What to do in a Southern California garden in May

What to do in a Southern California garden in May

May can be spring, or May can be summer. Last year (2016) it was spring, with cloudy and showery weather, but this year so far it feels more like summer with dry breezes and lots of sun and not much May Gray yet — yet! The forecast is for it to turn back to spring for the upcoming second week of this month, with showers and cooler weather.

Cool weather is great planting weather. Take advantage, if you can.

Regardless, it’s already been plenty warm for subtropical plants to set fruit. Maybe your citrus and avocado trees are like mine: still blooming but also with pea-sized fruitlets. And maybe you planted some tomatoes in March that are already setting fruit. If May ends up being more warm like summer, we’ll even get to eat some by the end of the month.

But I chose the photo above to represent May because it’s the prettiest subtropical flower forming fruit this month in my yard. Passion fruit vines have everything beyond beauty going for them too: vibrant, evergreen foliage; vigorous growth to cover a fence or pergola; not messy when their fruit drops; tangy and tasty fruit; plus a fascinating etymology. Maybe you have a place to plant one — maybe next week?

Sometimes it feels like we live in paradise, friends. If you want to keep it going, here are some May opportunities in the yard:

Sow and plant

– Sow or plant these vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, beets, eggplant, beans, cucumber, corn, squash, melon, chard, basil

– Plant peppers and eggplant later in May if you want to be really smart about it; late May into early June is an ideal time to plant these heat lovers because if you plant earlier they’ll grow slowly and bugs can decimate them; however, if you plant later than mid-June you’re not going to get as much fruit as possible before it cools in the fall

vegetables seeds and seedlings in May

My diversified portfolio of seeds and seedlings on deck, to be planted in the ground from tomorrow through the end of May.

Harvest and eat

– Harvest wisely by doing it early in the morning for leaves of lettuce, chard, and kale; they are turgid at this hour — full of water and crunchy — and will taste best and keep fresh longest

– Stop watering onions and garlic that you planted last fall once their outer leaves start to yellow; they’ll continue to enlarge their bulbs on residual soil moisture; pick them to eat anytime, but wait until their tops are totally dead if you want to store them

– Eat these goodies (had you planted them): blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, tomatoes (especially smaller-fruited types), potatoes, onion, garlic, broccoli (still a few final florets!), peas, lettuce, beets, carrots, peppers (if you overwintered a plant)


– Go hunting at night with a flashlight to see which bugs are eating your plants; in May, you might find earwigs on peppers, pill bugs on strawberries, june bugs on avocado leaves, slugs and snails on lettuce; pick them up and drown them in soapy water, collect them and feed them to chickens, throw them into your neighbor’s yard (unless you live next door to me), or squish them on sight

– Weed spotted spurge and purslane before they set seed; uproot and lay them on the ground upside down so they dessicate and decompose (but beware of purslane’s ability to root and regrow if it’s laid on moist soil)

– Note sun and shade patterns throughout the day; May through August patterns are about the same, in other words, you can grow a warm-season vegetable or a deciduous fruit tree in a spot that is sunny now but may be shady at other times of the year (north of a building, for example, like these pomegranates)

pomegranate north of building


You might also like to read:

You sure can grow long-day onions in Southern California

‘San Diego’ tomatoes, and supporting tomatoes

Chickens eat bugs in the garden

What to do in a Southern California garden in April

What to do in a Southern California garden in April

In April, my gardening mind is busy, as I suspect is yours. Mostly, I think about three topics. The first is fruit set — flowers becoming fruit on the trees. The above photo is the fruit set on my Blenheim apricot today; this tree is an over-achiever, year after year. A few of my other trees should take lessons . . . are you listening, Snow Queen nectarine?

And then I start thinking about irrigation this month too. It’s likely that we won’t get another real rain. Up ahead is about seven months of sunny and warm. I’ve always thought of growing food in Southern California as “just add water” because we have all of the sun we could want and none of the nasty weather (hail, high winds, flooding) that other places have in the summer. We just don’t get water from the sky during this time of year, so adding that is up to us.

April isn’t the month when a lot of watering is required, of course. But being the beginning of the irrigation season, it is the best, most forgiving time to fiddle with systems and dig down to test percolation and figure out schedules. On the other hand, doing this right before you’re about to leave on vacation in the summer would be the worst, least forgiving time. I think of time spent preparing irrigation now as doing my future self a favor.

