In many parts of the country, the advent of fall and winter means a winding down of garden-related tasks. Protecting outdoor plants, moving pots indoors and prepping bulbs for germination is the sum of it. But in Northern California, with our year-round growing season, gardening activity can rise to a fever pitch in autumn. New homeowners, privileged to determine vegetation choices from scratch, can choose from a lengthy list of flowering and non-flowering plants, bushes and trees to beautify a bare lot and enhance their property for years to come.
Fall and winter are the best time for planting native annual species, according to the staff at Annie’s Annuals in Richmond. Such flowering plants as Indian mallow, Red Velvet yarrow and Western columbine are best placed in the ground during cooler, rainier weather. This allows them to develop healthy root systems, the better to thrive during the warm, dry spring and summer months. The same is true for ground cover species such as Emerald Carpet and California lilac.
Classic cottage garden hardy annuals, such as sweet peas and giant poppies, can be planted from now through the end of February, according to the Richmond store’s staffers. Come springtime, the stage will be set for a profuse “harvest” of hearty blooms. Some hardy annuals proffer a double harvest, self-sowing to produce additional blossoms during summer and fall.
Winter rains are like mother’s milk to perennials and biennials, such as delphiniums, foxgloves and hollyhocks. Plant them now, and they could double or triple in size by spring, according to staffers. And if you’re looking to enjoy blossoms during the winter, consider flowering maple (shrubs) or weeping acacia.
If your lot is bare and you prefer to wait until spring to plant, autumn is prime time to make a start on enriching your soil. Oakland Garden Supply recommends spreading compost over bare soil and then distributing ground cover seeds, such as clover, on top. When warm weather arrives, till the ground cover under to enhance soil for springtime planting.
Existing foliage or ground cover
Similarly, staffers suggest spreading compost around the roots of trees and plants to both protect roots and discourage weed growth. During seasonal rains, compost will typically break down to nourish and rejuvenate soil.
Another alternative to mulch is hay, which is both affordable and readily available at feed stores and big-box retailers. Protect the roots of your trees and plants with a healthy layer, using enough hay to conceal the soil beneath it.
(Oakland Garden Supply, which focuses on chemical-free and organic practices, steers its customers away from most mulch products, according to store staffers, because unknown additives might be a factor.)
Staffers further recommend placing 3 to 4 inches of hay at the bottom of planter boxes before filling with soil to encourage drainage and save on soil costs.
Northern California homeowner-gardeners can look upon the colder months as an excellent time to strengthen plant root systems to ensure healthy springtime growth and bloom. Taking a few preparatory steps can lead to remarkable flora and foliage for months to come.