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Color-pack Picks
  • A trip down nursery aisles bursting with flowers is pure temptation. How to make wise choices? Start by avoiding any warm-season growers like petunias and zinnias; they will fade quickly now. Instead look for cool-season annuals like stock, pansies, violas, primroses, poppies and the like. Pick plants that are vegetative or in bud, not bloom; they’ll have the longest life and bloom period in the garden. When planting, if the plants are root-bound, loosen the bottom roots before putting them in the ground. Annuals are hungry plants; satisfy them with some high-bloom fertilizer right after planting and several times in the growing season.
Don’t Irrigate in the Rain
  • Monitor irrigation and adjust it to suit the weather, which is very variable this month. Use the Be Waterwise calculator ( to find out how long your sprinklers should run. Shorter, cooler days reduce water stress on established plants, while bursts of heat, especially from Santa Anas, up the need for water. The changing season also can shift shadows to places that earlier basked in the sun, also reducing irrigation needs. Sprinklers may need to be adjusted too, to accommodate summer plant growth or the addition of companion perennials and annuals. Since months may have passed since your last check, inspect the system for leaks and water waste. With everyone watching water consumption, don’t irritate neighbors and drain your bank account by watering during a rainstorm. Hit “rain delay” on your timer whenever precipitation is forecast.
Force Paperwhites
  • Their strong fragrance causes some folks to turn up their noses at paperwhites but there’s much to like about these bulbs, including how easy it is to force them into bloom in time for the holidays. Pick a glass container or waterproof a basket with plastic sheeting. The sides of either should be 4-inches or more high. Fill the firm bulbs tightly together on top. Then add water to cover the base of the bulbs. Allowing the bottom of the bulbs to sit in water stimulates growth. Check bulbs daily to see if they need more water. Keep in a cool dark spot and maintain the water level until the bulbs sprout – about 10 days. Bulbs don’t need light at this stage and they prefer to be kept cool at 65degrees F. Then move to a sunny spot and, in a month, you’ll enjoy the snow-white flowers. Once the plants flower, they’ll last longer if moved out of the sunlight to a cooler location. After the bloom, discard the bulbs since they won’t flower again. Forced paperwhites tend to grow tall and often flop over. This can be prevented by growing them in a solution of 4-6 percent alcohol and water. For more information see the article by researchers in the Flower Bulb Research Program at Cornell University:
Get Landscape Design Advice
  • Shocked by high water bills? Determined to transform your garden into a waterwise landscape but not sure where to begin? Jump-start your makeover with a professional landscape design consultation at The Water Conservation Garden. The 45-minute sessions are with consultants who specialize in drought-tolerant landscapes. Homeowners bring photos and dimensions of a targeted area; they leave with a design plan and plant list. Cost is $75 ($60 for garden members). Call (619) 660-0614, ext. 10, to learn dates and availability.
Gifts from the Garden
  • Gardeners, foodies, kids – if they’re on your gift list, take some time now to plan – and plant – the perfect present. Herbs in festive pots, a bowl of newly sprouted lettuces, a bundle of wildflower seeds and radish-growing kits for kids – all are welcome as hostess, holiday or house-warming gifts. Don’t overlook those homemade jams or jellies, pickles or relishes, in attractive jars with handwritten labels. Or fill a container with layers of bulbs, an attractive arrangement of succulents or some strawberry plants. All can be assembled in advance and in less time than it takes to find a parking place in the mall. Tuck care instructions or a favorite recipe in a card for a personal touch.
Grow a Salad Bowl Garden
  • Tender lettuces and their perfect pairings - radishes, peas, carrots, beets, spinach, scallions and broccoli - love sunny, cool weather. Planted now, many will be ready for harvest in time for Thanksgiving. If you’re a gourmet cook, grow some restaurant favorites from seeds, like colorful mesclun mixes (, jewel-toned Chioggia beets and micro-greens (, or purple carrots and orange cauliflower ( In general, start seeds earlier in the season than starter plants from nurseries. A detailed vegetable planting guide is under “Resources” at

Grow Bullet-Proof Plants
  • Landscape designer Doug Kalal of Great Gardens Landscape Design ( names these versatile plants as his five bullet-proof beauties. All are easy to find at area nurseries.

    • Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha) – Velvety purple flowers dance above scented grey-green foliage spring and fall on this drought-tolerant sage. Refresh in late November (December inland) by cutting close to the ground; cutback again by half in July. Four feet tall and wide; ‘Santa Barbara’ is a foot shorter.
    • Prostrate Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’) -  This handsome herb handles poor soils on hot, dry slopes with ease and bears pale blue flowers winter into spring that are loved by honey bees.  Spreads 4-8 feet wide
    • Silver Sheen Pittosporum (Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Sheen’) – Tiny leaves glisten on this tall slender evergreen shrub. Tough and water wise, it fits into narrow side gardens masking fences and walls. Grows 10-12 feet tall.
    • Marble Queen Mirror Plant (Coprosma repens ‘Marble Queen’) – Drought-tolerant and easy care with no leaf litter, marble mirror plants are garden chameleons with slick green and creamy yellow foliage that changes with the seasons and sun exposure. Slow growing to 4 feet tall and wide. Good near pools.
    • Forest Pansy Redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’) – An all-season performer, ‘Forest Pansy’ shows off best in spring when tiny pink flowers along bare branches are followed by deep purple heart-shaped leaves. Fall foliage is a brilliant orange-gold. Grows to 15 feet tall and wide. Full sun along the coast; afternoon shade inland.
Grow Garden-friendly Natives
  • California native plants thrive in gardens with a mix of drought-tolerant and Mediterranean-climate plants - if the natives picked tolerate some summer water. Here are a half-dozen compatible performers selected by Susan Jett, director of horticulture for the all-native Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont.

    • ‘Ray Hartman’ wild lilac (Ceanothus) - Grows 15 feet tall and wide. Shiny bright green leaves are attractive year round; rich medium blue flowers in spring. Butterfly favorite. Prune to shape in spring after flowering.
    • ‘Howard McMinn’ Manzanita (Arctostaphylos) - Sculptural small tree 6 to 7 feet tall, 6 feet wide. Tolerates various soils and some shade. Smooth mahogany-hued bark, glossy leaves and pink flowers in spring.
    • Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) - Year-round interest from this evergreen shrub or small tree know as California’s holly. Grows 7 to 8 feet tall and wide. White flowers in summer followed by red berries favored by birds.
    • ‘Allen Chickering’ Sage (Salvia) - Robust hybrid that grows to 4 feet tall with gray-green foliage and lots of bright blue flowers late spring and into summer. Cut back by one-third after flowering to maintain vigor. Pinch prune in spring to shape.
    • ‘Wendy’ Coral Bells (Heuchera) - Hybrid with long-lasting spring bloom of bright rose-pink flowers on sturdy 3 foot stems above 10 to 12-inch high light green foliage clumps. Striking in mass plantings. Tolerates tree roots. Provide afternoon shade in hot inland areas.
    •  ‘Pigeon Point’ Dwarf Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis) - Easy-care groundcover prized for its bright green leaves. Fast growing. Can be sheared. Full sun.
Grow Garlic
  • Now is the time to add garlic to cool-season vegetable gardens. Garlic isn’t stored in the refrigerator because the cool temperatures cause it to sprout. Grow your own by sticking individual cloves, pointed end up, about an inch down in prepared, well-draining soil in a sunny site; it’s that simple. Use seed garlic purchased from seed companies or nurseries since supermarket varieties may have been sprayed to delay or reduce sprouting. Some tried-and-true varieties include “softneck” ‘Silver Rose’ and ‘California Early’, and extra pungent “hardneck” ‘Spanish Roja’ and ‘Music’. Keep soil moist but not wet. When leaf tops fall over in early summer, lift the bulbs from the ground, air dry, trim off roots and foliage and store in a cool place.
Grow Great New Grasses
  • The ornamental grasses revolution, now more than two decades old, shows no signs of ebbing. And no wonder. These drought tolerant, unfussy and low-maintenance plants are ideal for San Diego gardens. Here are some to plant now to establish during upcoming rains.

