September-October in the Garden - Inland Southern California
Written by Roy Wilburn
I know it’s just the start of fall, but we are still battling the high temperatures. It has been a very warm summer and just had another attack of 100 degree weather. Things should start to cool down a bit. Consequently, we had a huge flush of tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers in August and September. The quality of the tomatoes had been outstanding through the first part of August. Towards the end of August and through September we started having issues with cracked and sunburned fruit due to the searing temperatures. Luckily though, they are still tasty in marinara and our kitchen crew worked overtime to stockpile the soups and sauces.
September is the perfect time to start transplanting your cole crops. Check out last year’s blogs for the fall and you will see that broccoli and cauliflower are big items here at Sunshine Care, A Community of Assisted Living Homes in Poway, California. With this in mind, I thought I would test the planting schedule by transplanting broccoli on August 22nd. They are doing well and should have something to harvest by the end of October. I wasn’t consistent through September with my planting schedule due to those nasty stretches of 95-100 degree heat. But now, a week into fall, we are yanking out old cucumber, bell pepper and tomato rows and planting cool season crops like crazy.
Enough of the discussion on garden food for now, because I want to touch on an equally important side of what makes us unique in the assisted -living community world. A vase full of flowers is as important to our residents as a delicious home grown organic salad. Eyes light up when handed a bouquet of beautiful roses from our Memorial Garden. This year we added another player to our cut flower program, SUNFLOWERS! That are a big hit and easier to grow than roses. They also last longer in a vase. All our sunflowers are sown and placed in the greenhouse by our residents. They do this along side of the children in our garden club that meets the first and third Thursday of every month in our “Seed to Table” program. This is a great volunteer activity for the kids to do with their “Grandmas and Grandpas’ and seeding once a month from February to October, insures a consistent supply of beautiful sunflowers for all the houses.
The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an annual plant native to the Americas. What is usually called the “flower” on a mature sunflower is actually a “flower head” (also known as a “composite flower”) of numerous florets crowded together. The outer petal-bearing florets are the sterile florets and can be yellow, orange, red or other colors. The florets inside the circular head are called disc florets, which mature into seeds.
The flower petals within the sunflower’s cluster are usually in a spiral pattern. Generally, each floret is oriented toward the next by approximately the “golden angle “of 137.5 degrees. This produces a pattern of interconnecting spirals, where the number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers. Typically there are 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other. On a very large sunflower like the Russian Mammoth, there could be 89 one way and 144 in the other. This
pattern produces the most efficient packing of seeds within the flower head. Gotta love the beauty of math in nature, huh?
There is a common misconception that sunflowers track the sun across the sky. This is an old wives tale. The heads are actually pointing in a fixed direction (East) all day long. Keep this in mind when selecting a site for your sunflower garden.
Germination of sunflower seed takes from 7-14 days at 70-75 degrees F. They love full and light well-drained soil. You can plant them from 9-24”. Tighter spacings will give you flowers of smaller size. Harvest your flowers just as they begin to open. There are many branching, commercial single stem and dwarf types. They also come in hundreds of colors and combination of colors. So pull out your Johnny’s Selected Seed catalog and order your seed for next season and plant right after the threat of frost has passed.
Here are some of the favorite varieties we have tried at Sunshine Care this past year. We will continue to try different ones next year to mix up the color combinations. All of these were big hits this year.
STRAWBERRY BLONDE- The ruby-red flowers of this variety, hold their petals very well. The petals have lemony tips and dark centers. This is a branching variety as opposed to a single stem variety. The side stems are long and great for cutting. It is pollenless, grows 5’-6’ tall and blooms in about 55 days. Packs of 50 seeds are $3.45.
RING OF FIRE- For all you Johnny Cash fans, this variety has a unique bicolor flower pattern, set on fire with autumn colors. It is a branching variety and an AAS winner with 5”-6”blooms that pop in about 70 days. Plants will grow to 40”-50”. A pack of 25 seeds goes for $3.45.
FIRECRACKER- This dwarf, branching variety is loaded with red and gold flowers. It also works well in containers, producing a mass of bright bicolored flowers. Plants will grow 2’-3’ tall and bloom in about 55 days. Packs of 50 seeds go for $3.95.
MOULIN ROUGE- This variety is a big hit with exquisite, deep burgundy petals surrounding an ebony center. It is pollenless, branching and blooms between 65 and 80 days. The side branches can get to be 30” long and the plant will grow to 60”-80”. Mix this variety in with other contrasting colors for super eye appeal. A pack of 50 seeds runs $3.45.
JOHNNY’S PRO CUT SERIES- These are tall with strong single stems. Flowers are pollenless and bloom in 50-60 days. Plants will grow 5’-6’ tall and come in 9 different colors. Check them out for sure! A pack of 30 seeds costs $3.45.
On the subject of flowers, our garden lecture this month on Oct. 20th will be on orchids. We have Dr. Ho and some of the Palomar Orchid Society coming to Sunshine Care to discuss everything orchids. Our garden lectures are always on the 3rd Saturday of each month where we educate, have refreshments and door prizes, and then take trips through our gardens. We start at 10:30 am. Come by and visit us. For more info, check our website www.sunshinecare.com or give me a call or email me.
Roy Wilburn, Director of Horticulture at Sunshine Care. (858) 472-6059 and firstname.lastname@example.org.