Focus on Varieties: Zucchini Baby Round

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Zucchini is a relatively easy vegetable that produces early and abundant yields, which make it a good choice for beginning gardeners. Those gardeners who have previous success with zucchini may want to experiment by trying an unusual variety this season. GardenZeus recommends the French heirloom Baby Round, or “Ronde de Nice” meaning “round from Nice,” a tasty small, 2 inch round, light green zucchini. It is ideally suited for stuffing or roasting, and its blossoms are also excellent when fried. Even better, it is ready for harvest in 45 days—faster than other zucchini varieties. Baby Round is available from our friends at Botanical Interests.

Purchase seeds, not seedlings. Zucchini should generally be seeded directly outdoors. GardenZeus recommends against purchasing zucchini starts for transplant, especially if rootbound or it has been more than about 2 weeks since germination, as starts may be prone to slow establishment, poor yield, diseases, pests, and other problems. In reasonably fertile soil and with appropriate care including frequent harvesting, a single zucchini plant can produce dozens of fruits over a period of months.

Zucchini needs full sun and sufficient space in fertile soil that is consistently moist but not wet. It does well in raised beds with southern and western exposures. Ideal temperature range for germination is 70° to 95°F with fastest germination at the warmer end of this range. Ideal temperature range for growth and fruiting is about 65° to 75°F. Zucchini withstands temperatures up to 100°F, but growth and fruiting may be diminished at temperatures above 85°F, and flowers may drop at high temperatures. Most varieties grow slowly or not at all at temperatures below 60°F. In warm inland valleys, zucchini will benefit from shade during hot summer afternoons. See GardenZeus Tips for Shading Vegetables During Hot Weather for creative ideas from expert Darren Butler about providing shade.

GardenZeus has customized information for growing zucchini in your area. To get started, enter your zip code here.

Other articles related to growing zucchini include:

Germinating Zucchini Indoors Using a  Glass Dish

GardenZeus Quick Tips: Pollination Issues for Zucchini and Other Summer Squash


Watering Sunflowers for Maximum Seed Production

When watered correctly, sunflowers can be drought tolerant and productive. Here are our tips:

Watering Sunflowers. With larger seeds, newly planted sunflower seeds can imbibe more water than other types of vegetable seeds, making them susceptible to rotting in wet soils. Sunflower seeds should be planted into pre-irrigated soil, and only watered when the soil surface is 100% dry, as well as dry 1/4 inch below the surface. Newly germinated sunflower seedlings are also prone to damping off, and should be allowed to dry down between waterings.

Young sunflowers should be provided with fairly regular water, but still prefer a soil dry-down between waterings. After being established, sunflowers are quite drought tolerant. Water deeply, and let soil dry down before watering again. Water progressively more deeply and less frequently to help plants grow deeper roots, which can make them more drought tolerant, and less prone to lodging (falling down) under the weight of heavy heads.

Adequate water is most important just before flowering, during flowering, and during seed production. Sunflowers are sensitive to overly wet soils, and can experience root and stem rot diseases. Drip irrigation is recommended to keep foliage dry and disease free.

GardenZeus Fun Fact: Did you know that the large flower on a sunflower is composed of up to 2000 small individual flowers called “disk flowers?” These flowers form at the precise angle of 137.5 degrees to each other, which produces the maximum possible number of flowers in the space available within the larger flower head. Each disk flower can form a single sunflower seed. The petals around the sides of a sunflower are botanically considered to be another form of flower that doesn’t produce seeds called “ray flowers.”

The brown sunflower disk flowers are in the center and the yellow ray flowers are on the outside.

The brown sunflower disk flowers are in the center and the yellow ray flowers are on the outside.

GardenZeus has customized growing information by plant and zip code. To get started, enter your zip code here.

