Fall is best time to plant in SoCal

Unsolicited advice


Department stores are decked out for Christmas, and the turkey cooking hotlines have operators waiting to assist you with Thanksgiving dinner questions, and I’m thinking about spring. No, I’m not a scrooge looking to get the holidays over as quickly as possible. I’ve learned from experts and seven years experience promoting drought-tolerant gardening that right now is the best time to plant in Southern California. 

Fall is the best time to plant because it allows the plants to take full advantage of our region’s rainy season, and grow the long, deep roots needed to survive and thrive. And frost isn’t a regular threat to most of us in the valleys and coastal areas.

So to inspire you to include your local nursery or garden center in your shopping rounds this season, here is a list of the plants I’m hoping to plant now, and see in full bloom this spring:

  1. Mimulus ‘Pumpkin‘ — The California native monkeyflower is a colorful and striking orange perennial, aptly named for November planting, that looks great as a border or in clumps. In some places it will bloom all year, and bring butterflies to your garden.
  2. Rhaphiolepis indica — The low maintenance Indian Hawthorn shrub is frequently used in home gardens as well as commercial landscapes for its abundant spring flowers that mimic the azalea but can take full sun. They need little water, and come in varieties with pink, white and yellow flowers. 
  3. Heteromeles arbutifolia– The toyon is native to Southern California but because of its strong resemblance to the holly bush used in Christmas decorations, it is popularly known as California holly or Christmas berry. Delicate white flowers in summer followed by bright red berries in winter.
  4. Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Sky‘ – Prairie Sky Switch Grass brings ethereal blue flower plumes to the garden in spring and summer, atop greenish-blue stems and thin, elegantly bowing leaves. 
  5. Echium fastuosum — Pride of Madeira is a regal evergreen shrub, sprouting grand cone-shaped spikes of purple flowers in spring. Each spike is hundreds of tiny purple flowers attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. It can get large fast — reaching a height of six to eight feet and eight to ten feet wide.
  6. Eremophila maculata — The Spotted Emu Bush is an Australian native with brilliant color and yes, crazy spots on the inner petals of its flowers. Popular with gardeners for its show of color and texture in the spring and a great showpiece for the garden.
  7. Fragaria chiloensis — You can’t eat the ornamental strawberries on this pretty perennial but you will like its dark green, tooth-edged leaves and soft mounding growth. Pinkish red blossoms will thrive for most of the year if you pinch off the fruit. Mow in early spring to encourage new growth.
  8. Aloe nobilis — The Gold Tooth Aloe proves that succulents can bring color to the garden, with its bright orange-red flower stalks reminiscent of the penstemon. The best part is that this aloe is just as low maintenance as its medicinal cousin, the aloe vera.
  9. Holodiscus discolor — This pretty shrub known as Cream Bush or Ocean Spray produces clusters of creamy white flowers — think antique bridal veil — on the tips of branches covered in dark green leaves. Has a pretty, unusual fragrance. 
  10. Tulbaghia violacea ‘variegata’ — The perennial Striped Society Garlic has narrow green leaves outlined in white, and produces lavender flower clusters in the spring and summer. Crush the leaves and flowers and you’ll understand how it got its name.
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