There isn’t much we can’t plant this month in the central San Joaquin Valley. Local nurseries and garden centers should be fully stocked with a wide variety of deciduous and evergreen trees and bushes, drought-tolerant plants, California natives, herbs, flowering annuals and perennials. Planting zones should be noted on labels. We’re in zones 8 and 9 in the valley and zone 7 in the foothills. Making sure that your new plants are suitable for our planting zones and arid climate is the first step in creating a beautiful garden.
Let’s start with edible plants. Peas (and sweet peas) and fava or horse beans can be planted from seed now; they don’t really need an inoculant or pre-soaking or scoring to sprout in good soil. The seedlings should be about 6 inches high before the first frost arrives, usually in mid-November. A hard freeze might kill the seedlings, but they can survive a light frost or two and will start growing again in mid-January, blooming in February and ready to eat in March – much earlier than if planted in spring. Leafy greens can be grown in containers or in planting beds. When grown in “salad bowls” they collect less mudsplash from the rain and are easier to clean. Head lettuces are picked when fully grown, but leaf lettuces and arugula, spinach and chard can be picked leaf by leaf over several months.
Row covers for winter vegetables can raise temperatures by about 20 degrees, extending our fall growing season. Many members of the brassica family of vegetables (brocolli, kale, Brussel sprouts) actually develop a sweeter flavor when touched by a light frost.
Root vegetables including carrots, radishes, beets and turnips can be planted from seed now. The soil in the root vegetable bed should be well-amended to a depth of 12 inches. Root vegetables grown in heavy soil can be deformed and stunted. Harvesting a few leaves of beet and turnip greens for your salads won’t hurt the vegetables, but dogs love to nibble on beet and turnip greens and will mow down every leaf, ruining the crop.
Herbs really thrive in our climate and often quickly outgrow the space. Check herb labels for size at maturity and double it. Plant herbs in the same irrigation zone as other drought-tolerant species. Oregano, prostrate rosemary, marjoram and mints have invasive root systems. Plant them in pots and plan on replacing the plants every year when the roots have filled the pot.
Winter-blooming annuals planted now will stop growth in the coldest months but flower production will resume at the end of January. It’s true that you can’t safely plant pansies where vincas (or dianthus) were previously growing. Black root rot can be carried on these plants’ roots and will kill susceptible annuals. Buy from reputable nurseries and if your pansies turn yellow, wilt and die and you find hardly any root system when you pull them out, take back the sad remnants to the nursery for a refund.
Wait to fertilize transplants for two weeks after planting, fertilize monthly with a lower-nitrogen fertilizer until mid-November and resume feeding at the end of January when soil temperatures begin to rise.