15 Ideas Of What To Plant In Fall In California

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Are you still finding it difficult to pick the right plants for California fall planting? This gardener-compiled list of what to plant in fall in California can be of great assistance. Like most states in the US, California enjoys a relatively pleasant fall season to accommodate a wide range of plants. Nonetheless, most gardeners starting out or new to the region struggle to choose the right plant.

Undoubtedly, not every plant will grow successfully during this season. Yet, a generous variety still will. California offers a mild fall season with warm but not too hot soil and climate. As summer produce begins to decline, it’s time to start to clean out the grounds and prepare it for the colder seasons.

Additionally, this period offers the perfect conditions to integrate a few seeds and seedlings to prepare for next spring to fall harvest. If you want to enjoy superior garden interest and growth, this should be your garden’s fall plant. Wondering what seeds and seedlings to add to your garden, find out below.

Fall Planting in California

Fall gardening in California significantly differs from the spring and summer seasons. Apart from the climatic differences, these seasons also offer a few distinctive characteristics. During the fall season, days become shorter with some warmth (not too hot) while nights get cool.

Unlike warmer summer and spring seasons, the short days mean reduced sunlight exposure hours – meaning there’s an impact on photosynthesis. California, in particular, experiences increased periods of shade while night temperatures continue to drop as the sun approaches the southern horizon.

Depending on where you are in California, the Santa Ana season can also impact your gardening. Typically commencing from late September through winter, the Santa Ana season features periodic arid desert strong winds prone to suck up moisture from the soil. 

Fortunately, these conditions are still great for fall gardening. When done right (e.g. adequately watering the seedlings), you can have a successful fall planting season. Moreover, these conditions are even favorable for the growth of some plants. For instance, the reduced sunlight exposure and soil warmth, reduce growth rate.

So, instead of plants focusing on flower, foliage, and sugar development, they dedicate themselves to root development. As roots continue to grow and develop through the winter season, the plant saves enough energy to fuel plant and foliage development during winter. Even leafy vegetables benefit from fall planting as growth during winter allows them to develop the best flavors and taste.

What to Plant in California During Fall?

You can plant a variety of leafy greens, Brassicas, root vegetables, herbs, flowers, and trees in California during fall. The fall season serves as the perfect time to plant cold weather hardy crops you can harvest during spring.

The fall season is also ideal for planting seeds and seedlings of spring-blooming flowering plants to encourage root and foliar development during the winter season. This gives the flowering plants enough energy to produce the most elegant blossoms during spring.

Why Plant in Fall in California?

The fall season offers the perfect conditions for a wide variety of plants to grow and thrive. The fall season provides warm soil and air conditions – not too hot to damage plants or make gardening uncomfortable. Moreover, fall offers a higher likelihood of even light rain, unlike in summer.

A good example is how the fall season fosters root and foliar development from fall through the cold, frosty winter for spring-blooming flowering plants. During this time, the plant reserves as much energy as possible to foster the best flower-blooming results in spring.

Fast-growing root vegetables also benefit from the fall season, thanks to the conditions. The warm soil conditions during the start of the fall season make it perfect for root vegetables to begin life after planting. As the soil conditions get cooler, they provide the right conditions for the root crops to mature.

There are plenty of other reasons why fall planting in California is great;

Perfect Conditions

The fall season is one of the two (the other is spring) ideal planting seasons. For plants ideal for fall, this season offers just the right conditions. For example, unlike the summer season, the fall season is cooler in air, making moisture retention easier. So, when you add your plants, they are at a lower risk of moisture loss.

During the Santa Ana winds, there may be a risk of moisture loss, but consistent watering will easily offset this risk.  It’s also important to note that the fall season comes with a higher chance of precipitation.  With rain, plant roots absorb nutrients better while requiring less watering.

Further, the ground traps just the right amount of soil warmth from the summer heat to encourage root growth. The fall season isn’t just forgiving on plants. As a gardener, you are more comfortable and can work longer hours since there’s no unforgiving scorching summer heat.

