“Last year my tomatoes struggled a lot. I think my soil might be tired. Should I rotate spots or should I fortify the soil? Thank you.” Question from Lucinda of Pittston, Maine
Answer: Tomatoes must be rotated on a three-year cycle for best performance, especially if they have experienced diseases. They are heavy feeders, experience lots of soil-borne diseases that can carry over in the soil from year to year, and root-knot nematodes are common pests that lower production and can live in the soil from year to year. Rotation fixes all of these problems. I recommend rotating tomatoes with soil-fortifying crops, such as peas and beans, which naturally add nitrogen to the soil. Tomatoes take up lots of nitrogen and fertilizer!
From there, I also suggest that you try short-season varieties adapted to northern climates. You can find several listed in the first article below.
“I live in Northern CA– in the Bay Area. What are the flowers I can plant that will bloom year-round?” Question from Floredia of Vallejo, California
Answer: You live in USDA Hardiness Zone 9b. Thankfully, there are lots of everblooming garden plants that continue to look pretty year-round. Here are some suggestions for your zone and mild, arid climate.
Six Everblooming Flowering Plants for Northern California
Marguerite Daisy (Argyranthemumfrutescens, Zones 9-11): New varieties of this daisy from the Canary Islands have been bred to bloom continuously. Vanilla Butterfly® is an especially pretty, high-performing type with ivory and butter-yellow blooms. Established plants tolerate heat and some drought. Bees and butterflies will visit the flowers.
Lynn’s Legacy Texas Ranger(Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lynn’s Legacy’, Zones 8-10): Beautiful lavender-blue flowers cover this evergreen Mexican shrub through most of the year. Plant it in a well-drained spot. The Chihuahuan Desert native needs dry soil once established.
Mes Azur Sage (Salvia ‘Mes Azur’, Zones 6-9): Here is a tough evergreen everblooming salvia that bears loads of small purple flowers all year round. It will only slow down a bit during the hottest driest times of the year. It is a great plant for bees.
Red Neck Girl Forsythia Sage (Salvia madrensis ‘Red Neck Girl’, Zones 7-10): If you like big, bold plants, then this everblooming Mexican salvia is for you. It has huge spikes of yellow flowers on 4-6-foot plants. Hummingbirds love them.
Redvein Indian Mallow (Abutilon striatum, Zones 9-11): Pendulous flowers of yellow with striking red veins cover this shrub through the warm growing season. Specimens can become quite large (8-10′) but take well to rigorous pruning. It also grows well in pots.
There are hundreds more flowers for your area that bloom almost year-round, so let this list be the start of an ongoing search.
I see people in pictures with cactus gardens outside in my area. Are there any cactus that can stay outside for the winter in Minnesota? Question from Sandra of Cottage Grove, Minnesota
Answer: Yes! There are a couple of alpine cacti that exist at high altitudes along the Rocky Mountains that will survive in your winters. There are also other northerly prickly pears that you can grow. These will survive in your USDA Zone 4 garden, despite the harsh cold. Here are several good options to consider.
Cold-Hardy Cactus for Northern Gardens
Devil’s Tongue (Opuntia humifusa): This tough prickly pear cactus naturally exists from southern Ontario, Canada all the way down to Florida and is hardy to Zone 4. It has low, spreading clumps that produce yellow, gold, or orangish flowers in spring. In summer, attractive purple-red fruits appear. The pads appear to deflate and shrivel in the winter months, but this is natural. They will green up and reinflate in spring. This cactus is native to your state.
Brittle prickly pear (Opuntia fragilis, Zones 4-9): With populations extending to the far reaches of Canada and western mountain ranges, this is little prickly pear is very hardy–surviving in Zone 4 or colder. The very low, spreading plant is prickly and has pretty, pale yellow flowers in spring. Its little roundish pads are “brittle” and tend to break off and root as they fall. This one is also a Minnesota wildflower.
Hardy Hybrid Pricklypear (Opuntia hybrids): There are loads of beautiful prickly pear hybrids with spring flowers in shades of red, orange, magenta, pink, and yellow. The best source for these is the Cold Hardy Cactus nursery. Have a look and check out the many options for your zone.
These are just a few of the hardier cacti for your area. All have beautiful flowers that attract bees. One note is that you really need to prepare the ground when growing hardy cacti. They require very well-drained soils in raised rock gardens or beds. I suggest amending their soil with Black Gold Cactus Mix in addition to fine pebbles, sand, and some additional organic matter (Black Gold Garden Compost Blend works well).