California Gardener's November Checklist

Other than the smell of a turkey roasting in the oven or the sight of a quarterback tossing a football to a receiver at the flat, nothing makes me feel much better about November compared to a persimmon tree completely loaded with glistening orange fruit among foliage turning a matching color.

That is a plant that says a lot about gardening in California, and maybe about California in general. Native to Asia, it’s made itself home from the state. It’s simple to grow. It is quirky — that the fruit of the most typical species is so sterile that you can not eat it until frost or time softens it.

Naturally, this persimmon is also a reminder of distinctive California’s plants and gardening climate are — and also the number of awesome things we can do in the garden this month when much of the nation is moving indoors for an annual hibernation.

If you don’t have space for a persimmon tree, then just purchase some of the veggies and maintain them on the counter for a couple weeks. Or at least browse this homage to the persimmon from Gary Snyder, California’s most haunted modern nature poet.

Glenna Partridge Garden Design

Grow bulbs. Like nearly everything else that has to do with growing bulbs in California, placing them in containers calls for a few twists. You need to compensate for the lack of winter chill required by the majority of bulbs and to the shallower planting thickness in a kettle. Here are a few methods for planting the most popular bulbs — tulips and daffodils — in containers.

Choose terra-cotta or plastic pots that are at least 8 inches in diameter — just as large as 14 inches for larger daffodils.
For an 8-inch kettle, use five or six bulbs. To get a 14-inch pot, use as many as 15 to 20.
Add 3 inches of good soil mix, industrial or your own, preferably including fertilizer, towards the bottom of the pot. Place bulbs on top; the flat sides of tulip bulbs must all point in precisely the exact same direction. For the greatest splash, pack bulbs closely together.
Cover bulbs with sufficient dirt to reach to 2 inches under the pot’s rim. Water thoroughly, then set the pots in a cool, frost-free spot outdoors.
Pile a minimum of two inches of compost on top for security. Keep the soil moist.
When foliage begins to poke through the dirt in late winter or spring (gently scrape back the mulch occasionally to test), remove the mulch carefully along with the transfer pots to a sunny spot.
Water often enough to keep the soil moist until flowering finishes.

Fireside play with. As bold as a piece of sculpture, this steel background adds a sense of theater — along with a measure of safety for nearby plants — into the flame pit. Produced by Koning Eizenberg Architecture of Santa Monica, California, the piece is a 8-by-8 steel sheet attached into a steel framework behind the rectangular concrete fire pit. The steel is oiled to detain rust. Cor-Ten steel, available in sheets like plywood, 3/16 or 1/4 inch thick, is typically used for heavy-duty landscape situations such as this.


Previewing the new and hot (and blue). In a recent seminar of the American Society of Landscape Architects, I had a chance to see what Monrovia nursery believes its hottest new plants. Standouts included ‘Winter Bee’ lavender, ‘Limelight’ rugged hydrangea and ‘Angel Red’ pomegranate.

Most impressive for me was ‘Bountiful Blue’ blueberry. The “blue” from the name doesn’t come in the berries but out of the strong blue cast of the foliage. The blossoms are fairly too: white and small, with a pink blush.

The handsome, compact shrub grows 3 to 4 feet tall. Plant a range of these in rows for an agrarian texture or in masses. Or just plant one or 2 at a shrub border or container.

This blueberry’s most important claim to fame is its ability to thrive and bear a tasty crop past the customary blueberry range (it takes much less winter chill compared to traditional blueberries). A landscape architect told me well ‘Bountiful Blue’ works in her Santa Barbara backyard. That’s a long way, geographically and climatically, from traditional blueberry country — which you understand is Maine if you’ve read Blueberries for Sal for your kids.

Missouri Botanical Garden

Sowing wildflowers and busting myths. Sorry if I am disillusioning anyone, but growing wildflowers in the home isn’t just an issue of scattering seeds, waiting for winter storms, then in spring romping through a meadow of gold poppies, tidy methods and shooting stars. (Do not you love those titles? Were our great-grandparents or whoever did the naming natural-born antiques?)

