Choosing the best seeing to plant your garden

Choosing the best seeing to plant your garden

Photo courtesy of Nan Sterman | Pincushion (Leucospermum) is a South American native that's adapted to the California climate.

by Nan Sterman

Can you hear it? Listen closely to your garden. It's asking you for some attention. Which may leave you wondering, in the winter?

Yes, plant now, in winter. If you live west of the Sierra Nevadas, fall and winter are prime planting times for your garden. The air is cool and more humid than in spring and summer - unless we have a Santa Ana wind. These milder conditions reduce heat stress and the intensity of transplant shock.

Soil, on the other hand, is still warm enough for plants to grow new roots. Those new roots give your plants a head start on spring. Come March or April when the air warms, they'll have had most of a growing season in the ground and be ready to shift their energy into new branches, leaves and flowers.

Before you go to the nursery, though, do your homework. Figure out which plants best fit the conditions in your garden as well as the size of the space you have to offer.

In addition to knowing how much sun your garden gets, see how well the soil drains. Dig a hole 2 feet deep and 2 feet wide. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. Fill it again and track how long it takes to drain. If the hole drains within several hours, you have well-draining soil. If water sits overnight, you have heavy, poor-draining soil. Most plants do great in well-draining soil while some struggle in heavier soils. If you have heavy soil, consider mulching the surface heavily now and waiting until spring to plant. Organic mulches break down and become incorporated into the soil in a few months. The result is better drainage and more hospitable soil.

Plant availability is another reason to plant now. This time of year nurseries are overflowing with beautiful plants, trees and shrubs native to California, Australia, South Africa and the Mediterranean. These plants are all perfectly adapted to our climate.

There are many kinds of native oaks (Quercus), ranging from the 20-foot evergreen coast live oak (Q agrifolia) to the 70-foot deciduous valley oak (Q lobata). All make excellent habitat for wildlife and take no water once established.

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is a native that makes the perfect evergreen screen thanks to its deep green leaves and ability to grow up to 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide within a few years.

Pincushion (Leucospermum) is a South African native evergreen shrub that can grow upright stems as tall as 5 feet. Each stem is topped with a yellow, orange, pink or multicolored flower covered in curled stamens that make the flower look like a pincushion.

Nan Sterman is an award-winning garden communicator, horticulturist and gardening designer who lives in Encinitas, Calif. She has a bachelor's degree in botany from Duke University, a master's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union Tribune, and Better Homes and Gardens.

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