Califonia Bountiful

Gardening Q&A

July/August 2014 California Bountiful magazine

As a California Bountiful reader, you have the opportunity to get your seasonal gardening questions answered by gardening expert Pat Rubin. Here are a few questions from other readers.

Hi Pat,

I'm moving into a new home in Davis this fall and hoping to start a garden in mid-August. What herbs would you suggest for a shaded backyard? I'm thinking I'll put most in pots as I'd like to plant a winter garden of cole plants, root plants and lettuce greens. Any recommendations would be much appreciated. 


Hi Olivia,

I'm glad to hear you have some shade because the valley sun in August is tough. You will discover that summer is our harshest season. You should be able to plant cauliflower, broccoli and many other fall crops. I'd wait a bit on lettuce and greens, since there is a lot of hot weather ahead and greens bolt (produce flowers and go to seed) in hot weather much more quickly than when the weather is milder. Check your local nurseries to see what they have in stock. If you are new to gardening, starter plants rather than seed would be the best way to begin.

Since the garden is to be in pots, here are a few more tips:

  • Select the biggest pots you can; the bigger the pot, the more protection for the roots. Pots also collect heat out in the sun.
  • Choose a soil mix that has plenty of organic matter and that is a mixture of ingredients rather than a sterile mix.
  • Add a layer of mulch to the top of the pots after planting to keep the soil protected.
  • When watering pots, water gently until water runs out the bottom. Nutrients also run out, so you may need to use a time-release fertilizer. There are many types on the market, including organic ones.

Your local UC Cooperative Extension is a good source for letting gardeners know what to plant when, and you can find them online:

Hope this helps. Let me know if you have further questions.


My basil is blooming, and I'm not getting new stalks. Does this mean it will die?

Basil is an annual, so its "job" is to grow, bloom, produce seed and die. However, as gardeners we have other plans for this wonderfully scented plant. We want leaves, leaves and more leaves. So, when you see the plant trying to bloom, cut the flowers away and the plant will continue to produce leaves. Keep harvesting them as well, so the plant continues to grow. It will keep trying to bloom, so be vigilant in pulling off the flowers. I make pesto when the plant is producing heavily, and cut stems for drying leaves when it is slowing down. (California Bountiful foodie Gwen Schoen shares her favorite pesto recipe!)

What makes my cucumbers bitter?
Usually, the culprit is too little water or erratic watering practices. Add plenty of organic matter to the soil and keep it mulched to conserve water and prevent the soil from getting hard. Water regularly, every day at first until young roots grow deeply into the ground. Also, harvest cucumbers when they are young and slim.

The English lavender isn't blooming as well this year as past years. What happened?
Unfortunately, English lavender lasts only five to seven years in the garden. It just grows itself out. The plant eventually gets so woody it can make only spindly growth. There are some things you can do to manage the plant and to get a few more years out of it, but it won't last forever. Here's what I do: After the plant blooms, I cut it back severely—down to 6 or 8 inches. I cut back the woody growth. It seems harsh, but the plant bounces back and looks great for years with this sort of annual treatment. Spanish lavender is another story. It likes to sprawl and resents being cut back. Cut it back and it will likely never recover. 

About Pat Rubin, California Bountiful's gardening expert

Pat Rubin

For Pat Rubin, gardening is more than just dirt and plants. "It's about history, romance, adventure and people," she says. "And it should be fun."

California Bountiful's gardening columnist has lived and chronicled this fun, hands-in-the-dirt approach for years—and for additional publications including Fine Gardening, Pacific Horticulture, Christian Science Monitor, Family Circle and The Sacramento Bee. Pat has also volunteered as a Master Gardener, speaks to garden clubs and appears regularly on gardening radio shows.

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