Sowing lessons

Pansies will brighten your garden during winter months. William McGarry/TMT

Gardening can be a year-round passion in Malibu. From budding exotics indoors to soil maintenance and hardy vegetables outside, winter offers a host of projects for ambitious green thumbs as well as those of us a bit less gardening gifted.

“Many tropicals grow well indoors,” said Malibu’s Andy Lopez of The Invisible Gardener. Lopez has had abundant success growing tropical plants such as orchids and air plants. “The main thing is that they get enough light. It’s the most important thing.”

Herbs are always indoor favorites, Lopez added. Herb gardens can be nurtured in windows and on porches and used for cooking at a moment’s notice. Basil, thyme, mint and sage are Southern California favorites that lend beauty and pleasant fragrance to the home, as well as flavor to food.

January and February are also good times to plant many root vegetables. “All greens, such as lettuces, cabbages, oriental greens, parsnips, radishes, some beans, winter squash, and turnips can be started now,” Lopez said. “Beets are also good, as are potatoes and garlic for this time of year, but will also grow year round.”

Planting is only part of the joy of gardening. Keeping the soil ready to produce is an essential ritual and wintertime is a prime time for replenishing the health of your garden bed.

Both Lopez and fellow Malibu garden guru Shelby Basso of Malibu Gardens, Inc. strongly urge that local residents grow organic and use organic products to keep their gardens healthy.

“In Malibu the important word is ‘organic,'” Basso said. “Our soil is very dense and needs compost and mulch added. The soil is alive with all kinds of things happening. The rain we get in winter is like giving the soil a facial. Composting feeds soil and adds vital nutrients. If you tend to the soil in the winter, then in the spring, all you have to do is plant.”

Composting can be bought at any garden center; however, Basso said that it’s a very easy, painless process to make yourself. “People make composting too complicated,” Basso said. Her composting recipe includes table scraps of greens, vegetables, leaves, coffee grounds, eggshells, and, if you board horses at your home, throw in the manure for an extra enriching agent. Usable compost can develop in 30 to 60 days. At that point you lay it on your garden or mix it with the rest of your soil.

“The key is keeping it organic,” Basso insisted. “It doesn’t have to be stinky.”

Lopez recommends that the winter months also are prime for transplanting. “It’s a great time to plant trees,” he said. “I suggest fruit trees first, then native trees.”

Lists of native trees can be found from local park authorities.

Also, ordering seeds can be a winter habit to look forward to all year. “Order the seeds of the vegetables and flowers you want to start in the early spring,” Lopez suggested. “Order only organic heirloom varieties for best results.” Seeds of Change and Abundant Life are two of Lopez favorite seed companies.

For early spring planting or green house harvests, Lopez lists several savory suggestions for your order form. Heirloom tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, garlic, onions, summer squash, watermelon, pumpkins, potatoes, Swiss chard and peppers are all good late winter/early spring choices.

For more Malibu-specific gardening advice throughout the year, visit Invisible Gardener’s online magazine at The Invisible Gardener’s advice can be heard every Saturday at 10 a.m. on CRN Digital Radio.