October and November is when Autumn takes hold in Southern California.
It is when our mild Mediterranean climate makes our gardens wake-up and get growing. Spring is for enjoying our gardens, but fall is for working in them.
There are so many things to do right now, it’s difficult to know where to start; pruning, planting, dividing and so forth. For locals, fall may be the best time of the year to spend time in the garden: the soil is still warm, rains are near and the cooler temperatures make being in the garden even more pleasant. The golden autumn light, the clean smell of the air and the lengthening shadows make this my favorite time to work in the garden.
And there is plenty to do. Here are a few suggestions for local gardeners to tackle in the next few weeks:
Plant Winter Vegetables and Herbs
The changing temperatures mean it’s time to surrender your tomatoes, peppers, squash and other summer plants to our cool-season specialties. Now is the time to plant out leafy specialties like all types of lettuce, romaine, endive, spinach and others. Also included are easy to grow Asian greens and gourmet choices like arugula and radicchio. Onions, garlic and chives are in season, as are all members of the cabbage family, such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale. Root crops also like the shorter, cooler days and include radish, beets, turnips, carrots and even potatoes. Finally, this is the time to start snap peas, snow peas, shelling peas and fava beans.
If you’ve failed at cilantro before, try it now. It won’t wither away or go to seed instantly, like it does in the warm months of the year. Other herbs for the season include the family of anise, dill and fennel as well as borage, chervil, chamomile, chives, parsley and, sorrel.
Many are new this year to growing vegetables and herbs at home. One of the most important lessons learned is to give up now on any remnant summer crops and move on. Rather than nursing a straggly end-of-season tomato or withering basil plant, take them out now and instead make room for the bounty of winter vegetable and herb offerings.
Flower bulbs, such as daffodils, paperwhites, amaryllis, freesia, anemone, Dutch Iris and ranunculus should be planted soon. These are among the easiest and least expensive additions to a winter and spring Orange County flower garden. Either in pots or in the ground, planted in the next thirty days, these bulbs will need almost no additional water, fertilizer or other attention. But beware of the value-packs of tiny little bulbs at a super cheap price, which provide very few flowers. Instead, hunt for the largest bulbs available and plant them in groups, with taller varieties behind the smaller ones, either in containers on in the ground.
Just like summer vegetables, it’s time to replace summer flowers with cool-season winter selections. Petunias, zinnias, dahlias, lobelia and others should give way now to cool-growing pansies, violas, snapdragons, stock, poppies, sweet peas and more. In shady spots, impatiens and begonias will struggle through the next half dozen cool months, but if replaced now by cyclamen, primrose or cineraria, your garden will be alive with colorful flowers.
Plant Native Plants
The growing interest in adding a few California native plants into local gardens is long overdue. If you’ve got the itch, this is the best time to scratch it. Go shopping now and start planting. Easy native plant specialties like ceanothus, coral bells, California fuchsia, toyon and others should be in good supply and love to be planted just before winter rains resume.
If you haven’t already started composting your green waste at home, this would be a great time to begin. Fall leaves and garden trimming usually offer a plentiful supply of all the ingredients needed to make your own brown gold. Rather than roll the green-waste bin to the curb each week, or have the gardener drive away with a load of trimmings, bring it over to the compost bin. Soon you will have your own supply of rich, organic planting mix and mulch – just what your garden needs.
Turn Off Your Sprinklers
I like to remind gardeners at this time of year to turn their sprinklers controllers to “OFF”. Unlike our hot, dry summer, over the next several months our weather is too irregular for any clock-driven device to know when to irrigate. One week you’ll need to water two or three times, then a change in the weather might mean no irrigations for the rest of the month. Until summer returns, it’s easy enough to simply learn how to use the “MANUAL” feature on the controller. You will save precious water and your plants will thank you.
Questions from Readers October 24
I want to plant a fruiting olive tree. Is there a particular variety that I should ask for and where can I buy one?
Alberto - Newport
There are a number of excellent fruiting olive choices, with subtle differences in fruit characteristics. Most gardens centers should be able to order what you want. Some of the best fruiting varieties include ‘Ascolano’, ‘Manzanillo’, ‘Mission’ and ‘Sevillano’.
Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar and his profile can be seen at on theMulch.com.