Tom Karwin, On Gardening | Planning for fall by adding plants – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Take care of your garden

We can still find attractive colors in our gardens in late summer and early autumn. Today’s column includes examples of such late bloomers who continue to enrich the landscape while appreciating the early rains of the season.

Winter flowering plants are available for the Monterey Bay Area climate, but the fall and winter months often draw our attention to the deciduous plants. We enjoy the hues, unique shapes, and pleasant scents of our flowering plants, and rely on the structures, textures, and colors of our trees and shrubs. Foliage forms the basis – and often the background – of the landscape.

add plants

Today’s column focuses on planning for the fall season as we prioritize moving and adding plants to the garden. This priority reflects plants’ typical growth cycle, directing energy towards root development in the fall and winter and preparing for leaf and flower production in early spring.

There are exceptions to this cycle, as with many aspects of plant breeding, but a large percentage of known garden plants follow this seasonal process.

Gardeners would do well to keep track of this process too, by installing plants in anticipation of the onset of our rainy season. As we noted in a recent column, our rainy season historically begins on November 5th, with a gradual increase in the chance of rain over the preceding weeks.

The light rain last weekend was a welcome harbinger of our rainy season.

Here are suggestions for adding plants to the garden.

We recently recommended “walk around gardening” to identify areas that need improvement. This process should include creating a list of areas that could be improved by adding new assets. These areas can be existing gaps in the landscape, or gaps you create by removing pants that no longer work or that you no longer like.

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A current project

My own plans are to remove a fairly large group of giant rocks (Bergenia cordifolia ‘Apple Blossom’). This plant is also called pigsqueak because of the sound it makes when you rub a leaf between your thumb and finger. This desirable groundcover plant is growing well in two areas of my garden and is slowly spreading. My target cluster has evolved to fill an area of ​​about eight feet by eight feet.

I will be uprooting any pigsqueaks to share with a gardening friend and the Santa Cruz Plant Exchange.

This frees up the partially shaded space under a large mock orange (Pittosporum tobira) bush. This area is good for transplanting the bulbs of another plant called blood lily or cape tulip (Haemanthus coccineus). This South African succulent has been self propagating for a number of years and would benefit from more space. We’ll note how many bulbs have developed and space them about two feet apart.

At this point, the blood lily is at the end of its flowering period and will develop its showy display of huge leaves by early spring. It prefers to grow in place, so moving the bulbs might break its cycle, but will bring long-term benefits.

Thematic plant selection

Once you have identified areas that need new plants, adopt a plant selection plan. As we have recommended in previous columns, acquiring plants to implement a thematic plan can aid in the plant selection process. This process can be frustrating when choosing from the large and ever-growing range of options available at your local garden center, plant catalogs and online.

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This approach could take on any of the many themes available, depending on the gardener’s personal preferences. Themes can be based on plant species, flower color, native origin, flowering time, or nostalgia. It is about having a concept for the development of a specific garden bed.

Plan your plan to install new plants before the rainy season to welcome nature and encourage root development of the plants.

Mulch the garden

This time of year is also a good time to consider mulching your garden beds.

Anna Burke listed six reasons why you should mulch your garden now to protect it during the winter months.

• Extends your growing season.
• Retains moisture in the soil.
• Controls autumn and spring weeds.
• Stabilizes soil temperature.
• Protects roots from impact (not a common problem in the Monterey Bay area).
• Increases organic matter.

This article was published on Dave’s Garden’s website (

There are several ways to mulch a garden. The simplest approach, shallow mulching, applies a single layer of brown mulch (such as fallen leaves or wood shavings) four to six inches. A better approach, deep leaf mulching, uses alternating layers of brown mulch and green mulch (such as freshly cut grass) on a layer of paper (newspaper or cardboard), achieving a total depth of up to two feet or more .

There has been some discussion about putting a paper layer under organic mulch. Some research concludes that such a layer smothers weeds (as intended) and also the soil, reducing carbon dioxide and oxygen levels to lower than desired levels, potentially affecting soil microorganisms. Other research acknowledges the reduction but concludes that it is not large enough to harm soil microorganisms or plant roots.

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This debate is included in Jeff Gilman’s helpful article What Is Foliar Mulching and How Do You Do It? His recent article in Fine Gardening Magazine is available online at

Expand your gardening knowledge

The Cactus and Succulent Society of America will present the webinar “A Look at the Natural Beauty of Chiapas” on October 1st at 10:00 am in the Mexican state of Chiapas. These are popular succulents for Monterey Bay Area gardens. For more information and to register for this free event, visit

Fine Gardening Magazine (one of my favourites) has published a series of recorded webinars on gardening topics. Select topics related to today’s column and other recent columns include new plants that deserve your attention, underrated spring bulbs, and creating a garden vignette. Try them out by visiting

Enjoy your garden!

Tom Karwin is past President of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Monterey Bay Iris Society, a Life Member of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and a Life UC Master Gardener (certified 1999-2009). He is now a board member of the Santa Cruz Hostel Society and active in the Pacific Horticultural Society. To view daily photos from his garden, For information on gardening coaching and an archive of previous columns on gardening, visit

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