And April begins open season on planting vegetables that like to grow through summer. It’s so exciting to now be able to freely sow and plant peppers, tomatoes, melons, eggplant and, well . . . here are the details on what we can sow, as well as other timely tasks out in your food garden in Southern California in April:

– Sow or plant vegetables: beets, carrots, basil, greens, tomatoes, tomatillos, sunflowers, squash, corn, beans, peppers, eggplant, cucumber, melons

– Eat vegetables (had you planted them): peas, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, greens, carrots, beets, lettuce, parsley, cilantro, spinach

– Eat fruit (if you have the trees): avocados (Hass, Fuerte, Pinkerton); citrus (Valencia, Gold Nugget mandarin, Pixie mandarin)

– Eat, eat, eat strawberries, and freeze, freeze, freeze the ones you don’t

strawberries in April

– Prune deciduous fruit trees with only a twist of your fingers; if you made a heading cut in the winter and new shoots are sprouting below it now, just remove any of those shoots that you don’t want by snapping them off with your hand — it’s really that easy

– Get excited about fruit set on deciduous fruit trees and, should you be so lucky, consider thinning some fruit; if a skinny branch has a lot of fruit toward its tip then it’s wise to remove some fruit there so the branch doesn’t break under the fruit’s weight (peaches or nectarines) or get sunburned as the branch bends down (apricots, plums, apples); that being said, don’t bother thinning much more than that

Flavor Grenade pluot fruit set

Flavor Grenade pluot fruit set; I will thin some, especially toward the tip

– Get up close and enjoy the smell of the citrus blossoms on the trees in your yard

– Cut off the water to garlic and onions that you planted last fall as they bulb out toward the end of the month; they can finish their lives on residual soil moisture, and they’ll be dry and easy to harvest when their leaves yellow and die sometime in May

– Get gophers before they get your plants; there are a lot of young ones under the ground this time of year, and the best way I’ve found to keep them under control is the Cinch Trap

– Set up new irrigation on plants, test run all irrigation lines to check for clogs and leaks, flush drip irrigation lines, clean out filters — get that irrigation dialed in


You might also like to read:

How long to run drip irrigation on vegetables

What to do in a Southern California garden in March

What to do in a Southern California garden in March

March is citrus month. Almost every kind of citrus tastes good in March in Southern California. While some are still ripe, others are already starting to taste sweet. What I mean is, some are wrapping up their seasons now, like navel oranges and blood oranges and Kishu mandarins, while others are in the early part of their seasons, like Valencia oranges and Gold Nugget mandarins.

Here is what we should all do: Go to a farmers market and taste every different kind of local citrus available. Do any knock your socks off? If you can get the variety name from the farmer, then go and buy a tree of that variety from a local nursery.

I did something similar a few years ago with a tour of the Citrus Variety Collection at U.C. Riverside, after which I planted a Cara Cara navel orange, Satsuma, Kishu, Gold Nugget, and Pixie mandarins. By the way, do you have children or grandchildren? You’ve got to give them the gift of a Kishu mandarin, which in my opinion is the best fruit tree for kids.

About vegetables, March is a month of transition. We can still plant some vegetables that like to grow in cool weather (think lettuce), but we can also start planting some vegetables that like to grow in warm weather (think corn).

To be specific about it, plant lettuce and its ilk as soon as possible, but be in no rush to plant corn and friends. I have found success sowing or planting those warm guys only toward the end of March.

With all of those ideas in mind, in March we can:

Sow and plant

– Sow or plant some cool-season vegetables: beets, carrots, greens, lettuce, green onions, peas, potatoes

– Sow or plant some warm-season vegetables: tomatoes, squash, corn, beans (some beans, but not all)

Not sow or plant: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage; sorry, it’s too late to get good production out of those

Harvest and eat

– Eat (had you planted them): asparagus, peas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, beets, lettuce, parsley, cilantro, spinach, celery, greens, strawberries

– Eat (if you have the trees): avocados (Hass, Fuerte, Pinkerton); citrus (almost all kinds)


– Collect or redirect any rain we get so it sinks into your yard near your plants and isn’t lost into the street

– Change irrigation on fruit trees as necessary (e.g. from drip lines to mini-sprinklers); do it now before the trees start depending on irrigation because the current mild weather and thoroughly moist soil from winter rains allow the tree roots to most easily adjust to new patterns of soil moisture

– Put in plants that are native to your neighborhood, especially in parts of your yard that are difficult to irrigate; I put wild lilac (Ceanothus) and monkey flowers (Diplacus) in a couple of Marches ago, watered them by hand a couple of times their first summer and haven’t watered them since, and they’re beautiful and blooming right now

– Observe your deciduous fruit trees as they bloom and leaf out; notice if they flower mostly on short branches (apples, cherries, apricots) or on long branches (peaches, nectarines), for this can guide your pruning next year — or now, because it’s never too late to prune

– Plant avocado trees, and prune them if necessary; you can grow your own avocados in a surprisingly small yard space

Avoid spraying anything on citrus trees if the new leaves get damaged by leafminers

– Plant more citrus, of course!