Other articles of interest:

Sunflowers in a Sustainable Garden

Fava Beans in the Sustainable Garden


Cucumber Variety Recommendations: A GardenZeus Guide

Choosing varieties of cucumbers can be a bit overwhelming, at least until you know what characteristics are important to you. To guide you through the process and for information about the different types of garden cucumbers, see these articles in our special series “Getting to Know Cucumbers:”

Part 1: Two Basic Cucumber Decisions: Slicers Versus Picklers, and Vining Versus Bush Types
Part 2: Cucumber Characteristics and Terminology
Part 3: A Guide to Cucumber Types

Once you know what you are looking for, you will be able to choose individual cucumber varieties.

Cucumber is a warm season vegetable, but it does not like the extreme heat common in many of California’s inland valley areas. Gardeners who live in warm to hot inland valley areas should consider growing heat tolerant  varieties. Gardeners living closer to the coast should grow mildew-resistant varieties.

Slicing cucumbers:
Poinsett 76 is a favorite open-pollinated, heat-tolerant, flavorful variety that is also disease-resistant (including mildews). Marketmore 76 is a classic favorite for its long harvest period, reliable fruit production under moderate environmental stress, and resistance to mildews. Straight Eight is a reliable and much-beloved heirloom that produces fruits with a rich cucumber flavor.

Straight Eight
Straight Eight
Marketmore 76
Marketmore 76
For an outdoor parthenocarpic English cucumber that performs well outdoors in warmer areas without pollination, try Telegraph. It should be grown on a trellis for straight fruits of the best quality. Early Pride is a vigorous, productive hybrid English cucumber.

The Chinese heirloom Suyo Long is mild-flavored, burpless, early, and heat-tolerant. Fruits grow up to 15 inches and tend to curl if not grown vertically. Summer Dance is a prolific and heat-tolerant Japanese-type hybrid that is resistant to mildews.

Beit Alpha is a Middle Eastern heat-tolerant heirloom. If you’ve had trouble with heirloom cucumbers producing during hot spring weather, try the hybrid Olympic.

Pickling cucumbers:
Homemade Pickles is a compact, vining, highly productive variety that can also be eaten fresh. Spacemaster is a heat-tolerant, prolific producer of full-sized slicing cucumbers on a compact plant with vines to 3 feet; fruits can be pickled when harvested small.

For a vigorous, productive, full-sized vining pickler, try Burpee Pickler hybrid.

Harvest starts early at 48 days for Persian Baby, a compact, prolific, parthenocarpic variety that is harvested small for fresh eating or pickling.

Novelty Cucumbers:
Lemon is a round, ball-shaped yellow heirloom that is delicious both for slicing and pickling, and is easy to digest. It tolerates less-frequent watering during cool weather and stores longer than most varieties. White Wonder is a heat-tolerant 1893 heirloom that produces unique, ivory-colored fruits for slicing or pickling.


Cucuumbers for Containers:

Salad Bush hybrid is a prolific, disease-resistant AAS winner that produces full-sized slicers on small bush plants. Fresh Pickles hybrid is an early, compact vining variety producing attractive plants and fruits suited to fresh eating or pickling. Picklebush is a productive, mildew-resistent bush hybrid pickler, with attractive white/green fruits.

GardenZeus has customized growing information by plant (including cucumber!) and zip code. To get started, enter your zip code here.

Harvesting Kumquats: 5 Tips

The majority of kumquat varieties mature from winter through spring. Kumquat hybrids may mature slightly later, and continue maturing even into early summer. Here are five tips to help you to get the most out of your harvest:

