For SoCal gardeners, a June gloom tipsheet

For SoCal gardeners, a June gloom tipsheet
Looking for tomatoes like these? Water wisely as cool overcast weather gives way to summer heat. (Sam Hamann/Tomatomania)

Will May gray become June gloom? It’s possible, and while June gloom is not great beach weather, it’s great gardening weather.

Some suggestions:

  • Continue planting seeds for tomatoes, eggplants, basil, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, watermelons and other summer edibles. Plants started from seed now will produce in late summer or early fall.

  • Vegetable seedlings planted now will start producing a month or six weeks sooner than vegetables planted from seed.

  • If we have June gloom, wait until the weather warms up before increasing irrigation for vegetables and other thirsty plants. When it’s time, don’t change the amount of time that the irrigation runs; instead, run each zone more often.

  • Mulch vegetables with a thick layer (2 or 3 inches) of straw. Be sure to use straw, not hay.

  • Check apple, peach, plum, nectarine, pluot and other fruit trees for pests or diseases.

  • Practice good garden hygiene to avoid attracting birds, squirrels, rats, etc. Harvest fruits and vegetables as they ripen, before they rot. Clean up fallen fruits too.

  • Fertilize fruit trees with organic fertilizer, following label directions.

  • Feed vegetable plants with an organic vegetable fertilizer. If you use granular fertilizer, pull the mulch away, apply the fertilizer to the soil, then replace the mulch. You can spray the foliage of peppers and other smooth-leaved edibles with liquid fertilizers, or add liquid fertilizer to your irrigation system to “fertigate” every time you water.

  • Don’t be surprised when lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and other leafy vegetables send up flower stalks and turn bitter. Flowering is naturally triggered by the warm weather. There is no way to stop it. And since most of the plants’ sugars go into making flowers — and consequently making seeds — the leaves are left to taste bitter.

  • Skeletonized tomato leaves and tiny balls of green are evidence of tomato hornworms in your garden. Turn over leaves as you search for their green, white and black striped caterpillars. Don’t be shy; pull the worms off leaves and drop them into a container of water with a layer of vegetable oil on top.

  • Use a bucket in your shower to collect cold water while you wait for warm water. You’ll be surprised at how quickly the buckets fill. Use that water for potted plants, thirstier tropical fruits and vegetables.

  • Mulch, mulch, mulch, but only if you have a drip irrigation system. If you have overhead irrigation, you’ll first have to saturate the mulch. Only then will the water reach the soil. It’s another reason to switch to in-line drip irrigation.

  • Keep potted plants watered and mulched with small gravel. That keeps the cats out, keeps the moisture in the soil, and it looks nice too.

  • Shrubs need little care this time of year. Clean out dead flowers and spent leaves. Keep them mulched and water deeply once every few weeks.

  • Water big trees deeply once a month through summer. Even drought-tolerant trees need a long drink.

  • As it gets warmer, you might be tempted to water Protea, California native plants and plants from other dry regions of the world. These plants are all adapted to dry summer conditions. They don’t need extra water and, in some cases, wet warm soils can actually shorten their lives.

  • Fertilize citrus and avocado trees with granular organic citrus and avocado food. Follow label directions.

  • Pinch flowers off cilantro to keep it producing new leaves. If you allow the stalks to set flowers, let them go all the way to seeds, and then drop onto the soil to replant themselves for next year. Or leave some of the seeds but collect the rest — the seeds are the spice we know as coriander.

  • Plant big seeds for Russian Mammoth sunflowers. These giants grow 6 or 8 feet tall with a single, enormous yellow flower in the center.

  • Potted plants need more attention now. Fertilize with an all-purpose organic fertilizer (liquid indoors, liquid or granular outdoors), following label directions. Potting soil dries out more quickly than dirt; monitor the soil so you know how often it needs to be watered. Water slowly to saturate the entire pot, soil and all.

  • Move sun-shy potted plants like fuchsia and orchid cactus (Epiphyllum) under the shade of a leafy tree or an east-facing eave.

  • Children love to garden. To them, a worm is as wonderful as a bloom. Even very small children can garden. Give them a kid-sized shovel, some dirt and a marigold. Show them how to water and care for it. Even if you end up taking care of their plants (which is inevitable), time in the garden stimulates children’s imaginations and their interest in nature. It builds your relationship too.

Sterman is a water-wise garden designer and writer. Her website is