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Gardening in California: Plant Tips for Your Unique State

Gardening in California: Plant Tips for Your Unique State

California’s landscape is beautiful and varied, from the Sierra Nevada to Death Valley to the Central Valley. The great diversity in landscapes and environments creates unique gardening challenges. The sub-tropic temperature to alpine northern weather effects the types of plant life that will flourish in each region. Even the soils vary based on where you are in the state. These factors make gardening a little confusing from time to time. When looking up gardening tips in your state, there may be differing and even contradicting advice. So we’ve compiled an easy-to-follow guide for gardening in California. 

Gardening Conditions

First, let’s talk location and conditions. Depending on where you live, the temperature, soil and conditions vary. These factors are easily mapped through using the USDA hardiness zones, which shows the different temperature regions based on the coldest weather in the winter. Knowing the coldest winter temperatures determines first frost, which is an important reference point for planting seasons. The hardiness zones are usually posted on the backs of seed packages, giving you an idea of when you should plant each seed for optimum growth. When you know your zone, then you can plan the order in which your garden should be planted.

For a specific guide to gardening depending on your city, check the Old Farmer’s Almanac. 

Since much of California exists in a dry climate, we know it’s important to consider how you’re going to water your plants, especially in a drought. A step towards a low-water garden is investing in drought-resistant plants. These plants are often native to Southern California, but there are many plants that can be adapted to a dry environment. Plants from the American Southwest, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, and the Mediterranean are all ideal for the South Californian environment, as they mimic the arid conditions. 

Gardening in California Pro-tip: Plant in the fall, which is when the roots grow the most. This will help the plant establish in a dry environment for the most water and nutrient absorption. 

California Native Plants:

Plants native to California are perfect to implement into your garden, as they are already suited for the conditions and support the existing environment’s wildlife. Integrating native plants into your garden is an important part of sustainable gardening. Modeling your yard after nature ensures that your garden will support itself year after year.

California Lilac (Ceanothus spp) is native to the dry ridges from Canada to Guatemala, meaning that it grows well in dry arid conditions. In fact, this purple blooming shrub benefits from receiving little water. After the plant is established, don’t give it any extra water during the summer and it may boost the plant’s life by 5 to 10 years.

California gardening works best with native plants

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is a beautiful wildflower that flourishes in grasslands, chapparal and woodlands. Be prepared for this one to spread by seed, rather than staying contained to where you planted them. These are fabulous for the environment, as they attract pollinators and wildlife to your garden.

California poppy is native to the state and great for California gardening.

Parry Mazannita (Arctostaphylos manzanita, if you’re looking for larger plants to add structure

Attract wildlife to your California garden with this native and striking plant.

Pink Flower Currant (Ribes sangineum) is a shrub that blossoms from late winter to early spring. It is native to open slopes, chaparral and moist woodlands from Oregon to Santa Barbara. It needs full sun, but grows well with some supplemental water in the dry season.

Gardening in California with native shrubs to add color to your garden.

When gardening in California, plant native and drought resistant:

For a comprehensive list of drought resistant plants visit here. If you want to search by area, the California Native Plant Society is a wonderful resource.

Watering Plants in California:

Keeping a garden requires the ability to water your plants, but sometimes that becomes an issue. In order to best utilize your yard, organize your garden based on the moisture of the soil. 

To conserve water and use it to the most efficiency, create irrigated hollows. Dig small basins or grooves in your garden, strategically placed to catch rainfall. Arrange your plants that require the most water around this area of your garden. 

If wildfires are an issue, then place these troughs near your house as the plants and moist soil will be burn resistant. As time goes on the roots of the plants in the drier part of the ground will grow towards this natural irrigation system, which limits the amount of water you will need to supply. 

Due to the dry temperature, you will probably need to add some sort of irrigation system besides depending on the rain. The name of the game is efficiency and conservation.

Frequently Asked Questions: Gardening In California

How do I find out more information about gardening in California?

Joining a local gardening club gives you access to knowledge about the area. Your friends and neighbors have accumulated a wealth of gardening tips, ready for the sharing. Look into gardening communities near you to connect with your fellow green-thumbed Californians.

Are any of these California plants perennial?

There are some great California perennial varieties native to the landscape, including Bush Anemone, Canyon Snow Iris, Griff’s Wonder (a flowering shrub), and even the silver Cholla Cactus.

Are there any trees you recommend to plant in California?

California has many beautiful native tree varieties to offer you shade in your yard. Some especially beautiful varieties are the California juniper, coast live oak, and western sycamore. If you’re interested in researching more California trees, click here for a helpful list.


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