Southern California garden
In Southern California and other mild-winter climates, winter months offer cool weather to make working in the garden a pleasant job and enough rain to make digging soil easier. Winter is also the best time to prepare new garden beds for planting. Whether you are starting a new garden or cleaning up an old one, here are some suggestions you can keep in mind to make sure you start out right.
Prepare your garden soil. Dig over the upper surface of your soil and remove larger stones and sticks. When you dig over the soil, you will be aerating it and cutting down on weed germination. Deep digging is usually not necessary and can disturb the natural balance of living and non-living materials below. Turning the soil is the perfect time to add any organics or other soil amendments that might make your soil into a better home for the plants you plan to plant. For native California plants, many drought-tolerants and most cacti and succulents, add no extras to your soil. Most of the inland chaparral has the well-drained, low-organic soil these plants want. City areas tend to have more clay which is rich in minerals, but drains poorly so these soils will do well with added sand, pebbles or other soil conditioners.
Add compost for the more traditional garden plants, and if you want to try any of the acid-lovers like azaleas, camellias or gardenias, plan on digging in plenty of peat, moss or other acid soil amendments. Expect to babysit acid loving plants inland as local hard water might be neutralizing all your efforts to keep these plants happy. They are best grown in small, contained beds or pots where you’ll have the most control over keeping down alkalinity. Most of the Southern California city areas have softer water and will find it easier to grow acid-loving plants.
Remove as many weeds as you can. Hand removal and hoeing are easiest when weeds are small. If you have a new garden bed where there are likely to be left over roots or weed seeds that will become problematic in the spring, you might want to lay down a covering of black plastic that will heat up in the sun and fry some of those nascent problems below. Layers of newspaper will also help to suffocate unwanted weeds in the unplanted soil. Leave the covering on top of the soil for at least a month during winter before planting. Expect some tough roots like dandelion or Bermuda grass to survive despite your best efforts.
Build your new garden bed with provisions to discourage pests. Line the bottom of new planters with hardware cloth or small gauge chicken wire to discourage gophers from burrowing up from below. Try surrounding beds with solid or wire walls or where rabbits can are looking to feast off of your young plants. Preparing for pests when the garden planter is new will save you a lot of frustration and retrofitting later.
Make new vegetable beds safe. Be cautious about introducing toxic materials to edible gardens. If you are using railroad ties or treated wood for construction, you may want to line the vegetable plot with plastic sheeting. Railroad ties can leach creosote into the soil and there is some concern about the chemicals used in preserved wood, though the question is still under debate. Both these materials make good surrounds for gardens, but you might want to stay safe by lining the interior of vegetable gardens.
Factor in irrigation early. Most garden plants will need extra water during Southern California’s hot, dry summers. If you install your watering systems before planting, you will avoid damaging the root systems of your plants. A successful landscape will have more than one type of irrigation. Woody plants and drought-tolerant plants usually appreciate slow, deep watering. Lawns prefer staying moist within the top inch or so of the soil. Popular bedding annuals and the majority of vegetables like plenty of water. Container gardens need carefully placed irrigation. And hillsides should be treated differently from level areas. There are a lot of different systems to choose from even within the categories of drip, sprinkler heads, soakers and water flooding applications. If you do a little research you can set up the best system for each area you plant encouraging strong, healthy growth with little water waste. Once you start placing your plants, you can tweak the spacing and volume to make your irrigation efficient.
Plan out your garden beds before planting. Then buy plants and set them where you want first. It is easier to move them around before you actually put them in the ground. Plan them out for their full growth size leaving plenty of room for them to grow. Again, spending a little extra time in the preparation is likely to make for more successful new garden beds.
It may take a little more time to set up your garden planting carefully at the start, but the savings in time and expense later will more than pay you back. Plus, seeing your plants thriving and showing off beautifully as they grow in will certainly make the effort worthwhile.
Summer can become very hot in Southern California. The beaches stay cool from the influence of the ocean and this is probably why coastal areas are so heavily populated. As you move inland air dries and temperature ranges increase making 90 to 110 degree (F) daytime highs commonplace, depending on where you live.
