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Fall is for Planting

Fall is for Planting
By Ron Vanderhoff - Nursery Manager

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. Flowers and springtime just seem to go together.

But if you answered October, November and December as your busiest gardening months, more likely than not, you’re an experienced gardener. Certainly, you’re a smart gardener.

Contrary to popular belief, fall -- and not spring -- is the best time to plant in Orange County. Fall planting is superior here, where we enjoy a mild Mediterranean climate of dry, sunny summers and wet, but mild winters.

Yes, spring is a tempting time to plant. Gardens are glowing with flowers. Plant nurseries 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.

A plant set into the ground over the next eight to twelve weeks has the hot days of summer behind it, the likelihood of moist winter rains ahead and the 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 root systems are continuing to grow. In fact, in southern California, the root systems of many plants actually contract during summer.

In fall though, the root systems of these same plants are expanding; in some cases very quickly. Root development is enhanced by the plant's opportunity to establish itself without the added pressure of supporting a flush of new leaf growth.

Water use is conserved with fall planting too. As the days grow shorter and the nights longer, newly installed plants will loose much less water through their leaves than at other times of the year, therefore requiring fewer irrigation. New feeder roots grow quickly into the warm soil, and the deep soaking winter rains encourage these roots to penetrate the soil quickly and deeply.

There are few exceptions to our fall planting rule, but the most obvious being tropical plants. These warm, heat-loving plants from equatorial regions are better planted in late spring or summer when the days are long and the temperatures are high. So wait until next year to plant citrus, plumeria, bananas, palms, hibiscus and other tropicals. But for just about everything else, now is planting time.

The gardening year begins now in southern California and the best, most experienced gardeners already know this. They’re probably in their gardens planting right now... too busy to be reading this.

Let’s plant.

A Ron Vanderhoff Blog