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What to do in Southern California gardens in early May

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May says summer in the Southern California garden, and that means temps in the high 90s to 100 F. in Blythe, Barstow, and maybe Bakersfield; mid-80s F. for the Inland Empire, the Los Angeles area, and the Central Coast; and even warm in most of the beach gardens, in the mid- to high 70s.

So that means we’re back to making sure the shade plants are in the shade and the sun plants are in the sun, and that all of them -- including the lawn -- get their share of water and maybe one more shot of fertilizer.

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Ideal time to plant

It also means we can plant almost anything, except cool-weather plants, both from seed and started plants.

I had some damping-off on some of my seedlings this year, due mostly to the rainy spring and lack of light and heat during the day. So I’ve reseeded some marigolds, zinnias, and bidens, which is a nice little hanging plant with bright yellow blooms.

I’ll be setting out my cherry tomato plants this month. I grow a family heirloom that we named the “Teresa” tomato, after our daughter. She found it growing as a volunteer in a previous home some years ago, probably deposited there by a bird, and we all grew it and loved it.

It’s the best, sweetest midsize cherry tomato, a hardy grower and bears heavily. No wonder that we have carried the seed supply along for more than 20 years.

Look for something new

I’ll also be looking through the local nurseries and garden centers for what already started plants I might like to grow. I usually start about half of my ornamentals and vegetables from seed, and grow the other half from started plants.

Because I like to try new varieties, I end up with some winners and some losers in both. But that’s the way we learn in the garden — trial and error.

I like it best, of course, when the trial is good and least when it’s error.

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Gerald Burke is a travel and horticultural writer. He spent more than 30 years in the seed business and is a member of the Garden Writers Association. He writes regularly here at Diggin' It about gardening in southern California.

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