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September Planting for Northern California: Beautiful Ornamentals

Let's Rock Out Some Fall Color for our NorCal Gardens

Most literature out there tells us that Spring is the ideal time for planting, and in many parts of the U.S. that is true.  But we are lucky enough to live in Northern California where we have a Mediterranean growing season, and beautiful weather that lasts long into the Fall months. Cool weather annuals planted at this time of year still get access to warm, moist soil - this allows them to grow a strong root system before the cooler months.  It also means we can plant pretty flowers that will bloom just in time for the Holiday season.  And how can I say no to homegrown beautiful cut flowers gracing the family table?

Of course there are a great many cool weather annuals that would look beautiful in your garden during the Fall, but here I have chosen five Fall blooms to share with you.


Golden Calendulas will bring cheer to your Fall garden (Photo by Til Westermayer)

This zippy little flower is also known as Pot Marigold and English Marigold, and is a great addition to a Norcal Fall garden.  Besides adding some great color, marigolds are also a great companion plant that deters many common garden pests.  (Want to know more about companion plants?)  Calendula grows well in beds as well as containers, but you will want to make sure that your soil is in the mildly acidic to neutral range (6.1-7.5 pH).  Calendulas like moist soil with regular watering, but over-watering can lead to rot, so bear that in mind.  You will find these pretty blooms will arrive about two months after sowing your seeds, and then should continue to bloom as long as you do not experience any extreme weather. 


Beautiful Sowbreads will bring a splash of purple to your Fall garden (Photo by Rebecca Partington)

Sowbread, or Cyclamen Hederifolium is a delicate bloom that is native to the Mediterranean region, making it perfect for Bay Area gardens. Ranging from a deep magenta to a creamy white, these low-lying flowers prefer the wet, cool season within our mild region, though it is relatively hardy and can survive light frosts. While rather simple to grow, Cyclamen does take some patience - from seed it takes up to three years for a mature plant to develop.  The seeds, which should be planted in the Fall, grow into tubers, which the flowers grow from, flowering from late Summer through late Fall. Continuing on its simplicity, the Cyclamen has a very broad range of soil that it will be comfortable in, ranging from 6.1 to 7.8 pH.  Evergreen ferns are a great companion for the Cyclamen flower - in addition to looking rather smart together (the silver-green leaves of the cyclamen look lovely around smaller ferns), the fern also provides some shade for the delicate blooms. If you prefer self-sowing flowers, don't deadhead the blooms, and aside from average watering, there is very little you will need to do to have these delightful flowers dotting your garden.  

Japanese Primrose

Japanese Primrose is another lovely, yet hardy, flowering ground cover plant (Photo by Takashi Hososhima)

Japanese Primrose, or Primula sieboldii, is a plant native to the Northern parts of Asia, making it particularly hardy to cold weather.  However, it also grows well in our mild Bay Area weather.  This is a little more of a tricky plant, however, and may be best for our more advanced gardeners and those who have the patience for a little more care with this plant.  Soil acidity is particularly key when sowing Japanese Primrose - if the pH of your soil is above 6.8, you will need to treat it with a horticultural sulfur.  Working compost into the top 8-10 inches of soil will greatly help growth, as will maintaining mulch around the base of the plant to maintain moisture.  Also key with this plant is the right amount of shade.  While it does need some sun, heat and direct midday sun will do harm.  Japanese Primrose planted this Fall will have its first bloom period the following Spring,  However, if you deadhead the blooms toward the end of Spring, you will get a lovely regrowth during the Fall season as well


Snapdragons love cool weather, and are highly attractive to birds, bees, and butterflies (Photo by Roberta Maria Atti)

Like the Cyclamen, Snapdragons are native to the Mediterranean, making it an ideal plant for the SF Bay Area.   While the Snapdragon can handle weather up to the 80F and still remain in bloom, the juveniles grow best in cooler weather.  Along the coast of the Bay Area, planting can typically begin mid-September.  For our inland neighbors, however, it would be best to wait until late November or December.  In addition to a mildly acidic to neutral pH soil (6.1 to 7.5 pH), snapdragons grow best with well fertilized soil.  An all purpose 10-10-10 fertilizer mix will help the plant reach maturity and have vibrant blooms.  Maintaining moisture is key as well, but Snapdragons are also prone to rot; make sure to water from the bottom and provide a layer of mulch. Deadheading this flower is very beneficial as well.  Not only will it help with continued blooming (in some regions Snapdragon will bloom for the majority of the year, excluding extreme weather), but will also help the flower retain a more vibrant bloom. 

Iceland Poppy

The bright colors of Iceland Poppies thrive in cooler, coastal weather (Photo by Clatie K)

Iceland Poppies are well known for their cool weather color, bringing pinks, oranges, and white colors to moderate climates in mid-Winter.  Here in the Bay Area, planting in the early part of Fall will result in great cut flowers during the holiday season.  They can handle a pretty broad range of pH in their soil (6.1 to 7.8 pH), and grow best with a 10-15-10 fertilizer applied regularly through their growing season.  Because Iceland Poppies grow to heights of one to two feet, you can consider tying taller blooms to stakes if you want to avoid drooping stems.  You will want to regularly water these blooms, making sure that the soil is not dry past two inches in depth.  But avoid over-watering as well, because that can lead to rot at the base of the plant.  Cutting blooms through the season will promote more growth, so you can enjoy having these showy flowers displayed in your home all Winter long.


Of course these are not the only five flowering plants that you can put in during the Fall months, but they are certainly a start toward having a blaze of color outside your door, even during our chilly Bay Area Winters. 

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