Friday, August 28, 2009

November Showers Bring May Flowers

Although it runs contrary to our ingrained understanding of the seasons, spring and summer are not really the best time to plant in California. While spring generally marks the beginning of longer days, more light and warmer temperatures (conditions that encourage above-ground plant growth) those warmer temperatures can be extreme in California and the rest of the Southwest.

In the nursery, even drought-tolerant plants receive significant amounts of water to maintain growth. Often, plants are fed heavily to encourage bloom and faster growth, making them more appealing to homeowners who start shopping for garden bling early in the year.

Keep in mind that plants installed during the heat of summer will require heavy irrigation to survive. The increased heat and light cause plants to use more water as they respond to the seasonal need for growth. But, roots are not yet established and depend on your irrigation system to provide what the plant needs. In Southern California, with no summer rain and extreme heat, this can be a lot of water. Even in cooler areas along the coast, where morning fog and a higher dew point provide a source of moisture for plants, heat and wind can still dry a garden quickly.

When to Plant: The old adage 'April showers bring May flowers' is true. If you must plant in the spring, doing so before the last rainfall of the season is helpful. There is no denying that picking up a flat of Violas or other brightly blooming annual in the spring feeds a deep-seated seasonal craving. Go ahead and prepare your seasonal pots or a dooryard planting area.

But for large-scale planting of perennials, shrubs or trees, fall is the time to plant -- especially for very exposed areas. The weather cools, the days shorten, and the rains (eventually) come. It is these November showers that can lower water bills next summer. Under these optimum conditions, plants aren't doing much growing above ground but can afford to send roots deeper in search of damper soil. Establishing a deeper root system ensures plants will survive with less supplemental irrigation when the temperatures shoot up again.

For trees and shrubs, this deep root system is very important. Trees trained to depend on surface-level irrigation often don't send roots very deep, so aren't well anchored and could topple. A good way to provide for deep healthy roots is to install deep watering irrigation along with new trees.

Meanwhile, to satisfy the craving for summer puttering in the garden, nurture seasonally planted pots. And, nurture your dreams. Summer is a great time to design a landscape. Garden tours are plentiful and are an inspiring way to visit the established gardens of other great gardeners. Take note of what you see as a starting point for discussion with a landscape designer. Working out design plans through the summer means you'll be ready for installation in the fall, when the time is right. Fall planting, along with the use of drip and deep watering irrigation, and a plant palette that harmonizes with your site's specific environmental factors, are the ingredients for a healthy garden.

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