From mid-October to the end of January is our big planting season. That's when the weather has cooled enough to make life less stressful for new plants. As any newcomer knows, it's tough moving into a neighborhood. Plants need time to grow roots so they can find necessary moisture and nutrients and not be totally dependent on the gardener's erratic irrigation and fertilizing. With the sun low in the sky, moisture doesn't transpire as quickly from leaves or evaporate from the ground; when you do water a new plant, it lasts. Santa Ana winds, however, can quickly dry out new plantings.
With any luck, winter rains will help with the irrigating. Nothing waters as gently and thoroughly as a soft rain.
In fall, you can't see things growing because most growth is underground. While cooling days may shut down top growth, roots will grow in a soil still warm from summer. In spring, you'll see dramatic results as the leafy growth explodes, thanks to all those new roots. It's a hard-to-beat combo: less stress, root growth and rain.
What to plant
It's easier to list what not to plant. Subtropical and tropical plants such as avocados, bananas, citrus, gingers and hibiscus will do better planted in warming, rather than cooling, weather because they do most of their growing then. Roses and deciduous fruit trees, such as apples and peaches, are more available during the January-February bare-root season. Planting them that way is also easier, so you might wait on those. Just about everything else in the landscape benefits from fall planting: trees, shrubs and ground covers, especially those from similar Mediterranean climates. And California natives, which are often difficult to get going at any other time of the year, are a natural for fall planting.
This is their season
Some annual flowers and vegetables grow only in late fall, winter and early spring, so they need to be planted sometime soon. A few gardeners wait until around the holidays to plant these cool-season flowers, hoping they will bloom in late spring and miss winter's rains. Others plant as early as they can, hoping to have flowers for the holidays. Good choices in cool-season bedding plants include annual African daisy, sweet alyssum, calendula, Canterbury bell, English daisy, Iceland poppy, larkspur, lobelia, pansy, annual phlox, ranunculus, stock, sweet pea, sweet William and viola. Ornamental cabbage and kale are two bedding plants grown for foliage, not flowers. In shady spots, try primroses and florist's cyclamen.
It is also time to plant spring flowering bulbs. (See Page 4.)
Vegetables that do best in this season include beet, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrot, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, endive, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leek, head and leaf lettuce, mesclun mixes, onion, pea, radish, spinach, snow peas, Swiss chard and turnip. Grow them from seed or small plants, although broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower should be put in only as small plants so they can be planted a little deeper and stand up straighter.
Love that lawn
Fescue lawns, nearly everyone's favorite, start growing again as the weather cools so you'll need to mow more often, water and maybe fertilize. It's also a good time to start a new fescue lawn from seed or sod, or to patch holes and thin spots in existing lawns by seeding or buying squares of sod. Holes aren't much of a problem in Bermuda grass since it is spreading and self-repairing.
It goes nearly or completely brown in winter, however, and needs to be over-seeded with annual ryegrass. Because trick-or-treaters are on their way along with maybe a little more hot weather, it's best to wait until November for this autumn garden job.