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Roots dig deep in fall, which is why it's the perfect season to plant

Listen up, SoCal gardeners: Fall — not spring — is the perfect time to be planting.

Perennials, the flowering plants that come back year after year, need cooler, wetter conditions to get established in their new homes. Planting in the fall lets them stretch their roots and settle in before facing the punishing heat of summer, said Theresa McLemore, manager of UC Riverside’s Botanic Gardens.

“When those harsh conditions come back, you want your plants to be well established,” McLemore said. “I wouldn’t recommend this in Boston, but we have such mild winters in Southern California, this is the best time to plant almost everything, especially California native plants.”

And there’s no shortage of places to get those plants.

The Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden in Arcadia is selling a wide selection of succulents, drought tolerant and low water plants, landscaping and ground cover plants, scented geraniums as well as assorted herbs. There will also be used books about gardening and horticulture available at the library during the sale, which runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 21 and Oct. 22. In the days ahead, the arboretum will post a sneak peek at offerings on its website — arboretum.org — and its Facebook page. 

Garden admission prices start at $4 for children aged 5-12, and $9 for adults. Plant prices start at $3.

Riverside’s Botanic Gardens is also hosting its annual plant fall sale that same weekend: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 22 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 23.  

Gardeners heading to the Riverside sale can plan ahead by looking at the offerings online, where they are listed with the botanic and common name and whether the plant attracts hummingbirds or butterflies, is water efficient, a California native, good for cutting or fragrant. (Note: The sale also offers winter vegetable plants and succulents that won’t be listed.)

Gallon-size plants range from $8 to $10. Admission and parking are free. Free classes are offered both days on growing and carving pumpkins, planting a winter vegetable garden, growing California natives and composting.

We asked Riverside’s McLemore to walk us through a sampling of the offerings on sale, and why they’re perfect for planting now in Southern California gardens: 

Asclepias

No garden is complete without a few asclepias (a.k.a. milkweed), the primary food of the caterpillars that become Monarch butterflies. The Botanical Gardens offers milkweeds in several colors, all attractive to Monarchs, who lay their eggs among the leaves. The bright flowers also attract bees and other useful insects.

Salvia

Hummingbirds love the vividly colored salvia flowers, and UC Riverside’s Botanical Gardens propagates its own in a wide range of colors, including purple, red, white, yellow, pink and peach. These showy plants grow in full or part sun, are drought-tolerant and bloom summer and fall.

Abutilon “Moonchimes”

This shrub isn’t drought-tolerant, but if you keep it moist, Moonchimes will flood your garden with luscious yellow flowers. “They look like fairies wearing ballerina skirts, hanging upside down,” said McLemore. “They’re my favorites.”

Pelargonium “Oldbury Duet”

This sun-loving geranium, with its silver-green and white leaves, is beautiful even when it isn’t blooming, but its flowers are a showstopping mix of bright pink and deep rose.

Lavender

Bees adore lavender flowers, which also make fragrant arrangements for your home in the fall. The plants thrive in sun and don’t require much water once they’re established.

Zephyranthes Fairy Lilies

Pink upright flowers grow from bulbs that spread through the garden, providing cheerful color in areas of dappled light. They’re not super-thirsty, McLemore said, but they do need regular water. Zephyranthes grow well in containers or in the ground.

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