Making peace with fall in Southern California

By Jennifer E. Beaver

Fall is planting season in southern California. Since I grew up on the opposite side of the country, I find this unsettling. Oh, sure, I understand that everything from sweet peas to broccoli flourishes in the still-warm California soil and thrives with winter rain. I appreciate the Mediterranean climate of my adopted region and the privilege of year-round gardening. And when my New Jersey relatives come for Thanksgiving, I’ll take great joy in sprinkling fresh-grown herbs on my garden-plucked veggies.
Or so my head tells me. But the autumn of my heart whispers that fall is time to rake leaves, climb trees, crunch apples, start school and discuss the latest crop of boys with my best friend. Fall is warm clothes and preparation for the long, cold days of winter.
Yet, while I sprinkle seeds of fast-growing mesclun and other lettuces in my raised bed garden, I remember that fall lettuce in New Jersey is store-bought, and iceberg. That tomatoes there stop producing at summer’s end. And that any flowers left in beds soon become fodder for wandering deer.

Time to get growing!
• Plant seeds of low-growing sweet peas now in containers, and by the holidays you’ll have a delightful pot of fragrance. Make several and give them as gifts. Friends will think you’re brilliant; you’ll know you were thrifty.
• All lettuce thrives in cooler weather; it’s time to re-think salad. Look for mesclun, a seed mix containing mustard, arugula, cress, radicchio and more, that grows fast and happy in containers or beds. Just keep soil moist and trim off outer leaves whenever you want salad greens.
• Look for transplants of broccoli, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower. You can start them from seed too. All are cool-season vegetables.
• Put trees and shrubs in the ground now. They’ll get a head start and establish strong root systems before blooming next spring.
• Try a new type of beet. Golden beets, for example, won’t discolor the rest of your meal like traditional red varieties. Try them roasted with a little olive oil and salt.
• Chard, a beautiful plant with long, ruffled leaves, looks and tastes like spinach but is easier to grow. Look for “bright lights” or other varieties with wild-colored stalks in gold, crimson and orange. Stick a few in with the flowers.
• Poppies and nasturtiums are among the simplest flowers to grow. Sprinkle them in your beds or containers, sit back and enjoy the show.

Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Container Gardening for California.

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