Roses and Winter Vegis

Q. Last spring, I planted nine shrub roses for a background barrier. They’ve done well and are still blooming, but I’m not sure about how and when they are to be pruned. One neighbor says to prune them back to the second set of five leaves. Is that correct?

A. Shrub roses are very easy to prune. Unlike Hybrid Tea, Grandiflora, or Floribunda varieties, shrub roses are not cut back to the second set of five leaves. Instead, all one does is shear the plants back very much like a hedge to remove the spent flowers and shape the plant. You could use a pair of manual or electric hedge shears to do the job. There is no set amount that has to be removed, as you can remove from one to fifty inches after each flush of flowers. It’s a judgment call on your part. Right now, I’d enjoy the color and wait until late February to prune. This is the best time of the year to cut the plants back heavily as the spring flush of growth is right around the corner. However, they could be pruned now if you so desire. Also, I’d remove or strip off as much of the remaining leaves as you can and clean up all of the debris under the plants. In March, I’d apply Bayer Advanced 3 n1 Rose Care to feed and control the Aphids along with the rose diseases, Rust, Black Spots, and Mildew. Shrub roses; as well as, another type of roses can take a lot of abuse from a pair of pruning shears, so don’t be timid. If you take too much off, don’t worry, it’s like a bad haircut as the plants will grow back.

Q. I’d like to plant a few fruit trees that would be suitable for my yard. I’ve been told that I must have two trees near each other in order to cross-pollinate. Does that mean, I need to have identical trees or will an apricot tree pollinate an apple tree?

A. Pollination concerns are one of the several things you need to consider when planting a few trees or planning a home orchard. This discussion does not apply to citrus and other sub-tropical fruits. Not all deciduous fruit trees need a second tree for pollination. An apple tree can’t pollinate an apricot or any other type of fruit tree, just another apple variety. Many varieties are self-pollinating such as peaches and nectarines. There are self-fertile cherries and those cherries that require a second variety. So, choosing the right varieties can become very confusing. What I would do is make a list of those varieties you’d like to consider. The nursery professional at your favorite garden center is the perfect resource to help you trim the list and suggest some alternatives. Since your books were published, some very good, new varieties have become available. When making up your list, here are some other things you should keep in mind; the ripening dates, the watering needs, and the ultimate size of the trees. The ripening dates should be staggered so you can have a different fruit to enjoy June through September. For today’s garden, a semi-dwarf fruit tree is way too big to plant. They often will reach a height of eighteen feet with a ten-foot spread. Instead, you want to plant Ultra Dwarf or genetic dwarf varieties that stay under ten feet tall. Established Asian pears, pears, and apples need to be watered often while cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums are watered once every three weeks once the rainy season concludes. It also means that the area under the canopy should be kept unplanted. So, you need to group your trees according to they’re watering requirements. Ultra Dwarf or genetic dwarf varieties can be grown in containers, but they’re watered more frequently than those planted in the ground. Now through the end of February is when you’ll find the broadest selection of varieties

Q. Which vegetables can be planted in the shade during the winter months? We’re stuck with a new garden in a new home that all of a sudden has lost all the wonderful summer sun.

A. Exposure, which is sun or shade, is not important at this time of the year. Bright light is all that is required. The sun will return next year as the days get longer. Today, I’d plant any of the leafy type vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, or chard. In mid-January plant garden peas along with potatoes and you can sow the seed for carrots, beets, radishes, and turnips. Cabbage, Cauliflower, Broccoli and Brussel Sprouts are best planted at the end of January or in early February. If the ground is wet, plant them in plastic or wood, rectangular planters. The planter(s) can be moved around, so you get the best light.

Buzz Bertolero is an Advance California Certified Nursery Professional and the Senior Gardening Professional at Sloat Garden Centers. The Dirt Gardener’s website is and questions can be sent by email to

Going Green in 2018

Congratulations! You survived another holidaze! We may be a little worse for wear, but inevitably welcome the joys and challenges of the New Year. After all the indulgences of the past two months, a lot of us turn to a vegetable-centric diet in January. The farmers’ market may not be as glamorous as a few months back, but it remains a good place to clear your mind and plan meals for the week ahead. Best of all, there are still plenty of healthy bargains to be found there. Look for an astounding array of Asian greens, winter squash, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and the often-overlooked broccoli.

Every supermarket produce department features a towering mound of “fresh” broccoli, but look closely and you’ll probably find florets turning yellow, dried or cracked stems, or an unpleasant cabbagey smell. Not terribly enticing. When truly fresh, this cruciferous vegetable is crunchy-good—raw or cooked.

The weather is cool, and my nesting instincts have kicked into full gear. Cozy time in front of the fireplace, candlelight, and comfort food are the rules of the month; and making a pot of soup hits all the marks on my to-do list each week. Whether it’s a first-course or the main event, broccoli soup is an economical food to soothe the soul. This one benefits from a relatively brief cooking time—just until the broccoli is tender—so it retains its beautiful color. (Who wants to sit down to a bowl of drab, army-green liquid?) I seldom tire of eating it several consecutive days before reaching the bottom of the pot; but if you prefer, freeze the leftovers for another meal.

