Attention all Californians: Fall is the best time for planting! It’s almost as easy as falling down: Put your plants in the ground, watch it rain, watch your plants grow, watch your plants explode into spring bloom. Voilà! Compare that with planting in spring or summer, when you plant and water, water, water…and worry if your babies will survive those long, hot days and high, drying sun.
I planted my Los Angeles front yard one late October and didn’t have to water it again until May – and just look at how it’s still thriving several years later!
Photo Credit: Robert Smaus
But in fall, the sun is low in the sky and days are short – even if they’re still occasionally hot (which you can count on in California). And if you do need to irrigate, you don’t have to worry if the water will evaporate before reaching your plants – it’ll soak into the ground wonderfully, even lasting a long time because the sun won’t dry out the earth (or your plants) so much.
Sometimes watering isn’t even necessary. It’s rare, but once in a while the winter rains are perfectly spaced so the ground never completely dries out. This actually happened in my Los Angeles garden the year I replanted my front yard with natives, vegetables, herbs and some drought-tough trees and shrubs. I planted the garden in late October and watered it once. We didn’t water again until May.
Of course, that was blind luck – but even in normal years, every drenching storm means you don’t need to water for a few days – or even weeks – which is a big difference from having to water every day in the growing season.
In Southern California, the fall planting season begins in early November most years, after the worst of the autumn heat and Santa Ana winds, and it lasts through to January. Some years you can get started earlier (like I did the year I replanted the front yard). In Northern California, it’s safe to start your fall planting in mid-October, but you’ll probably need to stop by early December when it starts getting chilly.
What can you plant in fall? A surprising variety of beauties! First and foremost, you should consider California native plants, which are risky to plant other times of the year since they’re so sensitive to overwatering – which you do a lot of in spring and summer to keep your other plants alive. The same goes for all other drought-resistant Mediterranean plants, like rock rose or rosemary, even though they’re much less sensitive.
By and large, most trees, shrubs and groundcovers do best when planted in autumn, as well. The chief exceptions to the rule are subtropical plants, like citrus and bougainvillea – these need warm weather to grow. Plant them in fall, and they’ll sulk though winter.
So now that autumn’s in full swing, get your gardening gloves on, grab your spade and compost and get ready to dig! The best part about this time of year for us is that we have to do so little to reap great rewards come spring!