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Everything You Need to Know About Gardening in California

Everything You Need to Know About Gardening in California

By Annie A.
February 06, 2021

Plants are sunshine, food, and medicine to the mind. Those who’ve started a garden have never worked alone—the rain has always found it, the wind has blown across it, and the sun has shined upon it. With so many lovely and favorable benefits, why not take up gardening in California

As urban agriculture and community gardens pave their way to helping us establish a sustainable lifestyle, more and more people are choosing to create an inviting outdoor living area. Whether you want to plant winter vegetables in California or learn about fall gardening, everything is possible in the Golden State. Make the most of your garden with helpful tips to transform your backyard into a blooming oasis. 


How To Start And Maintain A Home Garden In California

No matter where you live in California, you can create a beautiful outdoor oasis and grow your own food.

Succulents, ZZ plants, and vertical gardens in your California home? You had me at ‘aloe.’ Every time we visit California’s botanical gardens, we’re inspired to start our very own verdant spaces at home. The most important thing to keep in mind when starting a home garden in California is location, location, location. Like real estate, deciding where to set up your garden is all about choosing the right site. 

Investing in soil that is nutrient-rich and well-drained is another key factor in starting a garden. Whether you’re planting on the ground or in a raised bed, there’s appropriate soil for every kind of species. It’s just as important to grow the right plants for the area you live in. You probably won’t be able to plant a coconut palm, for instance, but you might be able to set your eyes on cacti, grapes, and avocados (depending on your local climate).  

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California Native Plants For The Garden

The California Native Plant Society (CNPS), one of the foremost native plant organizations in the world, aims to conserve California native plants and their natural habitats. Besides being a leading voice in plant science and native plant appreciation, the nonprofit aims to increase the understanding, enjoyment, and horticultural use of native plants.

Whether you want to know which vegetables grow best in San Diego, learn how to start gardening in San Francisco, or expand your knowledge on drought-tolerant landscaping, CNPS has got you covered. 

Choose California native plants such as red salvia, which thrive in the state's climate and require little maintenance.

There are thousands of California native plants you can use for your garden. Edible native plants include miner’s lettuce, big saltbush, and red maids. The best plants to grow in California for herbs and spices are the hummingbird’s sage, Cleveland sage, and oreganillo (also known as Wright’s beebrush). As for sweet fruits, the top choices include Roger’s Red grape, golden currant, huckleberry, Nevin’s barberry, Mexican elderberry, and woodland strawberry.  

The benefits of having a native garden are plenty. One of the biggest advantages is that maintaining a California native garden is much easier than maintaining a non-native one. Once your California native plants are established, you won’t have to worry about regularly watering them—they need minimal irrigation besides regular rainfall. Their low-maintenance nature allows you to save time and resources compared to non-native plants. Since native plants develop their own defenses against many pests and diseases, you’ll reduce (and maybe even eliminate) the use of pesticides.  


Landscape Plants For California Gardens

Douglas meadowfoam and other California wildflowers will jazz up any yard with their vibrant hues.

The most colorful and vibrant landscape plants for California gardens are undoubtedly the gorgeous native wildflowers. Create an Impressionist scene in your Mendocino garden with the Point Reyes meadowfoam or transform your Santa Barbara garden into a paradisiacal oasis with the Douglas iris, also known as Canyon Snow.

Another wildflower to plant in your California native garden is the woolly bluecurl, a small blue evergreen shrub. Jazz up your backyard with the island alum root, a 2-foot perennial with 3-inch spikes of small pinkish flowers. Add more color and variety to your verdant space by planting California’s shrubby monkeyflower, which comes in pure reds, yellows, oranges, purples, whites, pinks, and countless blends. Whatever you do, don’t forget to plant the Golden State’s signature evergreen flowering shrub: the tree anemone. Also known as Carpenteria californica (or the bush anemone), this flowering plant is listed as a threatened species but is still widely grown around the world. 

As for starting a rose garden in California, Woods’ Rose (or Rosa woodsii) is your go-to choice. This Golden State native rose features lovely pink blossoms that transform into red and orange rose hips in the fall. Woods’ Rose is best used for creating barriers in your California native garden due to its naturally occurring thickets of upright thorny stems. 


The Best Vegetables To Grow In California

Always dreamed of growing your own veggies? In California, it's easy to do as long as you pick the right varieties for the area you live in.

How awesome would it be to actually eat what you grow without having to go grocery shopping every week? Elevate your gardening skills by planting your very own vegetables in California. Since agriculture plays a huge role in not just the Golden State’s economy but also in that of the United States’, planting vegetables isn’t rocket science. Your options are plentiful, and the varieties are endless. The best vegetables to grow in California include tomatoes, squash, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, beans, radishes, watermelon, and sweet corn. 

When it comes to winter gardening in California, your options are still quite abundant. Collard greens, kale, arugula, spinach, mustard greens, Swiss chard, potatoes, beets, carrots, and turnips are only a few of your many choices. Root crops like kohlrabi, radishes, garlic, onions, and common Golden State staples—like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, bok choy, celery, and peas—are all easily grown during wintertime. These vegetables are highly tolerant to drier conditions, so they can thrive with little irrigation.  


