Todd and Diane share:


1. Soil matters. With nasty clay soil in our yard, we planted a lot of our citrus in raised beds and in pots. Our garden soil is a compost mix from Larry’s Building Materials in Costa Mesa. To improve drainage, we add cactus mix.

2. Plants can get bored with the same food. We use various fertilizers, depending on when we’re buying. Often it’s Dr. Earth Fruit Tree Fertilizer but also bat guano, liquid fish fertilizer, and other stuff.

3. Leaf trimmings from a hedge have a second life. They serve as mulch for shallow-rooted citrus, which needs to be protected.

4. The assassin bugs are plant-protecting ninja. They hang out in our Algerian tangerine. When aphid infestations occur, the assassin bugs wipe them out.

5. Assemble a mostly organic arsenal. For sooty fungus, we use neem oil. And if leaf miners are really hammering new growth, a little Monterey Garden Insect Spray.

6. Exotic fruit calls for exotic wisdom. We turned to an old Japanese gardener when our yuzus didn’t flower. He told us to stress the plant by tying garden string around several of the branches to choke them. A tree often flowers as a preservation mechanism. Breaking off the ends of the branches by hand—instead of pruning them—has the same effect.

7. It cheers up the neighbors. In the winter especially, citrus works its magic.

8. Sharing is easy. A little juice goes a long way in cooking. And so do the 600 pounds grown in our yard every year.


Photo by Todd Porter and Diane Cu; written by Sharon Cohoon

What to do in your garden in May

Sharon Cohoon


This is the optimum time to plant bananas, cherimoyas, and other subtropical fruit in Sunset climate zones 21–24; avocados in zones 19 and 21–24; and citrus in zones 13–24. Try mandarinquats, a cross between kumquats and mandarin oranges, which have an edible rind like the former but a sweeter taste like the latter.

Leymus condensatus 'Canyon Prince', a native grass with silvery blue leaves, is a gorgeous but aggressive landscaping plant. To keep it in bounds, plant it in its nursery container. Cut away the bottom and the lower third of the sides. Position so that several inches of the container protrude aboveground; growing foliage will soon hide the pot. This technique also works with other rhizomatous grasses like Japanese blood grass (Imperata).

Shop for summer and fall bloomers like asters, coreopsis, reblooming daylilies, gaillardia, gaura, gloriosa daisy, heliotrope, lion's tail, penstemon, pentas, phygelius, purple coneflower, salvia, and stokes aster.

Set out cucumber, eggplant, melon, pepper, and tomato plants. Sow lima and snap beans, corn, cucumber, melon, and summer and winter squash. In the low desert, plant Jerusalem artichoke, okra, peppers, and sweet potatoes.

Nicotiana is sun-loving, easygoing, long-blooming, and it attracts hummingbirds. The salmon and lime hybrids are our favorites ― combine them with a dark blue flower, such as lobelia, to make them pop. You may have to search a little harder to find them instead of the more common pink, red, and white shades.

Summer-blooming vines, grown up a narrow structure, add color and height to even the smallest gardens. Choose a showy subtropical perennial, like the Mandevilla shown here; or morning glory, climbing snapdragon (Asarina), or another annual vine. Before planting, set in place a sturdy structure with enough height and heft to support your vine (adding a structure later is difficult). As shoots grow, train them to the support with self-gripping Velcro, plant tape, or twist ties.


Use tomato trusses, plastic supports that you slip over fruit-laden tomato stems to keep them from bending or breaking as the fruit ripens and grows heavy. It’s just what’s needed for ‘Mortgage Lifter’, ‘Oxheart’, and other beefy varieties. Available from the Natural Gardening Company.

If hibiscus, princess flower, and other subtropicals have become leggy and awkward, cut back by as much as half to reshape.

When foliage on garlic, bulb onions, and shallots begins to dry out on its own, that’s your cue to stop watering. The lack of water prompts bulbs to form the dry outer layers that allow them to be stored.


Examine your tomato foliage regularly for hornworms. The big green worms will be easier to spot if you sprinkle foliage lightly with water first; the motion of shaking off the water makes them more visible.

As the weather heats up, so do pest problems. To help identify what’s bugging your plants and find a solution, use the resource Master Gardeners rely on: the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program’s site.

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