Month-by-Month: Chores for California Gardeners

Gardeners in Southern California encounter some have the longest growing season in the United States. The gardening calendar offered here works for the majority of California, with two notable exceptions: the mountains, where the growing season is much shorter, and the low-elevation desert, where the main growing season for annuals is fall through early spring.

  • January: Start seeds of cool-season annuals indoors to set out in four to six weeks. Brighten your garden with already blooming annuals sold in 4-inch pots and larger sizes at garden centers. Pansies and primroses offer maximum color now. Limit your planting to large annuals that are already in bloom. Save smaller-sized plants for warmer weather next month.

  • February: As the weather starts to warm up, and if the soil is dry enough, set out seedlings of cool-season annuals. This month or next, start seeds indoors of warm-season annuals. Wait until next month to sow seeds if you live in a cooler climate. Sow seeds of low-growing annuals to fill in between emerging spring bulbs. Fertilize cool-season annuals. Try to feed regularly — either monthly or twice a month. Watch for snails and slugs around young plantings, especially if the weather is on the wet and mild side. Try to eliminate insect hideouts by cleaning up piles of leaves and other garden debris. Hoe or pull out weeds fostered by winter rains before they overtake planting beds.

  • March: Cool-season annuals should be at their peak bloom now. Maintain top performance by monthly feeding and pinching off dead blooms. Be especially vigilant in cutting off faded pansy flowers. Except in the hottest climates, you can still plant cool-season annuals. In warmer climates, such as southern California and inland valleys, this month begins the planting time for warm-season annuals — make sure that frost danger is past and weather is heating up. Prepare flower beds for major spring planting this month or next month.

  • April: April is the main planting month for warm-season annuals. Wait a month to plant warm-season annuals in cooler coastal climates. Soon after planting, pinch back warm-season annuals to encourage bushy growth. Begin a regular fertilizer program several weeks after planting warm-season annuals. Mulch with a layer of organic matter around.

  • May: Plant seedlings of heat-loving annuals. You also can plant the warm-season annuals recommended for April. Cosmos, marigolds, and zinnias sprout quickly if sown directly in the ground now. If the weather has started to warm up, sow sunflower seeds directly into the ground. If a hot spell strikes, protect newly planted annuals with temporary shading with shade cloth or floating row covers draped over the plants. In cool coastal climates, you can still plant cool-season annuals (pansies and violas, especially), as well as many warm-season annuals. Continue grooming and fertilizing.

  • June: Continue planting warm-season annuals. Plant shady spots; warm weather encourages rapid growth of shade-lovers. In all but the mildest climates, cool-season annuals are probably over the hill. Pull them out, clean up planting beds, and refresh them with a layer of organic matter dug in to a depth of 10 or 12 inches. Put in replacement warm-season annuals as soon as possible. Never let your annuals dry out. Thin and pinch back seedlings of annuals. As weather warms, watch for signs of budworm damage (hollowed out buds and tiny black droppings) on petunias and annual geraniums (Pelargonium).

  • July: For quick color, look for warm-season annuals in 4-inch pots or larger sizes. Transplant these flowers into pots, but make sure that you add enough soil mix to encourage continued root growth. In hotter climates, plant in the cool of evening and provide temporary shade on hot days. Mulch to conserve soil moisture and keep your plants well watered. Watch for budworms. Fertilize regularly.

  • August: Start seeds of cool-season annuals in flats or pots to set out in late summer or early fall. Watch for spider mites and whiteflies. Continue to feed and pinch. If lobelia and impatiens look too lanky, cut them back by as much as a third; they’ll respond with a burst of late-summer growth.

  • September: Plant cool-season annuals now in the evening and provide temporary shade. Extend plantings of warm-season annuals by continuing to water, feed, and deadhead. Pull out summer flowers when their beauty fades. Start seeds of cool-season annuals in flats or pots for transplanting next month.

  • October: If you plant spring-flowering bulbs, follow up with annuals on top. Pansies and violas are classic bulb covers for tulips and daffodils. Continue to plant all cool-season annuals. Watch for snails and slugs given new life by cooling weather. Start to regularly fertilize fall annuals two or three weeks after planting.

  • November: Early November is the last chance for planting cool-season annuals with expectation of midwinter flowers. You can still plant bulb covers. Snails and slugs are almost inevitable. Continue regular watering until winter rains keep the soil constantly moist. Watch for a new crop of winter weeds; pull them while the soil is wet and soft.

  • December: Keep watering if winter rains arrive late. Plant cool-season annuals if you haven’t already. You missed the warm fall weather that pushes annuals into midwinter bloom, but you still can expect a strong spring show from annuals planted now. If rains soak the soil, let it dry out a bit before planting.

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