All areas in this part of California experience little to no rain during the summer months. That means that gardens should be well planned to fit the soil conditions and climate. Cactus and succulent plants have adapted to handle periods of drought by storing water in their stems or leaves. The result is the fascinating array of sculptural shapes and forms that these plants grow in. Because they come in all shapes, sizes and colors, cacti and succulents can be as decorative as flowers. Plus, they will handle the long dry summer season of Southern California better than most other garden plants.
Because water can be stored in plant tissues, these plants are not totally dependent on their root system. They need a good root system to take up water and to support their weight, but the system does not have to be as extensive as one that needs to supply a constant intake of water.
Water is a headline-making topic for all of the Southern California area. And it’s not going away any time soon. So using plants that are adapted to periods of drought in your garden is clearly a smart idea.
In the dry heat of the summertime, it can be a challenge to plant trees, shrubs and flowers, especially in more inland gardens. They will all need special attention – unless you use cactus and succulent plants. Not only do these water-storing plants enjoy the sunshine and dry air of Los Angeles County and San Diego area summers, but they prefer to be planted dry. That means you don’t have to fuss over them. A dry, sandy soil is ideal, but they will adapt to any fast-draining medium, including the decomposed granite common to the hills and canyons. Planting cacti and succulents in dry soil encourages the roots to stretch out in search of water, growing the root system into surrounding soil for stability.
The one thing you want to avoid with cacti and succulents is the combination of cold and wet together. If you live in parts of Southern California where temperatures drop during the winter rainy season, make extra sure your plants are set in sandy or stony soil that quickly drains water away from the body of your plants. These areas are best planted in the summertime. Cacti and succulents do well in coastal gardens, too, and are safe from frost damage in the winter. They can be planted any time of the year, but the dry summer is still preferred.
Summer is the perfect time to get these plants established in Southern California. Check into the varieties you are buying to make sure they will match your micro-climate. Some cacti cannot handle any frost and some succulents will burn in full sun.
Use these plants mixed in with other garden flowers, in beds of their own, as lawn replacements and/or to cover hillsides. Use big, bold plants like the agave as a focal point or small plants like sedum for ground cover. Create a succulent dish garden in a flat container or by using a pot. Or make your landscape into a three-dimensional painting by adding rocks and garden décor. There are so many ways these plants can be an asset to the garden while fitting in nicely with our water concerns here in Southern California.
As soon as all the hustle at Halloween time is over, preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday appears on the horizon. It’s November in the Southern California chaparral, and this is a great month to take time to put your garden to work balancing out holiday stress and burning off those extra calories with garden projects. The days are shorter so with or without rain, you can cut back on irrigation. If it’s dry, add a little more hand-watering in vulnerable spots where Santa Ana winds might dry things out. Work in the garden can can be both therapeutic and enjoyable in November.
Clean up and batten down: it’s time for the Santa Ana winds. We live in the canyon between the high desert and the San Fernando Valley and this is a main corridor for winds to develop at this time of year as high pressure systems set up to the east. Winds can whip up to blustering forces so make sure your garden is ready. Rake up leaves and put away anything that could get whisked away in a powerful gust. Remove any brush or dried plants near your house. Don’t forget to clean gutters, too. Collected trash invites rodents, plugs up drains that could flood parts of your garden or your home when it rains, and creates a flammable foothold for flying embers should a wildfire decide to sizzle your way. If you want to use containers or pots in your landscape, opt for the heavier ceramic or cast cement types that will not be affected by the autumn winds.
Plant out hardy plants and seeds in the garden. Drought-tolerant plants and California natives tend to suffer less shock when planted in the cooler temperatures and shorter days of November. This is also a fine time to add wildflowers to your landscape. Sprinkling out a fistful of wildflower seed is a perfect way to fill in large open areas with colorful blooms in the spring. Keep everything well watered until seeds are germinated and roots of the newly planted are well established. Winds will dry out the surface of the soil quickly. The best way to get good germination is to scatter your wildflower seed a little at a time the day before rainfall is predicted. By planting seeds in succession you will get a longer blooming period in spring. And whenever the forecast is right, natural rain will be effective in planting the seed and germinating it fast, before the wildlife decides to gobble it up.
