The Coastal Gardener: Don't fall for the spring when sprung

October 15, 2010|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • In Mediterranean climate regions, like ours, it is the cool season in which most plants are at their peak.
In Mediterranean climate regions, like ours, it is the… (Daily Pilot )

I do my best every year about this time to remind local gardeners of the importance of fall gardening.

I can't say it much better than I did two years ago in this same column, so here it is again: Sit down. Don't get mad and don't turn the page quite yet. This isn't a misprint.

For local gardeners the mantra is "fall is spring."

Those three words form the foundation of successful gardening in Southern California.

Forget the calendar for a moment and read on. In Mediterranean climates, from a plant's point-of-view, there are really only two seasons: a cool season and a warm season. One season is for growing and the other is for resting.

Generally speaking, Orange County's cool season begins about now and wraps up sometime in April or May. Our warm season, on the other hand, occupies the rest of the next year, from about April or May through early fall.


In Mediterranean climate regions, like ours, it is the cool season in which most well-adapted plants are at their peak. In Southern California, the warm season is the time for rest and the cool season is the time for growth.

Even beginning gardeners usually grasp the idea of plants having a growing season and a resting season. But where locals often get confused is when they instinctively assume that the warm season is for growing and the cool season is for resting.

For beginning gardeners it's understandable if this "fall is spring" concept might seem just alien. Most of the world doesn't operate on our schedule. In most places, plants lose their leaves, stop growing, die back, go dormant or sleep in the cool season.

But not here. Ignore the winter-sleep, summer-grow gardening misinformation in the media; it's exactly opposite in Southern California. We're unique.

As evidence of our season, visit a garden in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Dallas, Kansas City or even Bakersfield or Fresno in the cool season. The gardens there are asleep; so are the native plants, the forests and the hillsides. In these climates, April and May is the time when plants are waking up, flowers are budding, trees are growing and gardeners are planting furiously. In these places, where a huge majority of gardeners live, "spring is spring."

So it's understandable that casual Orange County gardeners, especially those transplanted from afar, have such a difficult time grasping the concept that here "fall is spring."

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