    • Pennisetum setaceum ‘Fireworks’ – This new fountain grass dazzles with variegated pink and white-striped foliage. As the seasons change, a rich purple is added to the mix. In the summer, purple tassels dance above the handsome 2-3-foot tall clumps. Cut back to 6-8 inches tall in early spring to freshen. 
    • Muhlenbergia dubia (Pine Muhly Grass) – This elegant Southwest native grows only 12-18-inches tall and forms compact clumps of light-green foliage that fades to tan. Cream flowers rise on slender stalks more than 2 feet in height in late summer. Very adaptable to varied growing conditions. Unappetizing to deer.
    • Muhlenbergia rigida (Nashville Grass) – Another compact grass 2 feet tall and wide, this upright muhly grass has fine textured, light green leaves and fall-blooming purple flowers that fade to wheat. Cut back in spring to reinvigorate.
    • Muhlenbergia emersleyi (El Toro or Bull Grass) –The attractive blue-green, thin-bladed foliage of this Arizona-Texas native grass form tight clumps 2 feet tall and wide. In fall, loose flower panicles in a dusky purple dangle on stiff 3-4-foot long stems. One of the most drought-tolerant grasses.
    • Lomandra longifolia ‘The Breeze’ –This 30-inch tall and wide cultivar of a tough Australian native has graceful shiny deep-green blades that gently arch. In spring and fall, creamy yellow flowers cluster like a lacy crinoline around its base. Once established, this grass maintains its good looks on minimal water. Trim every five years.
    • Dianella caerulea ‘Cassa Blue’ – Distinctive blue-green foliage in vase-shaped clumps is only part of the appeal of this architectural hybrid of another Aussie native. Dainty yellow-throated dark blue flowers appear on tall stems in spring and summer and are followed by glowing blue berries.
    • Dianella revoluta ‘Little Rev’ and ‘Big Rev– These flax lilies send up stiff, straight foliage that on ‘Little Rev’ is a smoky blue-gray and on ‘Big Rev’ is green on top and blue-green underneath. Both are compact, drought tolerant good companions for succulents and Mediterranean-climate plants.
Grow Sweet Peas
  • Scent, frilly blossoms and romantic colors – who wouldn’t want sweet peas in the garden. Plant seeds now for this easy-to-grow annual and enjoy girlie bouquets by spring. Renee Shepherd of Renee’s Garden likes these varieties for San Diego gardens.

    • April in Paris – “It’s our most fragrant,” Shepherd says. Creamy yellow flowers are blushed with lavender that deepens with age.
    • Zinfandel – Ruffled blossoms are deep burgundy.
    • Blue Celeste – This British-bred variety is the pale blue of a winter sky.
    • Jack & Jill – Soft blue and salmon-rose flowers cover this knee-high (3 feet) mix ideal for containers.
    • Queen of Hearts – Another mix of Valentine-pretty red, burgundy and cream.

    Give sweet peas good air circulation and excellent drainage. And remember “the more flowers you pick, the more you’ll get,” Shepherd says.  Order seeds and find detailed growing instructions at

Harvest Rain
  • With average annual rainfall here of less than 11 inches, it pays to make the most of every drop. Start by redirecting water from gutters routed into storm drains to empty into the garden instead. A simple swale – a depression lined with gravel – also can collect runoff so it can percolate into the ground. Rain barrels too offer simple storage; most fill up remarkably fast, so install more than one if possible. The Water Conservation Garden on the campus of Cuyamaca College in El Cajon has a good exhibit of a working rain barrel system. A good time to visit is during the Fall Gardening Festival this month. Details are at

Irrigation Changes
  • If refurbishing garden plantings, consider upgrading irrigation at the same time. New rotating sprinkler heads deliver water in a way that mimics rainfall; check with your local water agency for possible rebates on them. Run systems to check for leaks and whether plants have overgrown existing risers. Make the necessary fixes or replace these systems with more efficient drip irrigation that delivers water right to plant roots. New systems have reliable options to troublesome emitters that too readily clog.
Native Care at Planting Time
  • California natives thrive in the garden with some special care, especially at planting time. Tree of Life native plant nursery suggests making the planting hole twice as deep and wide as the plant’s container. In general, don’t add soil amendments or fertilizers; native plants like native soil. Fill the planting hole with water and let it drain before inserting the plant. Place the plant in the hole so it is about an inch above ground level, then begin adding back fill, wetting it down before adding more. When the hole is filled, create a water basin around the plant and fill with mulch over to the root ball, but not touching the base of the plant. Water thoroughly…and then water again.  Water often enough to keep the root ball from drying out completely until roots grow into the native soil.  If rains are absent or light, water thoroughly every week for two or three months to help the plant become established. More on native plant care is at

