There’s a saying in Southern California that if you don’t like the weather, just wait a day or two. In any given year, a few days in early April may have temperatures soaring into the high 90s that later in the same week give way to the marine layer on the Pacific moving in with foggy mornings and temps in the more reasonable mid-70s. While that’s just spring weather here in SoCal, it’s also nature’s way of warning us that summer is just around the corner – and that means you need to get planting now before it’s just too hot!

Profusion Zinnia

Profusion Cherry zinnia, an All-America Selections Award Winner, is perfect for Southern California’s hot, dry summers.

Photo Credit: All-America Selections

Wave Petunia

Most petunias are great for large containers.

Photo Credit: All-America Selections

Rudbeckia 'Prairie Sun'

All coneflowers do well in our hottest season.

Photo Credit: All-America Selections

Gaillardia 'Arizona Sun'

Gaillardias like the summer heat, bring beauty in the garden and make terrific cutflowers.

Photo Credit: All-America Selections

Raised bed vegetable garden

Raised vegetable beds make growing summer vegetables easy where space is an issue.

Photo Credit: Gerald Burke

Late April and on through May is the time to get out into your garden, plan and plant. Get those annual flowers in and a few perennials that love the heat – and let’s not forget those delicious summer vegetables!

For a good start with annuals, look to the tried-and-true dwarf marigolds and zinnias. Most can be grown from seed now, but some you’ll find as started plants in the garden center or nursery. When it comes to marigolds, look for Aurora seeds – they’re your best bet, giving you compact plants and double flowers in colors that include gold, yellow and a bicolor that’s red and yellow. Good single-flowered types of marigolds also can be seeded now, so give Disco Series a try. Another reliable double variety is the Janie Series that includes orange, red, gold, yellow and a bicolor that’s mahogany with a red center – you’ll probably find even find these as started plants!

Dwarf zinnias are quick to grow if seeded early, and one of the best is the spreading Profusion Series. These All-America Selections Award Winners come in colors of cherry, white and orange. The Profusions spread to about 2 feet and will get about a foot tall. Don’t forget to look for the seed of a couple of oldies, too: ‘Old Mexico’ zinnia, with bicolored blooms edged in mahogany with gold and orange centers, and Persian Carpet zinnia, a bicolor in mahogany and red around 13-16 inches tall that’s a great summer performer.

If these plants aren’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other choices that pack a colorful summer punch! Look for started plants of tall asters – Crego and Seastar are good varieties. Or start seed of Gaillardia, commonly called blanket flower, or tall and dwarf plumed celosia. And don’t forget the tall and weird-looking cockscomb celosia. All the coneflowers, including Rudbeckia hirta (gloriosa daisy), Echinacea and Ratibida columnifera (Mexican hat), can also be grown from seed or started plants, and they flourish in summer’s heat.

When picking dwarf plants for the border, consider Ageratum from seed or started plants for your partial-sun areas, alyssum from seed for sun or partial shade, and started impatiens for your solid-shade garden.

Want petunias for your containers? Now’s the time to get them in, too! The new low-growing, spreading Wave® petunias are worth a try. Grandiflora petunias have the big eye-catching flowers, and they make wonderful container plants as well. You also can’t miss with Portulaca, the little “moss roses” that look delicate and tropical, but will withstand any kind of hot, dry weather and flower well until November.

Of course, there are also a few perennials you can start from seed in late April and May, but you’ll have more success if you grow started plants. Keep an eye out for Aquilegia (columbine), Coreopsis, Delphinium, Gazania, Lisianthus, Oenothera and Salvia farinacea. (You might get some summer bloom from the coreopsis, gazania and salvia, but the others probably won’t flower until next spring.)

While many vegetables pay little attention to season, some really do better in summer. So start seed or set in started plants of eggplant, tomato, pepper, summer squash, all melons and other vining veggies like cucumber and pumpkin – and if you have the room, you can even try sweet corn. Vegetables need full sun, but most will tolerate and enjoy a little afternoon shade in summertime. Seed is readily available on seed racks, and started plants of most will be found in good nurseries and garden centers. Just be sure to follow all spacing directions on the packages so you don’t overcrowd your veggies!

If you want to be able to enjoy a fantastic summer garden this season, spring’s the time to get it growing! Temps are just too high in late June, July and August in most areas to garden – even along the coast – and it’s just too hot, hot, hot and dry, dry, dry to get a rewarding, fruitful and attractive garden. So let’s grab those trowels and get planting!