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October garden tips for Los Angeles

The Epilobium or Zauschnaria is a colorful California native plant that blooms in autumn.
The Epilobium or Zauschnaria is a colorful California native plant that blooms in autumn.
Photo by Jane Gates

October places the Los Angeles gardener squarely into the autumn. Even the dry, hot inland areas of the county can count on some cooling. This month, while many other parts of the country are shutting down garden projects for cold weather we are actively starting the winter planting season.

Even though the weather remains warm and we still enjoy lots of sunshine, most commonly used garden plants are feeling the change of daylight, magnetic pull and weather as they slip into dormancy or semi-dormancy. Southern California natives, on the other hand, are doing the opposite and coming into active growth. They sense we are moving into the wet season that swells them into green foliage and colorful bloom.

October is a good month for Los Angeles gardeners to add California natives and other drought-tolerant plants to the landscape. This way roots have a month or more to become established before weather becomes more severe – particularly in higher, inland elevations that are vulnerable to frosts in the winter. Mulching all garden plants will help keep roots safe from winter extremes of cold, wet and dry.

This is the end of the best planting period for most cactus and succulent plants. These plants are most susceptible to rot if the weather is both cool and moist. They need fast drainage so water does not collect around the roots. Wait for the end of the rainy season to plant them if you can.

Cool season vegetables can go into the winter vegetable garden now. Plant seeds or started plants of peas, cabbage, broccoli, onion sets, fava beans and other edibles that don’t like the heat of our summers. If squirrels or rats tend you steal your seeds, try laying old window screens over the seeded areas until the seeds germinate. Sometimes that keeps the pests away. Root crops like carrots and beets can also be seeded.

Start tapering off watering for gardens and lawns all over the Los Angeles area. Reset you sprinkler systems for less watering now that days are shorter and temperatures cooler. It’s best for the plants and will save you money on your utility bills.

Make provisions for our Santa Ana winds. They often show up at the end of the month just before Halloween. Newly planted trees in exposed areas may benefit by being loosely staked. Bigger trees create a larger profile which can catch wind gusts putting stress on branches and root systems. Prune trees wisely to minimize wind resistance and keep trees healthy. Falling trees can cause a lot of damage in the windy season here in Los Angeles.

Clean up wilted plants, dead leaves and brush. Remove dried material to reduce potential wildfire fuel and to remove nesting places for rodents and insect pests. Clean gutters and drains from built up leaves and dust so water will not back up should there be heavy downpours in coming storms.

Start collecting interesting seed heads and autumn leaves for craft projects. Halloween will be here soon and it’s time to start decorating your garden with dried materials from your landscape, autumn-colored chrysanthemums in pots or ghosts and ghouls to thrill the children.

October is the beginning of the second season of planting for Los Angeles gardens. With a little careful preparation, the cool season can be safe, productive and the most comfortable season for working in the garden. Plants will love the gentler temperatures and added moisture. Start the season off right and you will not only have a good-looking garden all winter, but an even more glamorous spring landscape.


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