Califonia Bountiful

Gardening: Planting seeds

Jan./Feb. 2010 California Country magazine

Seed catalogs to help you dream about your summer garden during the winter.

On winter days when the wind is howling and rain is falling sideways, I love to sit surrounded by dozens of garden catalogs whose pages remind me of the brilliant spring and bountiful summer to come.

Their photographs tempt me with bushels of tasty tomatoes, heavenly scented cantaloupes and armloads of flowers. I envision vases of sunflowers, cosmos, dahlias and zinnias. I can almost taste sautéed zucchini and eggplant, fresh steamed peas or baked acorn squash. I'm a pushover for heirloom beans and multi-branched sunflowers. And I can't resist melons with names like Hollybrook Luscious or heirloom tomatoes called Red Figs.

So gather up the catalogs and dream about your summer garden while Mother Nature fills the outdoors with winter.

California-based sources

  • Annie's Annuals and Perennials: Rare, unusual annuals and perennials, including cottage garden heirlooms and hard-to-find California native wildflowers. Order online, shop from the catalog or visit the nursery in Richmond. Free catalog.
  • J.L. Hudson, Seedsman: Not a photo in sight, just a long list of seeds. The fun is in reading the descriptions. The firm was founded 98 years ago. It's mostly unusual flowers and shrubs, plus some old-fashioned vegetables and flowers. Free catalog.
  • Digging Dog Nursery: Hard-to-find ornamental perennials, grasses, trees and vines as well as tried-and-true garden performers. Located in Albion. Catalog $4.

Other favorites

  • Seed Savers Exchange: A nonprofit organization founded in 1975 that saves and shares heirloom seeds. Amazing selection. Free catalog.
  • Old House Gardens: Heirloom bulbs. They offer daffodils that date back to the 1600s and lilies from the 1800s, as well as antique varieties of hyacinths, tulips, dahlias, cannas and more. Catalog $2.
  • High Country Gardens: Specializing in drought-tolerant plants, including an extensive selection of lavender, salvia, ornamental grasses, agastache and more. Free catalog.
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: A wonderful selection. Gorgeous photos of rare and heirloom seeds from 66 countries. Free catalog.
  • Burpee: For the more traditional gardener. All the flowers and vegetables you could want. Free catalog.

Gardening to-do list for January/February

  • Plant bare root vines, shrubs and trees. This includes rhubarb, strawberries, grapevines and fruit trees. A word of caution: Don't plant when the soil is soggy because you'll do more harm than good.
  • It's time to plant your living Christmas tree outside.
  • Clean up all fallen fruit from beneath fruit trees and prune them. Use horticultural oil to control scale, mites and aphids. Read the label to make sure the product is safe for the type of tree you have. Spray when the weather is going to be dry, since the oil takes about 24 hours of dry weather to be effective.
  • Don't prune spring-blooming shrubs like lilacs, quince, spirea and forsythia. You'll be cutting away their flowers if you do.
  • If you love camellias and azaleas, now is the time to visit the local nursery and see what's blooming.
  • Weed, weed, weed. You'll be glad later this spring and summer that you took the time now to weed.
  • Finish pruning roses by Valentine's Day. Pick up all the cuttings and leaves to reduce the chances of fungal diseases. Start fertilizing roses late February and continue through September.
  • Watch for slugs and snails. They love tender, new plant growth. The best time to find them is in the evening. You can go outside and handpick them or use bait like Sluggo that is nontoxic to pets. Sluggo Plus takes care of slugs, snails and earwigs.
  • Spring may be just around the corner, but that doesn't mean plants are safe from frosty weather. Watch the forecasts carefully and protect your plants on cold nights.


Watch a TV segment on how to prune roses.

Pat Rubin is a long-time gardener and garden writer. Send questions or comments to her at

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