  1. Kumquats do not ripen after being picked; they must remain on the tree to develop sweetness, which can take months. Sample a fruit or two to judge ripeness, as rind color may vary according to temperature, and try again 1 to 2 weeks later if kumquats aren’t ripe.
  2. Once ripe, kumquats generally hold well for months on trees, and even up to a year, and are better stored on the tree than in a refrigerator.  When kumquats become overripe they soften, begin to rot on the tree, and/or fall from the tree. With a larger surface area of skin, kumquats do not store as well as other citrus fruits in the refrigerator. In a refrigerator, kumquats can last for up to 2 weeks under ideal storage conditions of 38° to 46° F with 90% to 95% humidity. If storing citrus in your refrigerator, do so in a humid produce drawer with humidity turned up to full, or with an open bowl of water, and/or in cloth or paper bags to reduce drying. They can be stored at room temperature for a day or two without losing quality.
  3. To produce the sweetest and most-flavorful fruit, discontinue watering citrus 2 to 5 weeks before harvest, which will concentrate sugars and flavor proportionately to water in fruit cells.
  4. Kumquats are most commonly eaten fresh, and can be thinly sliced into salads or other dishes. They are popular in marmalades, jellies, cocktails, or other specialty desert items. They can be preserved in honey or sugar, and even brandy and rum.
  5. Rolling citrus fruit firmly between your hands before eating will rupture oil glands, letting more essential oils into the fruit, and may improve flavor and availability of vitamin C. While kumquats are eaten whole, this practice allows sugar to be released from the peel into the flesh, potentially resulting in a less drastic contrast between sweet and sour.

GardenZeus has customized growing information by plant and zip code. To get started, enter your zip code here.

Other articles relating to growing kumquats include:

Getting Started With Kumquat Trees

Growing Kumquats in Containers: It’s Easy If You Follow a Few Simple Steps

Citrus Trees: 7 Common Problems

Seven problems commonly found in citrus trees and suggested solutions include:

Overwatering: Citrus may become stressed and more susceptible to pests and diseases as a result of poor drainage or standing water. Citrus and other trees have difficulty with proper nutrient uptake in wet soils.

Shallow Watering, Watering with Sprinklers, and Wetting Trunks or Major Roots: GardenZeus discourages planting orange trees in lawns or using sprinklers for watering trees. Sprinklers and other shallow surface irrigation are generally inappropriate for citrus and other trees, and may encourage root rot, other diseases and pests, shallow rooting, and other problems. Avoid wetting trunks and major roots with sprinklers, and keep the upper soil dry within tree driplines.

Chlorosis: Chlorosis is iron deficiency that appears as lightening or yellowing between veins on older leaves and/or pale green or yellow new leaves. Affected leaves will never return to normal because iron is not a mobile nutrient, meaning that it cannot be relocated within a plant. Alkaline city water and alkaline soils are common causes of chlorosis; iron becomes decreasingly available to trees when soil pH is above 6.0, and is mostly unavailable at pH of 7.0 and above. Chlorosis in citrus is often chronic due to naturally alkaline soils combined with watering over years with alkaline city water. Trees may also become chlorotic as a result of wet or waterlogged soils, anaerobic soils, root rot diseases, or damaged roots. Applying chelated iron will help temporarily but is not a long-term solution or cure, and chelated iron may rapidly become unavailable in alkaline soils. The best solutions are to encourage a thriving, healthy soil ecosystem that will naturally improve pH; or to provide acidity to soil by mulching with face-down cut halves of waste citrus, watering with diluted vinegar at proportions of about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of white vinegar in 2 gallons of water, or using an acidifying product such as pH Reducer.

Nitrogen deficiency: In contrast to chlorosis, nitrogen deficiency appears as pale or yellowing older leaves while new growth is green and healthy. Nitrogen is mobile in plants and is moved from older leaves to produce new growth. Apply a nitrogen soil drench in the form of diluted urea or chicken manure at the rate of one cup of chicken manure per four 4 gallons of water (half cup if fresh manure), mixed thoroughly, and applied near the driplines of trees a few times per year. Fresh or composted manures may be applied as a surface-dressing under mulch. Adding too much nitrogen to soils may result in lush, high-carbohydrate leaves that attract insect infestation, and may delay or reduce fruit formation if added early in the fruiting cycle.

