Here at Roger’s Gardens, no other season of the year excites me as much as fall. The days stay warm but the nights cool off, Santa Ana breezes blow the golden yellow and blazing orange leaves from the quaking branches of the Liquidambars, and the multi-colored sunsets from Tower Hill look almost surreal. Most exciting of all is that each passing week from Labor Day until Thanksgiving seems to bring with it a new batch of unique plants to the nursery.
When I think of fall planting I think of three things: adding or replacing large shrubs and trees for the backbone of my garden, replacing tired warm-season flowering annuals with fresh cool-season color, and recharging the veggie garden with new winter crops.
Fall is the ideal time to add a new tree or a grouping of shrubs to your landscape. Many people think of spring for planting, but the months of September through December have a few advantages. The long hot summer has warmed up the soil, creating ideal growing conditions for the roots of your new plants. Roots grow best when the soil temperature is greater than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which we in Southern California can count on all autumn. Pair that with generally cooler air temperatures and the coming of winter rains (fingers crossed!) and you have the perfect growing conditions. Then, during the winter months, the root systems of the fall-planted trees and shrubs develop. When spring arrives, this established root system can take advantage of the warmer, lengthening days of spring.
My favorite backbone plants for the garden are the hardy drought tolerant plants of Mediterranean climates. They are adapted to our warm dry summers and cool wet winters, meaning they require little supplemental irrigation once they’re established. California natives like Ceanothus and Arctostaphylos are hardy shrubs that also produce beautiful blooms in the spring. Various selections of these plants range from low growing groundcovers to large shrubs or multi-trunked trees, making it easy to find a use for them in any sunny location.
The flashy foliage colors of Leucadendron ‘Safari Goldstrike’ and ‘Blush’ from South Africa offer year-round interest and look great against a green background. They also look great paired with the chartreuse green foliage of both Westringia “Morning Light” and Variegated Mint Bush (Prostanthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata’), two of my favorites and both from Australia. Grevilleas are another Australian favorite of mine, especially ‘Long John’, with its thin, long, soft needle-like foliage and show-stopping rose-pink blooms that adorn the 8-10 foot tall shrub in the spring. Finally, Crimson-spot Rockrose (Cistus ladanifer) from Mediterranean Europe is one of my favorite medium-sized flowering shrubs. It sports large single white blooms that seem to pop against the dark green fragrant foliage growing 4-6 feet tall and wide. These are just a small sample of the different types of large landscape shrubs and trees you might consider planting this autumn. You can find so many more by strolling through our Central Park here at Roger’s Gardens.
Another aspect of gardening – the instant satisfaction of colorful bedding plants – beckons gardeners back outside after the long hot summer. Now’s the time to replace the long and leggy spring plants that likely have lost their appeal since you planted them back in April. With autumn we welcome back colorful annuals like pansies and violas with their happy faces that come in every conceivable color, adding charm to borders and containers. Now we start to see taller annuals too, like stock and snapdragons, adding height and whimsy to cottage gardens and formal gardens alike. Cyclamen are a favorite for shady spots in the garden, reliably re-blooming through the entire cool season in shades of white, red, pink and purple (perfect for holiday decorating). Now is also the time to sow your sweet pea seeds. Winter blooming or day neutral sweet peas like “Velvet Elegance” and “Chiffon Elegance” don’t need the lengthening days of spring to induce blooming. If planted by Early to Mid-Fall, you could expect blooms by Christmas! Just give them full sun and something to climb up (I used a large tomato cage last year) and a few doses of flower fertilizer and watch ‘em go. October and November are also the months to plant most of our spring-blooming bulbs. My favorites are anemones, ranunculus, and freesias for their ease and reliable blooms with little winter chill.
Last but not least, now is the time to replace those veggies that are slowing down or have stopped all-together. Replace the sprawling cucumbers, squash, and watermelons with the cold-loving Brassicas like cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Leafy greens also do their best this time of year, like spinach, kale, arugula, and the myriad of different lettuce mixes. Subterranean root crops like carrots, potatoes, beets, and onions are great to plant in the fall, too. Finally, don’t move those trellises and teepees that you used for your pole beans – swap in sweet sugar snap and snow peas that thrive and produce heavily in the cooler weather. The added bonus of planting peas is that, like other legumes, they aid in other plants’ uptake of nitrogen. This benefits current neighboring plants and future plants in that same location.
These are just a few of my favorite plants, both for year-round landscapes and for seasonal color and healthy edibles. They all perform great in our mild Southern California climate and can enhance the beauty of your garden and the bounty on your table. Check out all these plants and more, and chat with one of our knowledgeable horticulturists for planting instructions and landscape design ideas.