Fall is Better than Spring

In general, the fall season is a better planting season than spring. Fall offers a longer growth period, unlike spring. When you add your plants to the garden during spring, it’s not long before they are hit with the summer heat stress. These seasons also have other risks, such as pest activity and weed growth. This explains why many spring plants require an entire year to grow and settle.

On the other hand, the fall season offers the right conditions from the planting day, when the air is cool and the soil is comfortably warm. After the fall season, you have the cold winter season when plants can rest, slowly grow roots, develop sugars, and save the energy for following seasons. By spring and summer, the plant has enough energy for the best growth and development results.

Accommodates Many Plant Types

Not all plants can handle fall planting. But, a good number of them can. During fall in California, you can plant anything from herbs, leafy greens, and Brassicas, to root vegetables, flowers, and trees. From each group, you get more than dozens of options to pick from to ensure your garden is never empty.

Great for Cold Hardy Plants

Cold weather tolerant plants do just well when planted during fall as they can handle the winter frost that other plants can’t. Plants, such as leafy greens are great for fall planting as they tolerate cold temperatures and can survive some frost.

Best Results for Plants

Plants recommended for fall planting get the best results when done so in this season. For instance, root vegetables achieve the best flavors and taste as the cold season gives them enough time to develop their sugars underground.  On the other hand, spring-blooming flowers achieve the most elegant and bountiful blossoms as the cold season gives them enough time to accumulate energy to fuel this development in Spring.

Minimal Invasive Weeds

During the fall season, you have fewer weeds to worry about, unlike the spring season. In addition to affecting your garden’s appearance, weeds compete with plants for resources, such as light, water, and nutrients. Adding plants to the garden during the cooler fall season eliminates this unwanted competition.

Fewer Pests and Diseases

Just like weeds, the fall season comes with fewer risks of pests and diseases. This is because, during the cooler season, there’s a drop in pest activity. This is also the perfect time to treat the soil before planting, during the preparation time. Additionally, you can treat and protect plants from potential future pests and diseases.

Preparing to Plant in Fall in California

After the very last summer harvest, the next step for fall is to prep the garden before you start planting. Here are the essential steps;

Dig, Enrich & Protect

Pull unharvested summer crops and weeds out.

Tidy up as much as possible to remove possible insect harboring and hiding places, such as branches lying around, overturned pots, and other out-of-place debris. You can add the debris you collect in your compost pile, but only include what you are sure isn’t infected.  You can dig a hole in an unused part of the garden to dispose of unwanted debris to keep the garden clean, and safe, and protect it from unwanted wildfire cinders (common in the California fall especially in areas at risk of the strong winds).

If some harvested crops have seeds, you can leave them behind for them to grow and attract beneficial insects

Loosen the soil to allow for optimal air and moisture circulation

If the soil is contaminated, treat it before continuing.

Add compost and adjust the soil pH and nutrient level (if you have to) by adding the appropriate organic fertilizer.  There needs to be a balance when fertilizing the soil. Many fall-planted crops focus on root development which benefits from potassium and phosphorus. These nutrients foster the growth of thick and healthy roots while further strengthening existing root systems. But, you also have the fast-growing cold hardy leafy greens that focus on foliage growth rather than edible roots or fruits. Nitrogen is essential for promoting foliage and leafy green growth. If you are unsure about the fertilizer content, go for an option that gives you equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Don’t forget to mulch as this helps to maintain soil temperatures and keep moisture in – especially during the Santa Ana winds.

With the continuing global climate woes, there’s no longer a guarantee that the conditions may not get extreme. In this case, you want to protect the more vulnerable seedlings from possible increased temperatures and moisture loss (from high temperatures or strong dry winds). To do so, cover them with at least 40% shade cloth until they have substantially grown.

Encourage Growth and Pollinators

Pick the right fall plants to add to the garden.

Don’t forget to add colorful nectar, potential food, and habitat plants to attract interest, pollinators, like butterflies, and birds.

Ideally, plant cool season and fast-growing crops a little earlier in fall. Planting them earlier ensures they are already strong enough to withstand the cold weather when it arrives.

