In many parts of the country, fall weather consists of chilly days and frosty nights. Winter vegetable gardening doesn’t happen in the colder climates unless you’re lucky enough to own a greenhouse.
Southern California is a different story. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants can still hold fruit through the Christmas season. However, once the weather gets cooler, those summer vegetables start to lose their flavor. Most summer vegetable gardens start to look a bit run-down by the end of the season, so we pull out most of the old stuff to make room for winter vegetables and flowers.
Fall is also the best time to plant trees and other landscape perennials. The cooler weather is pleasant to work in, and new plantings have a chance to acclimate before the hot, dry summer arrives. If the plants are healthy, they will establish a good root system during the winter. This will enable them to better tolerate our sometimes brutally hot summer weather.
Don’t forget cool weather flowers! Pansies, violets, snapdragons, alyssum, calendula and mums are all colorful and cold-tolerant. A word of caution: bunnies love pansies. I once planted over 100 pansies in our front yard, and they were all gone in one night.
Fall is also a good time to dig up and divide bulbs and other bunching perennials. If you have a lush, green patch of daffodils or irises that stopped producing flowers, it’s time to divide them. You can either replant the divisions or give them away. Many local garden clubs have plant exchanges this time of year, so you can expand your collection of bulbs and make new friends at the same time.
Cool season vegetables can be safely planted outside now. We enjoy many different types of cooking greens such as kale, mustard, turnip, chard, escarole and endive. Salad greens, either mesclun (which is just a mixture of lettuces), or individual heads of romaine, bibb or leaf lettuce, are delicious when freshly picked. They are not subject to massive recalls, either.
Shelling, snap and snow peas can be directly sowed when the weather is warm, but not too warm. We’ve discovered that if we direct seed when the ground is cool, they tend to rot in place. Pea shoots are especially attractive to slugs and snails, so use either a copper tape barrier or an organic slug and snail bait such as Sluggo.
When you direct seed, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between weed and vegetable sprouts. After pulling out your old summer vegetables, add some compost and rake out the soil. Water it as if you’ve already planted seeds – every day or two. Soon, any weed seeds present will germinate and you can hoe or rake them out easily. After a week or two, most of the weed seeds will have germinated and been removed.
Once you’re ready to plant, rake the soil to create an even surface. Poke 1-inch-deep holes with your finger and fill those holes with vermiculite. Plant your seeds in the middle of the vermiculite. The vermiculite holds moisture, which helps the seed to germinate. It also serves as a marker so you know where to look when you’re checking for germination.
Have questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking for more gardening tips? Here’s how to contact the Master Gardener program in your area.
Los Angeles County
email@example.com; 626-586-1988; http://celosangeles.ucanr.edu/UC_Master_Gardener_Program/
firstname.lastname@example.org; 949-809-9760; http://mgorange.ucanr.edu/
email@example.com; 951-683-6491 ext. 231; https://ucanr.edu/sites/RiversideMG/
San Bernardino County
firstname.lastname@example.org; 909-387-2182; http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/
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