lemon tree leaves yellow

Yellow leaves from lemon tree, most likely caused by nitrogen deficiency


Sunburn: Citrus bark and cambium are sensitive to sunburn, and sun protection for trunks and branches may be necessary during hot Southern California summers. Avoid thinning or removing significant portions of canopy, especially those that shade internal branches from southern and western direct sun. Sunburned stems begin to show cracked, peeling, or rough sections of bark that progress to dead sections of cambium with bare wood exposed. When these symptoms occur on south-and-west-facing citrus trunk or stem sections, they are usually caused by sunburn. To address this, trunks of young trees may be wrapped in sleeves (consider making homemade ones from paper or cardboard). Larger trunks and stems may require painting with indoor white latex paint diluted about 1:1 to 2:1 water to paint. If you find white-painted tree stems and trunks to be particularly unattractive in the garden and landscape, try a light-colored beige, tan, or similar color that blends in better with your garden; however, these paint colors will not protect stems as well as white.

Blossom and Fruit Drop: Sometimes a problem but often not. Citrus trees naturally drop many of their flowers and small, immature fruits when they are about the size of a pea, most commonly in late spring to early summer. This is a natural thinning process called “June drop” that seasonally and in reasonable proportions is not a problem. On otherwise healthy and unstressed trees, loss of the majority of flowers and up to 80% or more of the tiny immature fruits may be normal. However, if numerous fruits are dropped at about the size of a ping pong ball or larger, this usually indicates that soil, water, sunlight and/or other environmental conditions are insufficient for the tree to produce a full crop.

Split Fruit: Fruit splitting occurs with many citrus species, especially varieties that produce thin-skinned fruit, and is particularly common with navel oranges. The exact cause of citrus fruit-splitting has not been proven by research. Some orange varieties are likely more genetically susceptible than others, and splitting tends to occur with variable water or if trees become drought-stressed between waterings, especially when combined with other environmental stresses such as cold, heat, wind, nutrient deficiency(s), pests, disease, or physical injury. Splitting is more common on young, establishing, and shallow-rooted trees. Generally only a small proportion if fruit on a given tree is affected.
Splitting usually occurs before fruits are ripe, so they are rarely edible when split, and should be removed from the tree and composted, discarded, or used as an acidifying mulch under a layer of organic matter. If left on the tree, they may encourage pests and diseases. There is no short-term treatment known to be effective for citrus fruit-splitting. GardenZeus expert Darren Butler believes that the best solution is to encourage strong, healthy trees by meeting their environmental needs over a period of years, particularly with consistent and deep watering; and by feeding and nurturing soil to encourage a thriving soil ecosystem.

GardenZeus has customized information by plant and zip code. To get started, enter your zip code here.

Getting Started With Citrus: Purchasing and Placing your Citrus Trees 

Mulch Around Orange Trees: Always, Sometimes or Never

Why Are Leaves Curling on My Orange and Lemon Trees?



Watering Corn in the Home Garden


Knowing exactly how much to water corn can be more difficult than with other vegetables; curling leaves are not necessarily signal a need for more water and some varieties should be dry on the stalk at harvest.

Watering corn with drip system
Corn field watered with drip system

Corn requires consistent, sufficient moisture in well-drained soil, especially during seedling growth, during the critical pollination period after the emergence of the corn silks or tassels, and during development of kernels.

As corn seedlings leave the seedling stage and being to establish, water less frequently and more deeply, to the full estimated depth of roots. When young, corn roots tend to be shallow, but roots may grow to more than 3 feet deep in loose, fertile soils as plants mature. Root depth and water penetration in soil can be evaluated by pressing a long screwdriver or thin metal probe into soil and noticing when soil resistance changes as dry soil is reached. This method is preferred with corn to using a shovel, which may sever root sections. A shovel can also be pressed carefully into the soil outside of a garden bed of, beyond the root systems of any established corn plants.

Corn leaves often curl to reduce transpiration on hot days. This is not necessarily a sign of drought stress. If plant leaves remain curled during the night or when temperatures are cool, increase the frequency or depth of your irrigation.

Popcorn and ornamental corn types should be dry on the stalk at harvest; reduce watering to these varieties as ears mature to allowing drying.

GardenZeus has customized information for growing corn based on zip code. To get started, enter your zip code.