Gardens In Los Angeles: What To Plant

Los Angeles residents can grow an array of fruits, vegetables, and herbs year-round.

Gardens in Los Angeles don’t have a specific set of rules—the same gardening techniques apply to this SoCal area. If you’re thinking about what to grow, you have a plethora of options, depending on when you’re planting.

When planting in mid-March, your best choices are last-chance winter crops: lettuce, arugula, mustard, spinach, radishes. Tomatoes are a must for summertime planting—don’t stick to one kind, though; choose two to three different varieties to have a richer SoCal garden. Eggplants and peppers are a popular choice as well. These heat-loving nightshade plants are best grown in mid-spring, but for an earlier harvest, plant them in mid-March along with your late winter greens. Carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, and green beans are also some of the best vegetables to grow in Southern California

Flowering herbs such as basil attract bees and other pollinators and make your garden more inviting. Don’t forget to plant nasturtiums, cosmos, and dahlias as well to make your garden in Los Angeles the most beautiful one yet. 


Native Plants Of San Diego

Revamp your San Diego home with native plants that are hardy, low maintenance, and drought tolerant.

Transform your yard into an inviting outdoor space that oozes with aromatic plants and magnificent flowers. Create a flourishing garden featuring native plants of San Diego to make it easier for you to maintain.  

When starting a San Diego garden, opt for hardy, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants to enjoy year-round growth. Dymondia, also known as silver carpet, is a native plant of San Diego that’s best used for filling in the spaces between flagstone pavers. This evergreen needs little water and chokes out virtually all weeds—it thrives in coastal desert conditions. Lantana plants are gorgeous vivid blossoms that add brightness to your garden. 

Make your outdoor space more dramatic by growing the Pride of Madeira, also known as Echium candicans. Agave and aloe are other native plants of San Diego—they’ll bring a dose of cuteness to your California garden. Plant little blue fescue for blue-green accents around your verdant paradise.

Whatever you do, avoid growing annuals as well as tropical, exotic, and invasive plants—they’re not accustomed to the SoCal climate. 


Northern California Gardening Tips

Gardeners in Northern California can sow everything from culinary herbs to citrus trees.

For a successful Northern California gardening experience, you need to follow certain guidelines to make it worth your time and energy. Besides the usual “plant at the right time,” “planning ahead is key,” and “use the right soil,” you must know which plants bloom in which season.

When planting in the winter and spring months, azaleas, camellias, carnations, gardenias, and Oriental lilies are your top options. Once the frost is gone and the conditions are warmer, it’s time to plant culinary herbs such as chives, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and thyme; you can also plant tomatoes, peas, and potatoes.

Mid-spring calls for planting carrots, chard, spinach, beans, corn, and squash. Drought-tolerant plants like ceanothus and cotoneaster are also ideal for growing during this season. Summertime is perfect for planting bonsai, gardenia, citrus trees, peppers, and pumpkins—they’ll be fully grown in time for Halloween.

Once the leaves start turning red and yellow, let your garden thrive with asters, chrysanthemums, gaillardia, gloriosa daisy, Japanese anemone, lion’s tail, purple coneflower, and salvia. Leave room for beets, carrots, onions, turnips, garlic, and spinach. 

What You Should Know Before Gardening In San Francisco

Gardening in San Francisco can prove to be bountiful. Start growing your own herbs and produce so you don't have to go grocery shopping as often.

You may think that gardening in San Francisco is a challenging experience, but it’s also very rewarding. Warm-weather crops aren’t that popular here due to the cool and foggy summers, but S.F. has the benefits of frost-free winters so you can grow winter plants year-round.   

Plants like corn, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, and winter melons produce a satisfactory harvest in the warm parts of the Bay Area, away from the coastal influence. Cucumbers, basil, and beans require sunlight and warmth, but not as much as the formerly mentioned plants. Some of the plants you’ll see flourishing all over the Bay Area year-round are asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cilantro, lettuce, onion, parsley, radish, spinach, and pumpkin.  


Central Coast Gardening Guide 

When living along California's Central Coast, plant spinach in the winter, potatoes in the fall, and corn in the summer.

Having a fruitful Central Coast gardening experience is easy if you know what you’re doing—it’s all about selecting the appropriate plants that flourish in that climate. Wind, humidity, rainfall, summer highs, and winter lows are all factors that play a role in a plant’s performance.  

As for which plants to grow, your choices aren’t much different from those in the other regions of California. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, and spinach are your top winter plant options. Grow onions, potatoes, peas, eggplants, and peppers towards the end of the fall season. Once it’s summertime, plant seedlings of beans, cowpeas, corn, squash, pumpkin, cucumbers, watermelons, and sunflowers.

With all these tips in mind, gardening in California has never been easier. What will you plant in your garden first?


Annie A.

Annie A.

Annie has written about pretty much everything at this point, but her favorite topics are traveling, food, or basically anything that can become a future bucket list. She loves reading sci-fi novels,…

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