Gardening Guru: Fall Is the Best Time to Plant

Did you know that November is a great time of year to plant trees and shrubs and flowers and bulbs and… well, almost everything! Because most of a plants’ energy is put toward root growth in the fall, your plants should be well-established and ready to grow next spring. And the rains (hopefully!) will take care of most of the watering for you!

This is also the perfect time to dig up and move plants that are in the wrong positions—even trees less than two years old. (The exceptions are tropical plants like hibiscus and bird of paradise. They’re best planted and moved in spring.) And the season is just starting to plant pansies, stock, snapdragons, and other winter annuals.

You can even seed larkspur and poppies right where you want them to grow. It’s also a great time to sod new fescue lawns, or patch existing lawns. Would you like your Bermuda lawn to be green all winter? Now’s the time to overseed it with rye.

Consider perennials: Wouldn’t it be great to have plants that only have to be planted once and bloom for a long time? If you choose well, there are many perennials that can fill the bill here in the Central Valley. There are perennials that bloom almost as long as annuals, are untroubled by pests and diseases, and add fresh flower forms and substance to your garden.

But what exactly is a perennial? In California, it’s a little complicated. What are called perennials in California are plants that live longer than annuals, but are not as sturdy or woody as shrubs. Most gardening books refer to herbaceous perennials, commonly grown on the East Coast, which die to the ground each winter and come back each spring. These plants don’t die back here, and some will not thrive without winter chill, so look to Western sources for local information on perennials.

Favorites: To get you started, here are a few favorite perennials that have stood the test of many Master Gardeners who live in the valley and foothills. If you’re looking for a short perennial that blooms almost year round, consider Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue.’ It grows only a foot tall and has round flowers that resemble a pincushion that are very attractive to butterflies. To keep them blooming, cut off spent flowers down to the next joint, where you will see new flowers coming. If they get away from you, you can cut off the entire bloom stalk, fertilize, and let them send up new blooms.

A hot colored perennial that could also replace annuals in flower production is Gaillardia ‘Goblin.’ Daisy-like flowers with a red center and red petals tipped in yellow provide a near year-round show on this compact foot-tall plant.

A slightly taller plant at 18 inches is Achillea ‘Moonshine’ which has silver foliage and pale yellow flat-topped flowers. ‘Coronation Gold’ is another Achillea that grows to three feet and has bright yellow flowers. Achillea millefoliums are also good bloomers but they need staking and can spread a little too freely! Echinacea or coneflower grows to three feet with pink or white daisy-like flowers. Any of the penstemons are lovely long blooming perennials in Valley gardens. They also may need staking and do best with less water, but the hummingbirds will love you if you plant them!

Dividing and planting perennials: In time you will need to divide the perennials, digging them up and dividing into several fresh new plants to replant in your garden. Close inspection reveals perennials are actually composed of many tiny plants growing in a clump together. By separating them and planting them in newly amended soil, you give your plants a fresh start and multiply them at the same time.

Perennials can be planted in fall or spring. These plants will be in place a long time and require a good rich soil to perform best. Dig up the area and add several inches of compost or other soil amendment and a handful of fertilizer.

Keep them blooming: To keep your plants blooming as long as possible, study how they bloom. Cutting off spent flowers at the base or along the bloom stalk should force other buds to open. Some plants, like Shasta daisies and salvias, grow fresh new foliage at the base of the plant when the old foliage starts to look ratty. Cut back to the fresh growth, fertilize, and you have a rejuvenated plant. Plants like penstemons can also be cut back to encourage a flush of new blooms. Through deadheading and cutting back, you can keep your perennials in bloom a long time and enjoy their show through many seasons.

Due to the shelter-at-home guidelines, the Master Gardeners have canceled all public events for the time being, but their phone lines are still open: 559-684-3325, Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. Or visit their web site at

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