If you happen to be following a low-carb diet, you’re in luck. If you prefer to reduce the fat in this recipe, omit the butter and substitute unsweetened coconut milk for the cream.

Start the meal with a crisp green salad, and serve the soup piping hot with warm, crusty whole-grain bread from the farmers’ market. It’s time to really celebrate the New Year!

Creamy Broccoli Soup with Lemon & Parmesan

1 large bunch farm-fresh broccoli (1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons California olive oil
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 large rib celery, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
Fine sea salt
4 cups (32 ounces) chicken or vegetable stock, purchased or homemade
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream or half-and-half
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or as needed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more, to taste
4 strips bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled, or herbed croutons
3/4 cup (3 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Trim off the ends of the broccoli stems. Remove and reserve any fresh green leaves. Peel the thick stalks and slice them into 1-inch pieces. Separate the florets into 1-inch pieces.

2. In a soup pot or 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven, melt the butter in the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrot and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute longer.

3. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the stock. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Add the broccoli stems and boil, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Add the florets and leaves and let the stock return to a boil. Cook uncovered until the florets are tender but still bright green, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.

4. Use a hand-held immersion blender to puree the soup* (Alternatively, let the soup cool for 10 minutes and, working in batches, puree in a blender or food processor. Return the pureed soup to the pot.)

5. Stir in the cream, lemon juice, and cayenne. Cook uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Taste, adding more salt, lemon juice, and cayenne as needed.

6. To serve, spoon the hot soup into bowls and top each with about 2 teaspoons of bacon, if using. Pass the bowl of cheese at the table, for each guest to sprinkle over the soup. Makes 7 to 8 cups.

*The vegetables will still retain some texture—which I think is fine. (Can’t we all use a little more fiber in our diets?) If you prefer a perfectly smooth puree for a less rustic soup, take the added step of straining the puree through a fine sieve; keeping in mind that the total yield will be a bit less than the original recipe.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.

The Glory of California Wines

The New Year is upon us already—another year to savor and enjoy the many wondrous wines of the world. But then again, why travel out of state? I am encouraging my readers to support the wines of California, especially after the terrible fires that ripped through wine country in both Northern and Southern California last year. The state needs your support and the wines are so good, you need not look anywhere else.
Remember what Dorothy said in “The Wizard of Oz”? “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any farther than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” California grows some of the best international grapes in the world. Some of the world’s finest winemakers live right here in The Golden State. If you can’t find a wine you love here, chances are, you won’t find it anywhere. Why not make this the year of the California wine?

From north to south, east and west, there are so many notable wine regions, you could taste new California wines every week and not run out of options for years to come. Many regions you may already be familiar with and many may be new to you. Most Californians are already fans of the incredible wines of Napa and Sonoma. Napa has been winning international wine competitions since the 1970s. Neighboring Mendocino is also celebrated for cool climate wines, including many exquisite sparkling wines.

The Livermore Valley is making a strong name for itself with its wonderful Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots. Paso Robles on the Central Coast has fairly exploded with wine production in the past few years and has become a real wine-lovers’ destination.
Santa Cruz was put on the map by creative genius of Randall Grahm and “The Rhone Rangers.” Their cutting-edge Rhone Valley-style wines are simply sublime and sought out by those in the know. Some say the wines of The Sierra Foothills are the real treasures of Gold Country and places like Temecula and Lodi are working hard to make a name for themselves. 

You may already be a fan of the world-class wines crafted in Santa Barbara, and if you’re not, you may want to ask yourself, why? Most wine producers in Santa Barbara are small, family-owned businesses. Santa Barbara has so much to offer in terms of history and culture, great restaurants and beautiful beaches, that people tend to forget that Santa Barbara is, in fact, a wine producing area.
Santa Barbara is known primarily for delicious pinot noir and chardonnay. However, due to the favorable climate and vine-friendly topography, producers are able to successfully grow many other varieties as well, including syrah and sauvignon blanc.

Santa Barbara ranked fourth in the state in terms of name recognition of wine producing areas, after Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles. It is predicted that in the next ten years, Santa Barbara’s ranking may rise to the top of that list. There is already a strong trend of Napa winemakers coming down to Santa Barbara to produce wines. Santa Barbara is fresh and exciting and the wine world is taking note of the quality wines emerging from the region.

Wine production in California is an exciting journey for both producers and consumers and it just keeps getting better. Nevertheless, California took a real beating in the wild fires of 2017. We need to rally together to help our winemaking neighbors recover from the terrible losses they suffered. This year, when you raise a glass to health and good fortune, be sure the wine you are pouring hails from our Great State.