What to do in a Southern California garden in February

What to do in a Southern California garden in February

And winter’s over. Did you blink and miss it? There are sure to be a few more chilly mornings and a few more rainstorms, but look outside: the plants are already waking up.

Native plants are well on their way, as acorns germinate into baby live oak trees and wild cucumber, lemonade berry, and manzanita bloom (those are the ones I noticed on my run through the hills this morning); but also, a couple of my avocado trees are swelling flower buds. By the end of the month, apricots (as pictured above during February 2016), peaches and plums, they’ll all be opening flowers.

February is my favorite month of the year. Yes, my first-born son arrived in February, but I also like this month because I think of it as the beginning of our spring in Southern California, when not only do many plants start to bloom but also our landscape briefly glows green with grasses, mustard, filaree — all weeds, but man do they make this place look lush like Tennessee for a slice of time. Temperatures are wonderful for afternoon hikes. The air is filled with the freshness of a rain that just passed or the potential of a storm on the way. There’s also the potential of all of those flowers. Will my pluot tree set a lot of fruit? How many blueberries will we get?

And there are opportunities. We can:

– Sow or plant peas, carrots (see my post, “Growing carrots in Southern California”), lettuce, beets, greens (chard, kale, turnip, mustard, collards), green onions, potatoes (see my post, “Growing potatoes in Southern California”)

Clone your grape vine, fig tree, or pomegranate tree (or a friend’s) by rooting a cutting

– Buy and plant bare root fruit trees before they get potted up

Graft deciduous fruit trees, and also graft avocados

– Transplant shoots of your raspberry plants and runners of your strawberry plants

– Collect or redirect any rain we get so it sinks into your yard near your plants and isn’t lost into the street

– Pull weeds at the right time for maximum effectiveness: soon after a rain so the soil is moist, but just before a Santa Ana so you can leave the weeds right there on the ground and the dry air will desiccate and kill it

– Change irrigation on fruit trees as necessary (e.g. from drip lines to mini-sprinklers); do it now before your plants start depending on irrigation in a couple months because the current mild weather and thoroughly moist soil from rains allow plants to most easily adjust to new patterns of soil moisture

– Mulch under fruit trees with wood chips; the mulch sort of seals in the soil moisture, and then upcoming rains should soak the mulch for free

Prune deciduous fruit trees and grape vines; it’s easy to see the structure of the bare branches now

– Harvest fresh peas, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, chard, spinach, carrots, strawberries, parsley, cilantro (these are just what’s happening in my yard, not the limit of what’s possible)

– Harvest Fuerte and Hass avocados

– Harvest some citrus, such as navel oranges, Kishu and Satsuma mandarins


What to do in a Southern California garden in January

What to do in a Southern California garden in January

Here it is, our winter. In January only — and a couple weeks before and after — can we enjoy a fire in the fireplace and do we have the chance to see a little frost on the ground. Appreciate it before it’s warm again for 10 months.

And there are seasonal “opportunities” in the garden for January. (Don Shor of the Davis Garden Show likes to call them opportunities instead of jobs, tasks, or chores. I like that perspective.)

We can:

– Prune deciduous fruit trees and grape vines; it’s easy to see the structure of the bare branches now (here’s a good video on winter pruning from Tom Spellman of Dave Wilson Nursery)

– Put in plants that are native to your neighborhood, especially in a part of the yard where you don’t want to irrigate

– Collect or redirect rainwater so it sinks into your yard near your plants and isn’t lost into the street

– Walk around on a cold evening or morning to notice warmer and chillier spots; note them because later you’ll want to put plants in those spots that like those conditions

– Observe where afternoon shade is; don’t place your vegetable garden there unless you only want to grow in the summer

– Cut scion wood for grafting stone fruits (apricot, plum, peach, etc.); I have always had success with grafting stone fruit trees at the very end of January

– Take and plant cuttings of pomegranate and grapes at the very end of January too

– Buy and plant bare root fruit and nut trees, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, asparagus

– Transplant or just remove shoots of your raspberry plants and runners of your strawberry plants

– Sow peas, potatoes, carrots, lettuces and other greens, especially toward the end of January; you can sow or transplant some other vegetables (like broccoli), but January is not the ideal time for them

– Start a journal or calendar for notes for the new year; jot down weather observations, irrigation schedules, sowing and planting dates, arrival of pests, harvest times (next January you’ll thank yourself)