A fundamental difference between California (at least its milder, more populated parts) and the rest of the country is its seasons. Officially, the state has the typical four, but California gardeners quickly learn that there are really only two seasons – especially when it comes to flowering bedding plants and vegetables – spring and fall. That may be the first thing homeowners learn when they move here.

Pansies

In California, pansies should be planted in autumn, not spring.

Photo Credit: Robert Smaus

Tomatoes in basket

Plant tomatoes and the other heat-loving veggies in spring.

Photo Credit: Robert Smaus

There’s a cool season and a warm season, and most flowers and vegetables do best in one or the other. Depending on exactly where you live in the state, the cool season starts in October (or sometime in autumn) and draws slowly to a close in March (or mid-spring), which is when the warm season gets going.

In other parts of the country, nearly everything gets planted sometime in spring. But that’s not the case in the Golden State. For example, California gardeners don’t plant pansies in spring – they wait until fall. It’s just a different climate out here.

Unfortunately, nurseries often have plants for sale that are about to go over the hill because it’s too late in their growing season. If you plant these “bargains,” you might get a week or two of skimpy flowers. These plants can be stuffed into pots for instant color, for parties and the like, but don’t waste your money planting them in your garden. They may finish up before you even get back in the house!

Instead, find out what flowering annuals or bedding plants are at the beginning of their growing season, and then look for the youngest to purchase. It’s best if the plants aren’t yet blooming (but good luck finding these anymore because they have zero sales appeal).

Plant small, young plants at the beginning of their season and they’ll have time to grow big, so when they do bloom, they’ll be smothered with blossoms. (That’s how gardeners a couple of decades back got such spectacular results.)

Same thing applies with vegetables. You don’t want to plant a pepper one week before it gets too cold to grow them, or plant something that’ll shrivel in the heat just before that first hot spell.

Knowing when to plant is as important as knowing what to plant. Understanding California’s two main growing seasons is the first step toward gardening success!