15 Best Plants to Add to Your Garden in Fall in California

Here are the best plants to introduce to your garden during the fall season in California;

1. Cover Crops

Snap peas growing in yard
Snap peas growing in yard
  • Best planting method: Sow seeds
  • Planting period: Late summer to early fall (August to September)

When planting in the fall, it’s a good idea to include cover crops to help protect and enrich your soil. In California, cover crops, such as snap peas and clover are great. These cover crops are cool-season vegetables and tolerant of light frosts, even when they are small.

However, it is recommended to plant them earlier, at least 8 to 10 weeks before the first expected frost. Doing so also guarantees a bountiful harvest. Cover crops such as snap peas and clover function just as they sound. They provide cover for empty spaces and gaps in the garden, further preventing weed growth. Moreover, peas and clover fix nitrogen in the soil to help keep the soil healthy and nutrient-rich.

Examples of cover crops include;

  • Snap peas
  • Clover

2. Leafy Greens

Baby spinach growing in garden
Baby spinach growing in garden
  • Best planting method: Sow seeds or plant seedlings
  • Planting period: Late summer to mid-fall (August to October)

Leafy greens are a great foliage plant for fall and offer a wide variety to choose from. Some of the best options include lettuce, kale, arugula, and spinach. When planted in warmer spring to summer seasons, most leafy greens have the risk of bolting.  This explains why the fall season is the best planting season for them.

The best part of adding leafy greens is their fast growth rate. When planted in the fall, you can start to enjoy your harvest by the winter season. Moreover, you can continually harvest leafy greens as needed, ensuring ample supply of your favorite greens all season long. Leafy greens also allow planting directly into the garden bed or in pots or containers. Different leafy greens have varying planting time recommendations.

For instance, lettuce seeds are better off sown in late September while spinach seeds can be planted from early to mid-October. Another excellent example of the best fall leafy greens is bok Choy. While it doesn’t develop the classic heads, like lettuce, it is still great for fall.

Plant bok Choy in early to late September for the best flavors. Whether you choose spinach, kale, or bok Choy, these leafy greens can also be turned into green manure during the end of their harvest period in spring to prepare the soil for spring/summer plantings.

Examples of leafy greens include;

  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Arugula
  • Bok Choy
  • Endive
  • Frisee
  • Radicchio
  • Other salad greens

3. Brassicas

Kale cabbage growing in garden
Kale cabbage growing in garden
  • Best planting method: Sow seeds or seedlings
  • Planting period: Late summer to early fall (August to September)

Brassicas are another plant group closely related to the leafy greens that are ideal for fall planting. Like leafy greens, Brassicas are tolerant of low temperatures and light frosts. When grown during fall, they provide reliable fresh produce through winter. Ideally, you want to plant Brassicas around late summer to early fall.

But, it’s also important to remember that Brassicas are cold weather-loving like leafy greens. The cooler the weather is, the better the plant grows.  For instance, if the first frost is expected to be around early to mid-November, transplant seedlings at least 6 to 8 weeks earlier or seeds even earlier.

Planting Brassicas, such as broccoli or cauliflower during warm seasons can lead to insufficient flowering. Moreover, like many leaf greens, such as lettuce, Brassicas can also bolt, go to seed, and become bitter when planted in warm to hot climates.

While you can plant Brassicas as early as the end of summer, they are particularly best planted between September and October. Leafy greens, like kale, can grow all year round. However, kale fall planting, ideally in October, guarantees the healthiest harvest.

You can then use them as fresh compost or manure when the harvest season ends around spring. On the other hand, mustard greens benefit from successive fall planting, every two weeks, starting from September.

Examples of Brassicas include;

  • Leafy and Chinese (Napa) cabbage
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Mustard greens
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Kohlrabi

4. Alliums

Onions growing in the field.
Onions growing in the field.
  • Best planting method: Sow seeds or bulbs
  • Planting period: Late summer to early fall (August to September)

Members of the Alliums family also grow incredibly well in the Californian fall. You can incorporate bulbs, such as onions, garlic, chives, green onions, and leeks. Alliums usually go dormant during warm to hot seasons and appear back from fall through early spring.  Ideally, plant these cool-weather perennials in September through November to enjoy spring produce.

