Taste fruit The best way to figure out which fruit trees to grow is by sampling a range of varieties. This month, visit Andy's Orchard in Morgan Hill to try more than 60 types of ripe nectarines, peaches, plums, and pluots fresh from the trees. Tastings include instruction on fruit flavors and textures, and a guided walk through the orchards (10 a.m. Aug 1, 2009 and 9; $15; reservations recommended; 1615 Half Rd.; 408/782-7600).
Late-summer to fall color Choice perennials for late-season color in Northern California's lower elevations include aster, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, daylily, gaillardia, gaura, Japanese anemone, lavatera, Nemesia fruticans, rudbeckia, Russian sage, sage (such as Salvia guaranitica), summer phlox, and verbena.
Shade trees For cooling your house, plant a tree on the structure's southwest side, where it will provide the most-needed shade. Use
a deciduous tree for summer shade and winter sun. Sunset climate zones 7-9, 14-17: Try Chinese hackberry, Chinese pistache, flowering pear, Japanese pagoda tree, 'Raywood' ash, and red oak. Zones 1, 2: Good choices include American hornbeam, Eastern redbud, honey locust, Japanese pagoda tree, little-leaf linden, and 'Marshall' seedless green ash.
Grow bearded irises For a striking display in spring, Lesley Painter of Napa Country Iris Garden (707/255-7880) ― which offers more than 400 varieties ― suggests ruffled pink 'Happenstance', white-and-lavender 'Painted Lady Lavender', purple-black 'Spades', and red-brown 'Valentino'. Order them by August 15.
Plant saffron This pricey spice comes from easy-to-grow saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). Plant corms late this month or next, then harvest the saffron about five weeks later by plucking the three orangey red stigmas from each lilac-purple flower. If you can't find corms locally, order from White Flower Farm (800/503-9624), which begins shipping them in early September.
Start root vegetables Sow seeds for fall and winter harvest. Jared Clark, farm manager of Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture & Education Project in Sacramento (916/363-9685), recommends 'Chioggia', 'Golden', and 'Red Ace' beets; 'Scarlet Nantes' and 'Sugarsnax 54' carrots; and 'Purple Top' turnips. The first week of August, he starts fast-maturing potatoes such as 'French Fingerling' or 'Russian Banana' for a crop by Christmas.
Care for flowers To keep warm-season annuals blooming through the end of summer and into fall, water and fertilize them regularly with fish emulsion or other fertilizer. Remove spent flowers before they go to seed.
Cut back hydrangeas Zones 7-9, 14-17: Most hydrangeas produce flowers on the previous year's growth (a couple of exceptions are 'All Summer Beauty' and Endless Summer, which bloom on new growth). To shape and control the plants' size, and to avoid cutting off next year's flower buds, prune them back right after blooms fade. Cut stems that have bloomed back to 12 inches. To produce fewer, larger flowers next spring, cut back some of the stems to the base of the plant.
Prepare beds Before fall planting, amend soil with compost and soil conditioner. Worm castings, though expensive, are worth the price. Choose pure castings or a mix of castings and compost. Now is also a good time to start a worm bin, which will provide castings for spring soil amending. Find supplies at Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply (888/784-1722), or Sonoma Valley Worm Farm (800/447-6996).
Prune cane berries Cut to the ground the canes of single-crop blackberries and raspberries that have finished fruiting. Then thin out the new growth, keeping the strongest canes ― 5 to 8 per blackberry plant, 8 to 12 per raspberry plant ― and removing the others. Prune ever-bearing varieties after the fall harvest.
Water citrus Potted trees must be watered at least once a week, especially in summer heat, but mature citrus in the ground can go longer between waterings. Check soil moisture at the root level ― 18 or more inches down ― with a moisture meter, and keep soil on the dry side of moist (the soil surface doesn’t need to be damp). Water deeply and slowly when necessary.
Next: Grow colorful carrots