Northern California Gardener's September Checklist

Back in the 1960s, with a baby girl and another on the way, I had a second job working in a nursery on weekends (and needed a third). Every fall we brought out the banner ads calling autumn “California’s second spring” This was not just some kind of bogus advertising slogan, like “Petunias will include $100K into the worth of your property!”

Fall really is a much better season than spring in Northern California. No long lines in the garden centre. No more B-list celebrities hawking miraculous fertilizers on TV. Meaningful soccer games and major league pennant races in precisely the exact same time. And California’s best planting period is — possibly, I will grant — September 15 to October 15. If you plant now, daytime temperatures and the dirt are still warm enough to promote growth, with no occasional brutally hot spells of summer that will torch plants. Roots may get established before the cool, rainy season, and top growth will be ready to take off next spring.

Except for tender tropicals not equipped to handle the frosts that will arrive in a few months, these conditions suit almost anything you might want to plant now: cool-season flowers and vegetables, perennials, wildflowers, sailors, several bulbs. It’s also the best time of year to tackle major landscaping — including a yard, floor covers, a tree to your patio, whatever.

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Flowers by Christmas. Use one of the excellent payoffs of our region: Plant cool-season annuals (Iceland poppies, pansies, calendulas and much more) this month or early next month, also you ought to have blooms by late November or early December. Blooming slows down a little over the winter, then flourishes even more in early spring.

Be sure to provide a sunny spot and a mattress of mattress of loose, well-drained soil that’s fortified with compost. A splash will be made by A few pots of annuals that are cool-season. It’s amazing how eye catching just a couple Iceland poppies — their crepe-like blossoms tug on improbably slender stalks — appear if little else is blooming. ‘Champagne Bubbles’, shown here, is a brilliant, dependable strain. The “Iceland” from the title isn’t poetic license; the crops are hardy and perennial in cold climates. In gentle California they shine in fall, winter and spring, then burn out in summer.


Big-time placing. Here is the time to search for garden centre bargains and put in crops that will really make a difference on your garden. If you want a tree which performs right now, think about Sasanqua camellia. It does not produce humongous flowers like Japonica camellia, but it blossoms finely (pink, red, white) in early fall through early winter.

Unlike the one-trick-pony Japonica (basically a thick tree), Sasanqua makes a great landscape plant: It can be low and flat as a tall ground cover or base plant (‘Shishi Gashira’), or vertical and tall for a backdrop or possibly a hedge (‘Jean May’ and ‘Setsugekka'( shown here).

Have faith in natives. California native plants barely ever seem good in small toddlers headphones, and in fall they seem pretty adorable and tender — or maybe “dead” is the term I’m searching for. But that’s just their way. Natives tend to shine in spring and proceed almost dormant in the dry summer months, when they shut down in self-defense. Despite their appearances that are current, this is a fantastic time to plant California natives.

Depending on the species, Ceanothus (California lilac) may make a quick display, hedge, floor cover, standalone tree or small tree. For a big, fast evergreen tree, try ‘Ray Hartman’ ceanothus, displayed here. Planted now, it is going to require regular watering until the rains come, establish itself throughout the rainy season, then surge with growth next spring. By next March or April, do not hesitate to see a foot or two of fresh growth and clusters of vibrant blue flowers.

Laura Trevey

A tree to your patio. What makes an perfect tree for a patio or other moderate-size outdoor living space? Generally you will want a plant that’s on the side, great looking when you sit under it, well dressed without need for frequent pruning or clutter sweep-up, and not needing frequent pruning or other care.

In Northern California, even in the hottest climates, crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) meets that job description. It will do something pretty every day of this year. From the heat of summer, its flowers bloom in bouquet-size clusters of rich colors of red, pink, white and purple. The leaves turn orange, yellow and red in fall. Leafless trees in the winter reveal pink and brown bark that’s occasionally so smooth it gleams. For a patio tree, based on your space, you may pick a crepe myrtle with one trunk or several trunks. Beware if you reside in a cool coastal climate, in which mildew often strikes the leaves and blossoms so severely, you probably should make another option for a prominent role on the patio.

5 Best-Behaved Trees into Grace a Patio

More gardening jobs. What to do now? There are a number of other planting options, along with some essential jobs to maintain your garden going strong.

Order bulbs. If you reside in Northern California, do not worry about planting spring-blooming bulbs just yet. No requirement to plant until mid-October in the earliest, early December at the latest. However, you might want to order or store for tulips, daffodils, freesias and other bulbs now while supplies are plentiful. In mild Northern California, tulips need frightening on your refrigerator’s vegetable crisper for four to six weeks before planting.

Prepare planting beds. The best thing you can do now is to get planting beds and placing holes ready for fall planting. As a rule, for beds of annuals and perennials, add 2-3 inches of organic matter and then work it into a depth of a foot or so.

Start digging. If you’re planting good-size shrubs and trees, digging the planting hole won’t be easy after such a long, dry period. Moisten the area a day or 2 ahead: Dig a hole at least a few inches deep and as wide as needed for the planned plant, and fill the nut hole with water a few times that day. Let it simmer for a few times and dig to the complete depth once you plant.

Give present shrubs and trees a long drink. Check with a shovel or trowel. If you do not find moisture within a few inches, irrigate with a soaker hose or a slowly running sprinkler — provided that the local water company and your conscience permit it. If historical patterns hold true, after the 2011–2012 dry spell, we may not get substantial rain until January 2013. Keep your fingers crossed.

More: Southern California Gardener’s Checklist
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