will appreciate the food source if you leave your sunflowers and Amaranth to go to seed.
  • Do you want winter color in your garden? Pansies and Iceland Poppies are real wintertime show stoppers. If you plant winter annuals in late September and October they will have time to spread their roots in what’s left of the warmth from the summer soil. Keep annuals deadheaded and your plants will be big and full of blossoms in spring when everyone else is just starting to buy their six-packs!
  • Once the winter rains come annual weeds will follow. Mulching with at least a three inch layer of compost or other mulch will help keep down weed seed germination. If you apply less than three inches however, you will not block the sunlight from the dormant weed seeds and the compost may simply fertilize the weeds.
  • You may find some great sales on all kinds of plants at your local nursery this month. Remember to make certain to hand water your new plants for at least a few weeks until the rains arrive in earnest. If you have a drip irrigation system, watering your new plants once or twice a week on drip may not be enough water to keep your new plant happy. Get your hands in the soil the day after you water and check to see how moist it is in the root zone.
  • If the soil depth in your raised beds is low, now is a good time to add a soil mix to build the soil level back up. You will need to buy a product that actually has ‘loam’ (actual soil) in it not simply compost. Remember that bagged ‘potting soil’ usually does not have soil in it. I know, it can be confusing, just remember to look for ‘loam’ on the label and you’ll be good to go. Call Mary if you need more clarification 707.545.6863

Planting Suggestions for September

  • Trees: Cercis (Redbud), Crataegus (Hawthorn), Arbutus unedo (Strawberry tree-good for wildlife garden- a bit messy, plant away from patio/seating areas)
  • Shrubs: Coleonema, Ceonothus, Phlomis fruticosa, Viburnums, Buddleja
  • Annuals: Flowering cabbage, Pansies, Calendula, and other winter bloomers           
  • Veggies: Artichoke (rootstock), Cauliflower (plants), Collards, Leeks, Carrots, Peas, Chives



  • Watch out for wasps while gardening. Although they are considered a beneficial insect because they eat other insects, those little buggers can sting right through some garden gloves! Wasp stingers have no barb like honey bee stingers so wasps can keep stinging. Use ice right away on the sting.
  • If you want more flowers, continue to pinch back the more leggy growth of fuchsias to keep bushy.
  • If you have kept up on weeding, August in Sonoma County is usually time to kick back and enjoy your flower garden and harvest your veggies; however, if you just can’t help yourself and you have to plant more flowers you may want to provide some shade for a couple days after planting while the young plants get going. You can take two empty nursery flats and make a tent over the top of the young plants.
  • Fertilize most modern roses with an all purpose fertilizer. Remember; when it’s hot, roses may need up to 10 gallons of water a week in order to thrive.
  • Continue to deadhead marigolds, cosmos and other flowering annual plants to keep them blooming.
  • Towards the middle of the month it’s already time to start preparing for planting your fall veggie garden plants.
  • If you live in Sonoma County (or for anyone interested in more veggie gardening information) visit Sonoma County’s iGROW and check out Wendy Krupnick and Sara McCamant’s blog! It’s always a good thing to have more than one source for gardening tips.
  • If your parsley plants have gone to seed and you have room to let the flowers remain they will attract beneficial insects to your veggie garden.
  • Most flowering plants in containers will appreciate fertilizer (at half strength) twice a month. Be sure the rootzone is moist before applying liquid fertilizer; water well the night before and fertilize in the morning. Remember, you are ‘mother nature’ for your container plants; they get nutrients from what you provide them.
  • It may be a little late now but take a walk around your garden to find plants, such as Dahlia, that may need staking. Next spring when you plant your Dahlia tubers you can place stakes when you plant so you do not push a stake through the tuber later in the season.
  • Do you still have standing water in your yard or garden? Mosquitoes breed wherever they find standing water. Mosquito bites can transmit diseases to horses, cats, dogs and people. Please take a minute to go dump anything in your yard that is holding water.
  • Trees and shrubs will appreciate a nice long soak this month. Turn the hose on a trickle and set a timer in the house to help you remember the water is running. Depending upon the size of the plant you may need to leave the hose on for a few hours.
  • Do you know that Mary has a personal shopper service? Mary can go with you to the nurseries or pick plants up for you. Schedule an appointment today.
  • If your Iris did not bloom as well this year as years past you may need to divide the tubers to encourage better flowering next year. August is a good month to do this garden task.

JULY 2011