Examples of alliums include;

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Green onions
  • Leeks

5. Herbs

Dill plant growing in garden with dirt in background
Dill plant growing in garden with dirt in background
  • Best planting method: Sow seeds or seedlings
  • Planting period: Late summer to early fall (August to September)

A good amount of herbs grow well in California during fall. The best part of growing these fall herbs is their versatility, serving both indoor and outdoor planting.  Ideal fall planting herbs include basil, chervil, chives, dill, mint, oregano, lavender, and flat-leaf parsley.

While curly parsley can also grow, the flat leaf variety handles frost better and produces more flavor. Other excellent fall herbs include rosemary, sweet marjoram, thyme, and summer savory. In fact, a selected number of herbs, including rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano grow well all year round in California.

When planting herbs, sow their seeds thicker (but not too deep) into the ground to allow for successful germination. This, in turn, allows for healthier winter growth and enhanced foliage production. Like most fall plants, make sure the seeds get enough water and the soils aren’t too warm. If you are transplanting herb seedlings, keep the soil moist and mulch it for better germination, moisture prevention, and frost protection.

Examples of herbs include;

  • Lavender
  • Basil
  • Chervil
  • Chives
  • Dill 
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Flat leaf parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Sweet marjoram
  • Thyme
  • Summer savory

6. Tubers

Sweet potatoes being picked up from the garden.
Sweet potatoes being picked up from the garden.
  • Best planting method: Sow seeds
  • Planting period: Late summer to early fall (August to September)

While tubers, like taro and sweet potatoes, prefer spring to summer planting, a few tubers can grow in fall. The fall season creates the perfect growing conditions for tubers, such as potatoes. Fall provides the perfect headstart for their root systems to be established and grow through winter.

As the roots grow through the cold season, they develop their sugars and reserve enough energy. As the soil warms in spring, the potatoes (fruits) use the preserved energy to develop and appear faster. With stronger roots, your potatoes can receive adequate nutrient supply. As a result, you get a healthy, bountiful, and delicious harvest.

Examples of tubers include;

  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes

7. Root Vegetables

Fresh radishes on the ground
Fresh radishes on the ground
  • Best planting method: Sow seeds
  • Planting period: Early to mid-fall (September to October)

The conditions in fall are great for fostering root development and growth.  Therefore, root vegetables, like beets, carrots, and turnips, are ideal for planting during this season. During the colder season, the frost allows root vegetables to convert their starch to sugar sufficiently due to the longer growing period.

As a result, you get more delicious vegetables. Plant carrots at least 10 to 12 weeks before the first frost. On the other hand, beets and parsnips should be planted around late September to mid-October as they have a 60-day mature period while parsnips take twice as long.

Most root vegetables are relatively fast-growing, so you want to practice successive planting to extend the harvest period. They are also great planting options for when you want to fill spaces between larger plants.

Examples of root vegetables include;

  • Beets
  • Rutabaga
  • Carrots
  • Radish
  • Parsnips
  • Turnips

8. Vegetables

Close up of Asparagus growing out of the ground
Close up of Asparagus growing out of the ground
  • Best planting method: Sow seeds
  • Planting period: Early fall (September)

Vegetables, like tomatoes and peppers, are not popular fall plants. But, you can still find a few options, like celery and asparagus. If you want to harvest the best tasting celery or asparagus, plant them in fall, around September. Expect generous harvests from November through early summer. Practice continual planting to ensure a continuous harvest.

Examples of vegetables include;

  • Celery
  • Asparagus

9. Berries

Alpine Strawberries close up on vine
Alpine Strawberries close up on vine
  • Best planting method: Sow seeds
  • Planting period: Early fall (September)

Don’t forget to plant your source of vitamins and antioxidants in the fall by adding berries. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and other vine berries grow well in fall, ideally from September. Give them plant food to boost your harvest every year by composting the soil before planting them.

Examples of berries include;

  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries

10.  Fruit Trees

Pink lady apples on tree
Pink lady apples on tree
  • Best planting method: Seedlings
  • Planting period: Early fall (September)

Fall is an ideal season for planting fruit trees as it fosters the best results. Heat instead of frost is the biggest enemy of fruit trees. Planting fruit trees around September in California allows ample time for cold-weather root growth and development. This, in turn, promotes even better shoot growth and fruit development during spring and summer as the tree has reserved ample energy. 

