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Chris D. asks: What is the secret to growing leeks? I am planning on setting on some starts and have not been successful in the past.

Leeks belong to the Allium family that includes onions, garlic, shallots, and chives. Here are some tips that apply to the entire Allium family.

For optimum success plan ahead. Choose a site in your garden that receives full sun. We have many areas in the county that have heavy soil. Alliums prefer good drainage so raised beds are an excellent solution to the growing medium problems brought on by clay. Sandy soil in the west county drains well. If raised beds won’t work for you, then add an abundance of amendments and compost to the site. Don’t skip on the amendments and compost. In this case, more is better. This also means adding amendments to sandy soil.

Thoroughly work the amendments and compost down to a depth of at least 18 inches. The leeks will appreciate a medium that allows the roots to work down through the soil.

Alliums are very heavy feeders and they will thrive in soil that has available nitrogen; do add blood meal or cottonseed meal to the growing site. Also add bone meal for phosphorous.

Plan on laying a drip irrigation system before planting. Pile soil around the base of the leeks as they develop to keep the base of the plants white.

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Mr. Stockpole writes: What do you know about varieties of “gourmet greens”? My garden friends have frequently referred to lettuce in these terms. Can you name a few? It seems like it would be fun to grow some and expand my lettuce selections.

Here are a few suggestions.

Arugula salad, or many times called Roquette, and the botanical name is Eruca sativa. Seeds can be sowed in early spring through late fall. It is frost hardy and very easy to grow.

Wild arugula, named botanically as Diplotaxis. A good variety is D. tenuifolium “Red Dragon,” a perennial that does well with low water, it has oak leaf foliage with maroon veins. The entire group of arugulas have a variety of germination times; from 30, 40 to 50 days. They are all somewhat spicy and they add a nice flavor boost to tossed salads.

Corn Salad/Mache. Mache’s botanically name is Valerianella locusta, the leaves are succulent and firm.

Why not try our native miner’s lettuce? It is known as Claytonia perfoliata. Known to grown in moist areas; it is the most cold tolerant, and it can grow in protected areas year round. Its germination time is 42 days. Territorial Seed Company has an excellent variety of lettuce seeds with very helpful descriptions and growing directions.

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Justin Brown asks: I have not been successful transplanting our native Matilja poppies. Do you have any tips?

Here is some proven advice from a local hybridizer/propagator: Transplant Matilja poppies in the dead of winter (January) when the soil is very moist and cold. Matilja poppies hate having their roots disturbed, people always try to transplant them in the spring or during the growing season and have horrible success rates. Be careful and gentle with the root ball making sure not to disturb it during the transplant process. It hates root disturbance. Once they are established, growing them is like a walk in the park!

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Charlie asks: I recently visited the Sunset Cornerstone Gardens and there was a stunning garden filled with ornamental grasses that line the edges of the pathways. They had masses of cloudlike soft blooms. Can you tell by my description it’s name?

The grass is Muhlenbergia capillaris (White Cloud). It is one of the last ornamental grasses to bloom in autumn. It is certainly stunning when planted in mass.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at pdgardendoctor@gmail.com. The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com.

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