GardenZeus Secrets of Success for Growing Corn in the California Home Garden

GardenZeus Soil and Fertilization Tips for Growing Corn in California

The GardenZeus Quick and Easy Guide to the Main Types of Garden and Agricultural Corn 

Heavy Feeders and Spring Planting

Many gardeners are now either planning or planting their spring or summer gardens. And many gardeners understand that it’s best not to grow the same variety of heavy feeder, or the same type of any vegetable, repeatedly in the same garden areas or bed, but may overlook the related issue of successive planting of heavy feeders in general.

Where do the elemental building blocks for all those delicious tomatoes, ears of corn, and melons come from? All parts of plants, from stems to flowers and fruits, are made mostly of air absorbed in the form of carbon dioxide during photosynthesis; and water absorbed through plant roots. A smaller but critically important portion of plant biomass comes from nutrients in soil.

Every type of vegetable plant removes soil nutrients in characteristic combinations, and some types of vegetables in much greater quantities than others. Vegetables that remove large quantities of nutrients from soil are considered “heavy feeders.”

While it is possible to nurture and replenish soils to allow them to support successive plantings of heavy feeders, it’s generally best to avoid planting a heavy feeder in soil exhausted by another heavy feeder. If doing so, understand the nutrient needs of your plants and be sure to amend soils accordingly.

Examples of heavy feeders are summer squash including zucchini, winter squash, gourds, pumpkins, all melons including watermelons and cantaloupe, cucumbers, corn, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and sunflowers.

GardenZeus has customized growing information by plant and zip code. To get started, enter your zip code here.

Growing Summer Squash (Including Zucchini) in the California Home Garden

GardenZeus Soil and Fertilization Tips for Growing Corn in California

GardenZeus Solutions to Common Abiotic Problems with Garden Tomatoes

Spring Gardening: Five Tasks You Shouldn’t Forget

Starting a spring garden? It is easy to remember to amend your soil and purchase your seeds. You may not  remember these five gardening tasks, but they will add immeasurably to the success of your spring garden:

  1. Irrigate new garden beds, wait 7 to 14 days prior to planting to flush weed seeds, and remove or till in weed seedlings. By encouraging weeds to grow and then removing them when the soil is bare, you will save yourself hours of weeding during the season.
  2. In new beds or compacted soils, double-dig or loosen soil with a spading fork and remove stones and obstructions shortly before seeding new crops. Improving your soil will immeasurably improve your crop.
  3. Seed or transplant crops successively for successive harvest, especially of crops that you eat regularly or in large quantities. You will have infinitely more enjoyment of flowers or vegetables if they flower or ripen over the course of the summer rather than all at once, when it can be difficult to put your entire bounty to good use.
  4. Add organic amendments and 1 to 1 1/2 inches of fine mulch after vegetable-and-herb starts are 3 to 6 inches tall. Saving water is just one reason to mulch your plants.
  5. Consider growing cover crops in dormant garden beds. Not growing anything in one particular bed? Use the opportunity to prepare the soil for the next season by improving the soil with cover crops.

GardenZeus has customized growing information by plant and zip code. To get started, click here. 

Other articles of interest regarding soil preparation:

Mudpies and Fizz: Easy Home Tests for Soil pH

Tips for Testing Soil pH at Home With a Soil pH Meter

Container Gardening: Cucumber, Corn, Snap Peas and Eggplant

Avid container gardeners may have considered growing lettuce, herbs or tomatoes in containers, but not cucumbers, corn, snap peas and eggplants. These four vegetables make excellent container plants, provided that you follow a few tips and select your varieties carefully.

Cucumber. Most bush varieties and smaller vining cucumber varieties do well in containers. Use well-drained containers that are at least 12 to 16 inches wide and deep; larger is generally better. A trellis or structure for climbing may help vining varieties to remain manageable, receive enough sunlight, and yield well in containers. Plant 2 to 3 cucumber seeds per container and thin to 1 plant when seedlings are 2 to 4 inches tall. Very large containers may support more than one cucumber plant. Try Fresh Pickles hybrid, an early, compact vining variety that produces attractive plants and fruits suited to fresh eating or pickling.

Corn. Standard-size corn is generally not recommended for container gardening due to its naturally large, spreading root systems, its need for highly fertile soil that can be difficult to maintain in containers, and the number of plants required for proper pollination. However, there are miniature corn varieties bred for container gardening, such as the hybrid supersweet variety On Deck. Remember corn is a heavy feeder. Be sure to provide sufficient supplemental fertility, especially nitrogen, when growing corn in containers.

Snap Peas. Bush varieties of snap peas, such as Sugar Ann and Sugar Daddy, produce compact, low-growing plants that are ideally suited to containers. Pots or containers for growing peas should be of at least 10 inches in depth, preferably deeper. GardenZeus recommends a soil mix of at least 50% topsoil or sand when growing peas in containers. Potting soils with high proportions of organic matter tend to shrink and collapse over the course of a growing season as soil microbes and macro organisms like insects digest or decompose the organic matter, which results in falling soil levels and possibly insufficient soil depth for peas to yield well.

Eggplant. Eggplants are generally thought of as large plants requiring some amount of trellising. But many dwarf or compact varieties do extremely well in containers and do not require trellising.  Select pots that are at least 12 inches across and 12 inches deep. Compact varieties that require little to no trellising are ideal. Try Patio Baby or Fairy Tale Hybrid; both are All American Selections and both are excellent in containers.

Watering Tip for Containers. Soil tends to dry out more frequently in containers or raised beds, so be sure to monitor as needed and provide sufficient and consistent water.If growing in containers, pay close attention to soil moisture and frequency of irrigation, and be sure to water sufficiently to avoid any signs of wilting. If you know you may have difficulty maintaining consistent soil moisture, consider using self-watering containers, which have a reservoir of water and a wicking mechanism, such as cloth or soil tubes. These can be purchased or made yourself.

GardenZeus has customized growing information by plant and zip code. To get started, enter your zip code here.

GardenZeus Tips for Container Gardening

Remove Chlorine When Watering Organic Gardens

Chlorine, Soil and Watering Gardens

Hot and Sweet Peppers: Do They Make Good Companion Plants?

Contrary to popular myth, hot pepper plants make good companions for sweet pepper plants and vice versa.

Companion Plants to Avoid: Avoid planting sweet peppers or hot peppers with any plant that adds nitrogen to the soil, such as beans, kohlrabi, fennel, cabbage, and broccoli.

Good Companion Plants for Pepper: Try interplanting peppers with sunflowers, which have similar watering needs (though you can cater to the water needs of the peppers), and mature through the long warm summer. Sunflowers may be able to provide some shade for pepper plants.

Hot pepper plants make good companions for sweet pepper plants and vice versa. Pepper plants are self-pollinating and therefore sweet pepper plants can be grown next to hot pepper plants without affecting the flavor of the pepper fruits on either plant.

However, gardeners who would like to save pepper seeds for next year’s crop should use caution. Seeds can be saved from hot pepper plants or sweet pepper plants that have been isolated from other pepper plants for at least 500 feet. Pepper flowers can be cross pollinated by sweat bees and honey bees; 500 feet should ensure seed purity. “Spiciness” is a dominant gene. Seeds from sweet peppers grown next to hot pepper plants can produce pepper plants with hot peppers.

If you are saving seeds, choose fully mature, disease free fruit. Be careful when removing the seeds and use gloves or other protective coverings! Seeds should be dried out of direct sunlight until completely dry; they should snap when folded in half. Date and place seeds in a marked envelope until ready for planting.

GardenZeus has comprehensive growing information by plant and zip code. To get started, enter your zip code here.

Other articles of interest:

Sweet Pepper Varieties: Colors, Flavors and Growing Characteristics 

Tips for Storing and Preserving Hot Peppers

Organic Pest Repellent: Make it Yourself from Hot Peppers

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