Some of the best fruit trees to plant in early fall include citrus trees, mulberry, apple, pear, stone fruit, and fig trees. If you want the best results, make sure you amend the soil with the optimal pH levels and nutrient content beforehand.

Examples of fruit trees include;

  • Citrus trees, such as lemons, oranges, grapefruits, and kumquats
  • Stone fruit, like cherries, plums, and peaches
  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Quince
  • Mulberry
  • Fig

11. Spring Flowering Bulbs

Tulips growing in the field.
Red tulips growing in the field.
  • Best planting method: Bulbs
  • Planting period: Late summer to late fall (August to November)

Add a pop of color to your garden during spring by planting these flowering bulbs in time for spring blooming. For the most beautiful blooms spring bulbs require resting underground during frost. This allows them to take up as much nutrients and energy and use these resources to produce beautiful flowers and foliage in early spring.

Spring bulbs are pretty sensitive, so make sure the soil is properly prepared. Loosen it up and add fresh compost before you add the bulbs with the pointy end facing downwards. Before you plant your bulb of choice, make sure you know the ideal planting period.

For example, daffodils are better off planted in late fall in southern California. This is because daffodils love a lot of moisture and will struggle in the early drought fall periods. However, hardier and drought-tolerant varieties, such as freesia do just fine when planted earlier in September.

Examples of spring-blooming bulbs include;

  • Tulips
  • Irises
  • Crocuses
  • Freesia
  • Daffodils
  • Hyacinth and grape hyacinth
  • Snowdrops
  • Dahlia
  • bluebells
  • anemone

12. Wildflowers

Purple coneflower close-up growing in the field.
Purple coneflower close-up growing in the field.
  • Best planting method: Sow seeds or seedlings
  • Planting period: Mid- fall (October)

Add interest to your fall garden by incorporating wildflowers in mid-fall. You can sow seeds or add seedlings, although seeds are cheaper if you have a large garden. If you want to add wildflowers to your garden, you have to be mindful of the soil conditions. Wildflowers are among a few flower types that don’t like too many nutrients.

They thrive better in nutrient-poor soils. You can choose a small section in your garden and avoid adding fertilizer to plant wildflowers. Alternatively, keep them in pots or containers. However, you can add organic compost to boost your soil’s moisture retention qualities.

Examples of wildflowers include;

  • Coneflowers
  • California poppy
  • wild columbine
  • Virginia bluebell
  • Cornflower
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Common yarrow

13. Perennial Herbaceous Flowering Plants

Garden pansies growing in a garden.
Garden pansies growing in a garden.
  • Best planting method: Sow seeds or seedlings
  • Planting period: Late summer to mid-fall (August to October)

Flowering perennials are perhaps the biggest variety of plants to add to the garden in fall. Most of these herbaceous perennial plants can be planted anywhere between late summer and mid-fall. Strategically pairing spring blossoms and herbaceous perennials will leave your garden looking colorful and elegant from winter through summer.

You can even pair blossoms that bloom successively after each other so they can help cover up the unpleasant browning foliage of the previous blooms. While some may take up to 3 years to start blooming, how they transform your garden is certainly worth the wait. A good example is the late September through October planted peonies which start to bloom from early to late spring – but, after 2 to 3 years!

While you can sow seeds, transplanting is much easier, especially for new gardeners. As the weather cools, you can transplant the seedlings, to promote faster recovery and eliminate transplant shock.

Examples of winter blooming perennials;

  • Poinsettias
  • Snapdragons
  • Violas
  • English primroses

Examples of spring blooming perennials;

  • Pansies
  • Calendula
  • Carnations
  • Poppies
  • Crabapples
  • Alyssums (through fall)
  • Astilbes (through summer)
  • columbine (through summer)

Examples of summer blooming perennials;

  • Aster
  • Begonias
  • Shasta daisy
  • Foxgloves

14. Flowering Shrubs and Vines

English ivy close-up.
English ivy close-up.
  • Best planting method: Seedlings
  • Planting period: Early fall (September)

If you want a larger display of flowers, shrubs are a better fall planting option. These flowering shrubs attract pollinators, provide a colorful screen, and brighten up the garden during summer. You can add a variety of flowering shrubs to the garden; just make sure you do so at least 6 weeks before the frost frost on average.

