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In Sacramento, October often's the best time to plant

Trees, shrubs, perennials, natives all benefit from autumn start

Gold lantana with butterfly
Lantana is a reliable bloomer in Sacramento landscapes and popular with butterflies. Plant it now to let it settle in before winter. Watch for frosts and protect the plant before temperatures drop to 28 degrees. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)




A new month-full of gardening opportunities starts Thursday.

October traditionally ranks among the best times to make major additions to your garden. It’s also a good time to divide perennials or move other plants. The soil is still warm enough to encourage good root development before winter’s chill. California native plants, in particular, benefit from an October start.

While this October starts out sizzling with temperatures forecast in the high 90s, most of the month is usually very temperate. The Old Farmer’s Almanac actually predicts a cooler and wetter October than average.

“Normal” for October in Sacramento is very nice; highs average 78 degrees with lows mostly in the 50s. In a good year, we get just under an inch of early rain. Last October, we got none.

October also starts a new rain season or “water year.” Despite a very wet December and normal January, the 2019-20 water year ended about half full. Sacramento totaled 10.87 inches – about 55% of our normal water year.

Which brings another reminder: October is a good month to check irrigation, too.

* October is the best month to plant trees and shrubs in Sacramento. Think about adding some fruit to your garden with a new citrus tree.

Green and white variegated shrub
The variegated leaves of Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald Gaiety'
make a pretty addition to a landscape. Train it as a shrub,
informal hedge or groundcover. This plant is at the Fair Oaks
Horticulture Center in the Water Efficient Landscape.

* October is the best month to plant perennials in our area. Add a little well-aged compost and bone meal to the planting hole, but hold off on other fertilizers until spring. Keep the transplants well-watered (but not wet) for the first month as they become settled.

* Give California native plants a head start. Get them transplanted now, so they can become established faster. Even though they’re often drought-tolerant, natives need regular irrigation while they’re setting down roots. Once established, they’ll need a lot less water.

* October is a great time to give your lawn (if you still have one) some TLC. Feed your turf. Reseed bare spots.

* Now is the time to plant seeds for many flowers directly into the garden, including cornflower, nasturtium, nigella, poppy, portulaca, sweet pea and stock.

* Set out cool-weather bedding plants, including calendula, pansy, snapdragon, primrose and viola.

* In the vegetable garden, plant seeds for radishes, bok choy, mustard, spinach and peas. Also, plant garlic and onions.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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