Chaparral Winter Gardening Tips
The curious thing about gardening in the Southern California chaparral is the unpredictability of the winter climate. Although you can expect cooler temperatures and more precipitation in the winter months, that’s no guarantee that you won’t have weeks on end of frosty nights, driving rains, dry, parched heat, fog or blustery Santa Ana winds. The good news is that soils retain water longer than in the hot, dry days of the summer and most plants require less water since they are growing slower. Local native plants are the exception since this is their major growth period. But don’t worry about these plants: they adapt comfortably to the variable chaparral winter.
If you are gardening in the chaparral, here are some winter gardening tips that should help you get the most out of this season.
- Grow cool weather edibles like peas, cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, broad beans and root crops.
- Get a jump on the season by planting warm weather vegetables like peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and other delicate vegetables indoors so they are big enough to plant out in April.
- Cut way back on lawn watering. Better: cut back on the size of your lawn so you only have to water and mow grass where it is most useful.
- Plant spring bulbs, asparagus crowns and strawberries.
- Do building projects. The weather is cooler for work and the ground easier to dig in the winter. This is the perfect time to build raised beds, patios, fences, ponds or other garden features to make your chaparral garden both lovely to look at and fun to use.
- Cut back trees before they break bud. Sap is flowing slowly so they will bleed minimally and suffer the least shock if you plant or majorly prune woody plants now.
- Seed open land with California wildflower seed to fill it full of flowers come the springtime.
- Use inclement days to sketch out plans for changes and new designs for the garden. Or bring in a garden designer to consult with or to do the job for you. You will save money by avoiding mistakes if you plan things out wisely from the start.
- Spray fruit trees with dormant oil.
- Hoe, dig and pull out all those little weeds while they are tiny and easy to get at. Wild California plants are tenacious little monsters and once they get their roots tangled into the soil they will fight hard to stay there. Keeping these seedlings weeded before they grow big will make the job of brush clearance — and gardening in general – much easier and life much safer when wildfire season rolls around later.
- Keep leaves gathered so pests don’t overwinter in them. And if you have a water feature, check that leaves and trash don’t blow in during windy periods to clog any plumbing or open water. I like to net my pond over the winter months to keep potential pollutants out of the water.
- Check your irrigation systems for cracks and leaks and install water saving help like drip irrigation, rain storage tanks, low volume sprinkler heads or ‘smart’ irrigation controllers to make maintenance easier and lower your water bills in coming months
And make sure you take some time to enjoy your garden on those occasional, lovely days when the temperatures are comfortable and air is brisk and clean. There is no better stress reducer than spending a little time in nature. So get some payback from your winter chaparral garden for all the efforts you put into taking care of it. And consider following some of these chaparral winter gardening tips so you will have a beautiful and productive spring garden with minimum maintenance.
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