Examples of flowering shrubs and vines include;

  • Lilac
  • Camellia
  • Rhododendrons
  • Hydrangeas
  • Roses
  • English Ivy

15. Patio Trees

Flowering dogwood tee close-up.
White Flowering dogwood tree with beautiful flowers.
  • Best planting method: Seedlings
  • Planting period: Early fall (September)

Planting trees in fall fosters root development when foliage and leaf canopy development aren’t essential. Producing the tree with adequate underground growth during frost provides stronger roots and allows for healthy leaf canopy growth during spring and summer.

Another reason why it’s a good idea to plant patio trees in fall include reduced heat and drought stress, and better moisture retention after the Santa Ana winds. The best part is most trees are better planted during fall since underground development is essential for them.

Examples of patio trees include;

  • Japanese maple and maple
  • Crepe myrtles
  • Dogwood
  • Juniper
  • Redbuds
  • Magnolia
  • Honey locust
  • Pine
  • fir
  • Birch
  • Hemlock
  • Spruce

What to Avoid Planting in Fall in California

A generous amount of plants do incredibly well in the Californian fall. But, this doesn’t mean all plants do so well in fall. Most of these plants aren’t cold-hardy and prefer warm conditions. Instead, these plants are better suited for spring to summer planting. Here’s what to avoid planting in fall in California;

  • Green beans: Their seeds germinate and grow better in warmer conditions with temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Corn: Produce better yield planted from around mid-spring. Corn can easily get damaged from frost.
  • Tomatoes: Heat-loving and frost-intolerant.
  • Peppers: Peppers prefer warm conditions between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit day and night.
  • Cucumbers: Prefer warmer seasons, although they can grow in the colder seasons in the tropics and tropical coastal regions.
  • Zucchini: While zucchini can be grown in spring to fall in warmer climates, they are better off planted in summer in California.
  • Marigolds:  These beautiful flowers are slower to grow and develop and don’t thrive well in frost.
  • Sunflower: As their name suggests, sunflowers are more warm weather-loving.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the Two Main Planting Seasons in California?

The two main planting seasons in California are spring and Fall. While fall is ideal for cold and frost-hardy plants, spring to summer is great for warm weather-loving plants that can easily get damaged in cold weather. For instance, fall is great for leafy greens and Brassicas while spring is ideal for planting tomatoes, peppers, and green beans, to mention a few.

What Months Are Best to Plant in Fall in California?

You can plant from early fall in September through late fall in November, depending on the plant. Plants that tolerate light frost are better off planting earlier. On the other hand, late fall planting is great for hardcore frost-tolerant plants.

Do Plants Grow Fast in Fall in California?

Plants relatively grow faster in fall. Fall offers the perfect conditions, especially for leafy green or underground root growth. During this time, the days are shorter (meaning less sunlight exposure), the air is cool (limiting moisture loss) and soils are relatively warm from the summer heat.

This, in turn, provides the perfect environment for root development. The plant also spends less energy during the frost season, allowing for faster and bountiful foliage and fruit development in spring.

What are the Fastest Growing Fall Plants in California?

Leafy greens and Brassicas are the fastest-growing fall plants in California. It takes anywhere from 30 to 70 days for leafy greens and Brassicas to fully mature, depending on the type. Some root vegetables are also fast-growing. Root vegetables, like carrots and parsnips, are also fast-growing fall plants, taking about 65 to 100 days, depending on the plant.

Conclusion

In California, the fall season is when the gardener shouldn’t stress much about what to plant in their garden. With over 100 potential plants to add to the garden, the possibilities are endless. The friendly fall conditions even allow you to mix and match plants, including fast-growing edible vegetables to keep meals healthy through winter and elegant perennials to beautify the garden during spring and summer. You can also add trees so the next season can be even more pleasant, thanks to the shade from the trees.

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