Tag Archives: fall gardening

Fall Gardening Tips

Someone asked me the other day  " What’s good to plant this time of year "?  It’s a good question.  I often receive emails asking for advice or ideas for solving all sorts of gardening problems and landscaping situations.  You may be wondering about some of these yourself.  Hopefully, they will solve your problem, too.

What is good to plant at this time of year ?
Fall is a good time to plant just about anything in this area. If you want an ornamental tree with spring flowers or a shade tree to keep the house cool in the summer, now is the time to plant.  The ground is moist now so digging is much easier and the warm soil will encourage root growth.  Shrubs of all types as well as perennials settle in nicely when planted in October and November.  Don’t have color in your garden from fall foliage like you see in other yards when driving around?  Take advantage of fall sales at local nurseries.  There are tons of plants now in fall color to choose from.

Why do trees turn colors in the fall?
The shorter days and cooler temperatures of autumn cause trees to switch into energy-storage mode, at which point their leaves stop producing chlorophyll.  For the few weeks before the leave fall to the ground, they are colored only by their natural pigments.  It’s these colors – red and purple anthocyanins,  yellow  and orange carotenoids –  that make fall foliage  so glorious. Some years the show is more dramatic than others.  The best conditions for intense leaf color to develop are dry sunny days followed by cool ( but not freezing ) nights. 
A warm, wet autumn will almost surely result in less-than-spectacular foliage because the process of chlorophyll loss will be less consistent.   Freezing temperature, meanwhile can cause leaves to drop suddenly, denying the opportunity to enter their slow, colorful dormancy. 


When do we usually get the first frost here? 
I have kept a weather calendar since 1992 and based on my records there was a light frost on Oct. 29, 2002.  I’ve seen an early hard frost as early as November 7th but more commonly, frost comes later in November.   In "97-’99 frost didn’t occur until the first week of December.  Be prepared.

How long can I leave my houseplants outside? 
Halloween is a good time to bring them in.  We don’t have the heater on full blast usually this early so they don’t suffer  shock going from a cold environment to a heated one.  Be sure to inspect them for insect pests and wash them off before bringing them inside. I have to confess, I roll the dice and leave spider plants, wandering jew, Hawaiian shefflera and creeping charleys outside under the overhang. I’ve been pretty lucky most winters.

Some winters my tree ferns and bananas suffer.  How can I protect them if we have a really cold spell?  
Many subtropical plants benefit from extra mulch to help them survive a hard frost.  People from the east coast know all about this.  Just be sure to take it away from the stem or trunk come spring or the mulch can cause rotting.

Citrus & Avocado for the Santa Cruz mts

Late September and you can feel autumn in the air. While our days are still beautiful and warm, nights are getting cooler with less daylight hours. Perfect weather for transplanting or adding new plants to your garden.

Why is this a good time? Cooler air is kinder to plant foliage and soil temperatures are still warm, which creates an excellent environment for new root growth. In the fall many plants and trees ( even broadleaf evergreens ) are entering a period of dormancy. With no need to allocate resources into foliage, plants are transferring all their energy into roots and storing nutrients for the cool months ahead. By spring, the roots system should be well established.

So take advantage of fall planting weather. Decide what changes or additions you want to make in your garden.
Perhaps it’s time to remove lawn from banks or slopes where water runs off instead of soaking in. Replant with more drought tolerant ornamental grasses or perennials.  Picture hummingbirds feeding on beautiful variegated autumn sage, their creamy white and green leaves topped with brilliant red flowers from summer until frost.

If you have a small lawn on flat land and want to improve water absorption and reduce water waste, rake out the thatch that accumulates at the base. Then aerated your lawn in a hollow-tine aerator or power aerator from a rental yard.  This brings plugs of soil to the surface, then rake compost over the hoes and water well.

Now is a good time to plant citrus and avocado. They will fair better during the cold winter months if roots are established.  Remember to give older citrus a good soak every week or so or the fruit will be dry.

If you’ve always wanted an avocado tree there are several varieties that do well here.  The Bacon avocado is hardy to 24 degrees. You can harvest medium sized fruit from November-March. They even produce at a young age and grow to 30 feet tall. Fuerte avocado have excellent flavor. This tree is large and spreading, hardy to 28 degrees and the fruit ripens from November-June. Zutano is another good variety for this area. Mexicola varieties are also very good.
These avocados are self fertile for the home gardener. You can expect your tree to live for about which is a lot of guacamole.

If you receive frost of consecutive night during the winter you can easily protect a young avocado or citrus by erecting a simple frame of 1×1" stakes that extends above the height of your tree.  Then drape with a frost blanket or beach blanket on cold night. Don’t use plastic- the cold will go right through it.

Take advantage of this great fall planting weather. Bon appetit !

Late September “to do’s”

Cool Season Vegetables

Plant cool season veggie starts like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, spinach, brussels sprouts, onions and leeks in soil enriched with 4-6" of compost as summer vegetable crops will have used up much of your soil’s nutrients.

You can sow seeds of beets, carrots, radishes, spinach, arugula, mustard and peas directly in the ground.
If you aren’t going to grow vegetables in the garden this fall consider planting a cover crop like crimson clover after you’ve harvested your summer vegetables.  Next month I’ll talk about how to go about doing this and how this benefits your soil.

rocking garden saying

This is also the time to start perennial flowers seeds so that they’ll  be mature enough to bloom next year. 

 Now through October, divide summer blooming perennials like agapanthus, coreopsis, daylilies and penstemons that are overgrown and not flowering well.  You can also divide spring blooming perennials like candytuft, columbine, astilbe, bergenia and bleeding heart but sometimes they don’t bloom the first spring afterwards due to the energy they use re-establishing themselves.  If you’re on  a roll out in the garden, though, go for it now.  You never know what other projects you may be working on next spring. 

Enjoy our early fall weather out in your garden.