Cut back more on lawn watering. Unless you are over-seeding with a winter annual grass to keep lawns green year round, you can save yourself maintenance and money while helping out the water reserves. Most lawn grasses in our area, like Bermuda grass, will NOT die, but will simply go olive colored and stop requiring to be mowed. To keep your lawn healthy, this is also a good time of year to aerate the grass area. You can use a manual tool or a machine. Either one will dig out little plugs of soil allowing rain to penetrate better and air pockets to form that will help growth in the spring. Of course, if you really want your property to be low maintenance, you can reduce your lawn to only the most functional space and substitute a drought-resistant garden, permeable paving, a sports area, a vegetable garden or some other more useful or decorative garden feature.
Seeding root crops and winter edibles in the vegetable garden. It’s not too late to plant lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, leeks, onions, chard and peas. Or opt for buying multi-packs or four inch containers of these same vegetables that are already started and several inches big. Add rhubarb roots in the shade and plant a whole crop of onions and garlic with packages of small starter onions or from seed. Root crops will usually germinate reasonably well even in February. Give plants a little extra water to help them settle in. Especially if it is windy. You might also want to get a jump on the spring season by starting some of the warm weather crops indoors. You don’t need a greenhouse, a well lit window will do the trick. Just make sure you don’t let the planting medium dry out. Some long season, warmth loving edibles that will appreciate the early start are tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers and eggplants.
Have a holiday garden hunt. The holiday season can find gardeners overstressed and families at home wondering what to do. You can turn your garden into fun for the kids or a family project by making holiday decorations together. You might even want to gather together some of your children’s friends or the neighborhood kids to put together a nature treasure hunt. It may be old fashioned, but it usually derails the hi-tech generation from their devices for a few hours in an entertaining project that focuses them on some of nature’s miracles that don’t require anything to be plugged in. Look for interesting seed pods, sticks, pine cones knocked down in the wind, or anything else that might create an interesting centerpiece or wreath with the addition of a colorful bow. Or set your collectors to inventing their own decorations and stimulate young imaginations.
November in Southern California can offer a wide range of weather conditions. It also brings friends and families together. Use your garden. It will not only offer you a chance to make your landscape productive, but can be a source of entertainment, creative projects, or just an opportunity to slip away to the comforts of nature when the everyday demands become stressful.
It’s been yet another odd weather year here in Southern California. Winds took their toll, especially on shade and fruit trees. The month of May will require a little extra pruning and clean-up in addition to the regular to-do list in the garden. Combine regular garden grooming along with care for the growth you can expect this month. May is one of the most active months for blooming California native plants, wildflowers and for cropping the end of the cool season vegetables.
Take advantage of some of the best weather for gardening. Get out and garden like crazy before it gets too hot. Preparing your garden well in spring will guarantee better results later. It’s time to put in annuals and perennials, hardy and delicate plants and all the warm-season vegetables. Avoid cool season crops like lettuce, peas and cabbage as they’ll languish in the coming heat.
Got compost? Dig it into the soil now. If not, this is a great time to start up a compost heap as you clean up the garden. Use compost over the surface of flower and vegetable beds alike. If you don’t have compost of your own, buy it in bags or try another mulch material like bark chips that will slowly break down and offer organic matter to our hungry soils. A top dressing of mulch will help keep moisture in the soil as we head into the long dry season. It will also insulate underground roots from hot, burning sun in inland gardens.
Time to take another look at irrigation. Set your watering systems onto early morning irrigation and look into some of the newer timers for sale that will save you a whole lot of time and energy by automatically adjusting your watering systems for you. Put together soaker hoses and drip systems to keep your garden plants strong and healthy while reducing your water bills. Most gardens will benefit from more than one type of irrigation system. Trees will like slow, deep watering, lawns need broad sprinklers, drought-tolerant gardens will do well with drip irrigation, and so on.
Add something new. With the crash in property values, it might be the perfect time to spruce up your garden with big additions like spas, barbecues, swimming pools or other features you always wanted. Design in fountains, ponds or patio areas that will make outdoor living a pleasure in coming months. Then at least you can luxuriate in your backyard space while you wait for housing values to come back.
May is the perfect month for gardening in Southern California. It is likely to offer an assortment of weather from cool to hot, moist to dry, sunny to foggy. There should be many days that will match your favorite outdoor gardening weather. Take advantage of them and dive into spring gardening.
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