In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2000
Regional Report

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It's fall! Time to go shopping for seeds and plants to grow now for a spring harvest.

Fall Is for Planting

Nurseries are overflowing with trees and shrubs, and everyone says it's fall planting time. What's the big deal about fall planting? Here's the scoop: The extreme heat of summer is mostly over. Because the soil is still warm but days are shorter and cooler, roots can grow well in the warm soil, while the foliage can tolerate the cooler air temperatures without being stressed. It's a perfect time to plant.

Winter Root Growth

All through the winter, the roots of your new shrubs and trees will be growing under the soil surface, gathering nutrients and anchoring the plant to the ground. In the spring, when the burst of new growth occurs, the roots will be well established and able to easily support the plant. This is also true for fall-planted vegetables such as peas, lettuce, broccoli, cilantro, and cabbages. Because the soil is warm, the seeds get off to a good start. While you're at it, drop in a few sweet pea seeds to enjoy in the early spring.

Hold Off on the Tropicals

It's probably best not to plant frost-tender plants such as citrus trees and bougainvillea now. Even in warm areas, there's a danger of frost in December, January, and February. If you can't protect frost-tender plants from the cold, it's better to wait until March to plant.

Digging the Hole

When planting a new tree or shrub, dig a wide hole, but make it only as deep as the height of the rootball. Water immediately after planting to settle the soil and prevent the roots from drying out. Don't fertilize or prune until you begin to see new growth.

Water Basins

Tree roots grow into the soil to the edge of what's called a "drip line." As the foliage part of the tree grows larger and expands, the roots do the same, provided the soil is moist. The drip line is an imaginary line on the surface of the soil that corresponds to the outside edge of the foliage. Watering outside the drip line, where few roots grow, is just a waste of water.

To encourage tree roots to grow deep into the soil, you need to provide an ample source of water, however. The best way to do this is to build a shallow basin, or berm, around the base of a newly planted tree. By filling the shallow basin, you get water exactly where the tree needs it - at the roots. And by filling the basin, letting it drain and filling it again, you drive the water deep into the soil, causing the roots to follow the water down.

Here's how to make a watering basin:

1. Tie a piece of twine around the trunk of the tree.

2. Attach a sturdy stick to the twine.

3. Walk the string out to the edge of the foliage.

4. Walk around the tree, using the stick to mark the soil as you go. When you finish, you should have a circle in the soil under the tree.

5. Remove the string from the trunk.

6. Use a hoe to loosen the soil along the outside of the marked line.

7. Once you have loosened the soil, begin pulling the loose soil into a continuous ridge around the drip line,

forming a basin. The basin doesn't need to be tall. Mounded earth only 2 to 4 inches high will hold an amazing amount of water. One word of warning: don't ever pull soil from the inside of the marked line. You take a chance of disturbing the roots, and, besides, topsoil is precious - leave it where it does the most good.

Once your basin is complete, fill it with water, let it drain and fill again. Then just wait for your work of art to grow in the spring.


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