Dirt Therapy: Get Out Your Garden Tools, It’s Time to Plant

Dirt Therapy is a regular column in the Capistrano Dispatch written by GNTG founder, Marianne Taylor

Check out these useful tips for gardening during the fall and winter

This is my all-time favorite time of year: autumn, brisk mornings, amber-lit afternoons, the fresh smell of mulch and a hearty amount of plants, bulbs and seeds waiting to get assigned to their raised beds.

Who says gardens can’t grow in fall and winter? In Southern California, we live in a wonderful climate that supports year-round flower and vegetable gardens. Here are some gardening tips to help with your fall and winter planting.

Vegetables

It’s time to pull out summer vegetables that have stopped producing. I like to purchase organic six packs of seasonal vegetables including beets, cabbage, broccoli, celery, cauliflower, turnips, garlic, peas, spinach, peppers, green onions, beans, radishes, brussels sprouts and lettuce. Because our climate stays above freezing—except for a couple of nights in January and February—it’s safe to plant vegetables all year long.

Be sure to plant in well-cultivated and amended soil. With the current drought we’re in, hand water early in the morning to get the young vegetables established. November and December rains usually help continue the vegetable growing cycle. Until the winter rains come to California its best to continue hand-watering daily in the morning.

When planting vegetables in containers, you want to make sure that your pots have good drainage, otherwise the roots will start to rot and your vegetables will not be happy. Try vertical gardening for small spaces—no bending over, all plants grow upright and are easy to water and maintain.

Flowers

Our typically warm days with a cool down at night are the ideal climate for planting an array of flowers now for fall, winter and spring blooms. Some of these easy-to-grow flowers are asters, alyssum, calendula, chrysanthemums, pansies, poppies, pin cushion, sweet peas and snapdragons. If planting from seed, keep the seeded area moist and shaded until the seedlings are at least several inches tall. This will protect the delicate plants from the sun’s warm rays.

Natives

This is the season for an easy-care garden using native plants. They are my favorite natural choice. Natives tolerate drought once their roots are established. Unless your soil is compacted and drains poorly, don’t bother amending it before planting—most of these plants adapted to native soils long ago. And forget fertilizer; they rarely need it.

Many are rich in nectar or seeds that attract birds and butterflies, and some smell like the aromatic wild shrubs fringing your favorite hiking trails. All give the garden a sense of place. Use them to create an all-native backyard ecosystem mimicking your region’s indigenous plant communities, or mix natives with compatible plants that take the same conditions.

Herbs

This is a great time to start your windowsill herb garden. Try basil, thyme, rosemary and Italian parsley. Herbs are not only used for cooking but are known to have soothing and healing properties. Thriving herb gardens will allow you to experiment and create your own delicious tea recipes.

Soil Preparation

If you have an ambitious gardening agenda, now is the time to reinvigorate your flower and vegetable garden beds. After removing tired vegetables and annual flowers, loosen the soil and mix in three to four inches of compost. The compost will add nutrients to the soil that will give your new plantings what they need to grow. If you are planting in a new area, water the area deeply, remove weeds, break up the soil and then add compost.

Mulch is a covering spread over soil in your garden. A layer of mulch will provide important benefits: reducing the occurrence of insects and other pests; preventing moisture from evaporating, in turn, reducing the amount of water needed; and act as a weed blocker.

Mulch also is an insulator to keep the soil safe from extreme heat or cold. It can also be used as an attractive groundcover.

Lawn Decisions

Lose the lawn. Many homeowners have abandoned watering their lawns to save on water bills. Now is a good time to decide whether to cut back on the amount of lawn in your yard (some homeowner associations require residents maintain a certain amount of lawn). Many cities give rebates to remove the lawn. Much of a lawn (particularly around the edges) can be replaced with drought-tolerant ground cover. Types of groundcover that do well with little water include dymondia, yarrow, sedums, lantana, verbenas and even thyme. Create garden pathways using decomposed granite. This will reduce your water costs and enhance the look of your garden.

Also, keep an eye out for Santa Ana winds, which lower humidity and soak up water from the soil. When these winds occur, keep any new plants well hydrated.

Time spent now in the garden will yield beautiful, bountiful beneficial flowers, vegetables and native blooms this winter and spring. Happy gardening.