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How to Start a Garden in the Valley

How to Start a Garden in the Valley
View from Grant Park, Ventura (Stephen Schaefer)

Life in SoCal means we don’t have to endure harsh winters – which also means year-round gardening. Even with chillier days and longer nights, you can invest in a garden now that will beautify your property and put food on your table by spring.

Eating homegrown veggies can be accomplished with a bit of labor, not much money and a minimum of water, which is important in the Valley. And fragrant bouquets of sweet peas, calendulas and stock, as well as chasmanthe, daffodils and paperwhites will spruce up the yard.


Here are 10 tips for planting a beautiful, thriving garden in the San Fernando Valley:

1.     Location. Choose a spot that gets as much direct sun as possible all day long – at least six hours' worth. For plants that you expect to flower and fruit, add another two hours minimum. Without these minimums, many plants will survive but not thrive.


2.     Soil. Healthy soil makes for healthy plants. "Feed" the soil with lots of compost and manure so roots will grow well. Don't depend on chemical fertilizer alone.

3.     Types of Plants. Select varieties that do well in the Valley and with small amounts of water. For a vegetable garden, lettuce, peas, beets, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, oranges and kale will thrive.

4.     Seeds or Transplants? Buy only the healthiest you can find. Some plants such as lettuce and sweet peas thrive when started from seed. Novice gardeners shouldn't bother with droopy bargain plants. There's no guarantee you can revive them.

5.     Spacing. Know how tall and wide the mature plant will become, and plant so it'll barely touch the plant next to it. If planted closer, they'll compete for water and fertilizer, and you'll have to remove half of them later because they will be stressed and susceptible to pests.


6.     Timing. Plant in the late afternoon to enable the plant to adapt to its new home overnight. Planting in the morning will subject plants to being "attacked" by direct sun, lessening their ability to reestablish themselves quickly.

7.     Prepare the roots. Roughen up the rootball to stimulate new roots by pulling it apart a bit – otherwise, the plant will remain dry while the surrounding soil will be soggy.

8.     Make space. Dig the hole at least three times wider than the pot the plant came in, but no deeper, and combine the soil with the potting mix you loosened from the rootball. Otherwise, the plant roots will hit a solid wall and struggle to get through to the surrounding soil.

9.     Water. If you're planting with containers, fill the basin three times to completely moisten the soil a good foot beyond the rootball. Repeat in three days. Then water once every week or two depending on weather and rain.

10.  Mulch, Mulch, Mulch. Even during winter, keep replenishing a 2-to-4-inch-thick layer of organic matter on top of the soil to moderate soil temperature, conserve moisture and prevent weeds from sprouting. Water the area well before laying down the mulch, or you'll insulate dry soil.

— Yvonne Savio, Brand Publishing Writer

Savio manages and teaches the Master Gardener Volunteer Program for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County.

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