Peach Leaf Curl Options
  • Two fungicides used to control debilitating peach leaf curl in peach and nectarine trees have been taken off the market. To prevent this disease, gardeners can make their own fungicide by following the directions in UC Pest Note 7481, Bordeaux Mixture. The process requires buying a small quantity of copper sulfate and agricultural lime to make a stock solution of each chemical. Combine them and dilute with water to make the Bordeaux spray, which is applied twice while the trees are dormant. Lime by the pound can be purchased at City Farmers Nursery; copper sulfate is available from For more on peach leaf curl, consult UC Pest Note 7426, Peach Leaf Curl.

Plant Mirror Plant
  • While only a few trees here burst with fall color – a favorite is the fiery Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) - there are other plants that add a golden glow to the garden. One that shines, literally, is the mirror plant (Coprosma repens). The small oval leaves on this New Zealand native gleam as if they’ve been varnished and new cultivars are rich in autumn tones of gold, ruby and copper. Cooling weather enhances their jewel colors, though the slow-growing shrubs 3 to 6 feet tall are attractive all year. Grow them in full sun to part shade; prune to shape. Some choice selections are ‘Pink Splendor’ with leaves splashed with gold, pink and maroon and “Tequila Sunrise’ that glows brilliant orange and red in fall and winter. Look for them at specialty nurseries around the county.
Plant Native Trees
  • Sprawling oaks and sycamores aren’t suited for small urban lots, but several other native trees are good candidates. Some to consider for patio and street trees are the heat-loving desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) with its rosy-pink blooms; shiny-leaved Catalina cherry (Prunus ilicifolia ssp lyonii) with white flowers followed by red berries; western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) with deep pink flowers followed by heart-shaped leaves, the classic red-berried toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) loved by birds or one of the tall blue-flowered wild lilacs (Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’) that grow to 20 feet or more. Fall is ideal for planting natives; shop for them and get advice from experts at the fall sale sponsored by the California Native Plant Society, San Diego chapter. Details are at
Plant Poppies that Pop
  • Start with poppy seeds, some bare ground, plus a little irrigation from the sky and – voila – a breathtaking array of spring flowers. The easy part of growing poppies is letting Mother Nature do much of the work; the hard part is choosing which poppies to grow. The state’s flower, California poppy (Eschscholzia), are classics, in golden orange or in new shades of pink, cream, yellow and red-orange above lacy gray-green leaves. Horned poppies (Glaucium) sport slick lemon yellow or clear orange flowers above silvery lobed leaves. Breadbox, breadseed or opium poppies (Papaver somniferum) stand tall above ruffled blue-gray leaves with single, double or peony-style flowers in rich jewel tones or sweet pastels. For a good selection of seeds, shop Renee’s Garden Seeds ( ), Botanical Interests (, and Thompson & Morgan ( Annie’s Annuals ( offers a variety of poppies in 4-inch pots.

Plant Strawberries
  • What a treat to harvest strawberries from your garden. This month is the ideal time to plant these cool-season perennials for berry production in the months to come. Select varieties suited to our mild climate. Look for bare-root bundles of ‘Sequoia’, ‘Seascape’, ‘Chandler’, ‘Albion’ and ‘Quinault’ at Walter Andersen, City Farmers and other specialty nurseries now. Plant them close to the edge of raised beds or containers so berries will dangle over the sides away from hungry pests and damp soil. Keep these heavy feeders happy throughout the growing season with a slow-release fertilizer.
Season with Homegrown Herbs
  • Many favorite herbs like it hot - basil, for example. But a good number thrive year-round here and a few that even prefer cool,wet weather. Some to add now to a cool-season kitchen garden are parsley, thymes, rosemary, culinary sages, winter savory, chervil, dill and fennel. For pizzazz, pick ‘Kebob’ rosemary with straight stems ideal as BBQ skewers.  Find herbs at area nurseries or specialty herb growers like Pearson’s Gardens and Herb Farm in Vista (