The fact of California annual wildflowers is that they developed to thrive under very specific conditions of moisture, sun and warmth, and growing most types requires some care. However, the wildflower that is easiest to grow can also be the best known and the most in-your-face gorgeous: the California poppy, either its normal form (shown) or “improved” varieties such as ‘Chiffon’. Other comparatively simple wildflowers include world gilia (Gilia capitata), goldfields (Lastenia glabrata) and ruby chalice clarkia (Clarkia rubicunda).

Mid to late autumn, preferably after the first storms, is the best time to sow California poppy and other wildflowers. (You can also begin with plants in tiny pots offered in early spring.) Select a spot in full sun. You don’t need to cultivate the soil, but eliminate weeds and rake it roughly so seeds have a place to lodge. Cover the dirt with a thin layer of compost and sprinkle it throughly, and stay moist until winter storms do the task for you.

Alder Group, Pool and Landscape Co..

Instead of striving for a meadow effect (which can look kind of shabby-dead after blossom), scatter wildflowers as highlights at a natural-looking landscape, as exhibited here. Combine wildflowers with native shrubs such as ceanothus or with sun-loving perennials such as lavender and salvia. An excellent source of wildflower information in addition to seeds is Larner Seeds of Bolinas, California.

A lesson from minimalism, Arizona style. With just three kinds of stones and plants as a ground cover, this is a striking illustration of what might be called Arizona minimalism (instead of Arizona max, a less sustainable arid-climate approach that utilizes lawns, palm trees and lots of water). Even if you can not grow the totem cactus displayed here, you are able to emulate the keep-it-simple approach.

Fava beans: their humble roots. Half a century before the French Laundry’s menu provided fava beans, the ranchers of the Santa Clara Valley, in which I was growing up, were counting precisely the exact same plant. They called it horse bean, and every drop they planted it into their orchards as a cover crop (“green manure”), which could be plowed back into the floor in spring in order to add nitrogen to the ground.

Growing fava beans nevertheless makes sense. You don’t need an orchard. In a 4- from 10-foot plot, among my neighbors crops favas every fall after she pulls her out berries, has enough beans for some spring meals, then turns over the crops to the ground to enhance the soil to summer plants to come.

The way to grow fava beans. Choose a sunny spot, cultivate the soil and bury seeds 1 inch deep, 4 or 5 inches apart; after seedlings are a few inches tall, thin them to 8 to 10 inches apart. Keep the soil moist winter. Plants grow fast and, as you see here, can grow to be fairly rangy in 3 to 4 feet tall; bet them if you desire a neater appearance.

The New York Botanical Garden

What else can you do in November from the California backyard? Along with the traditional fall chores, such as leaf raking, general cleaning up and up, it is a fantastic time to put in trees trees and all sorts of natives. You are able to plant a new lawn — it is usually much better to go with sod now than seeds. And take advantage of the special planting chances that California offers:

Plant cool-season annuals. Continue to place out seedlings of annual flowers such as calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and violas (shown), and snapdragons. For earlier blooms, begin with plants in 2- or 4-inch pots. Be sure to decide on a spot that gets as much winter sun as possible.

Plant cool-season vegetables. These plants are easy to begin from seeds: beets, peas, carrots, radishes, spinach and Swiss chard. These are usually greatest put out as seedlings: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. Watch for snails or their slimy telltale trails; place out bait.

Plant spring-blooming bulbs. In November there’s still time to plant all bulbs: crocuses, daffodils, freesias, hyacinths, tulips and ranunculus. Be sure to chill tulips and hyacinths for four to six weeks in the refrigerator before placing them.

Plant perennials. Fall planting gives perennials a chance to build up strong root systems before blooming next spring and summer. Perennials include lavender, coreopsis, salvia and several others.

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