What is the busiest time of the year for you in your garden; the month that you spend more time than any other? If you answered March, April or May you’re a typical gardener. You may even be an avid gardener. Certainly most of our gardens reach their floral peak during these spring months. Gardens and springtime just seem to go together.
But if you answered that October and November are your busiest gardening times, more likely than not, you’re an excellent and experienced gardener. Certainly you’re a smart gardener.
Contrary to popular belief, fall — and not spring — is the best time to plant in all parts of Orange County. Fall planting is appropriate here in Orange County, where we enjoy a mild Mediterranean climate of dry, sunny summers and wet, but mild winters.
Yes, spring is a tempting time to plant. In spring, gardens are glowing with flowers. Nurseries in spring are overflowing with healthy and colorful temptations. Fortunately, in Orange County gardeners can get away with planting almost any time of the year, but there is a best time, and this is it. There are many reasons why the months of October and November are the best months of the year for landscape planting as well as garden re-do’s.
A plant set into the ground over the next eight weeks has the hot days of summer behind it, the likelihood of moist winter rains ahead and still-warm soil to encourage immediate and deep root growth. In fact, fall soil temperatures in Orange County are as much as five degrees warmer than the same soil in spring. Warm soil is a key to quick root growth while cool soil discourages rooting.
During the fall months in Orange County the top growth of most plants will begin to slow down, but the root systems are continuing to grow. In fact, in southern California, the root systems of many plants actually contract during summer. Rather than expanding into additional soil, summer roots systems may become smaller and less active. This is especially true with many plants of Mediterranean origins, including most of our native plants.
In fall though, the root systems of these same plants are expanding quickly; in some cases very quickly. Plant roots are growing more quickly now than at any other time of the year. Root development is enhanced by the plant’s opportunity to start establishing itself without the added pressure of supporting a flush of spring leaf growth.
There is no other time of the year that offers a better planting opportunity than fall. Most shrubs, vines, groundcovers, trees, California natives, bulbs, perennials and lawns planted now will root thoroughly during the fall and winter months with very little attention.
Water use is conserved with fall planting as well. As the days grow shorter and the nights longer, newly installed plants will transpire much less water through their leaves than at other times of the year, therefore requiring fewer irrigations. New feeder roots grow quickly into the warm soil, and the deep soaking winter rains will encourage these roots to penetrate the soil quickly and deeply.
There are few exceptions to our fall planting rule, the most obvious one being true tropical plants. The warm climate, heat-loving tropical plants from equatorial regions of the world are usually better planted in late spring or summer when the days are long and the temperature are high. Wait until next year to plant citrus, plumeria, bananas, palms and other tropicals. But for just about everything else, this is planting time.
The gardening year begins now in southern California, not in six more months like most of the rest of the continent. Orange County gardens would be better off with much more fall planting. The day may never come when all local gardeners abide by the “fall is for planting” principle, but the best, most experienced gardeners already know this. They’re probably in their gardens planting right now . . . too busy to be reading this.
Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar