The Cambrian

Still much to do in Cambria gardens

Gardening books tell us that this is the season to clean up, winterize tender plants, get out seed catalogues and relax through the long, dark winter. Those lovely books are not addressing those of us on the California Central Coast.

We don’t have a “long, dark winter” and we don’t have the luxury of taking a vacation from gardening. Our wonderful climate produces edibles and flowers year around. At best, we can slow down a bit through the holidays, while the rains take care of our watering chores, and our trees and shrubs soak up liquid nourishment.

There are essential chores to do this month to make our winter colorful and productive. Put in cool-season color like calendula, cineraria, cyclamen, dianthus, candytuft, Iceland poppy, nemesia, fairy primrose, snapdragon, stock, sweet alyssum, pansies and Johnny-jump-ups. Best to buy these in six packs or one-gallon containers and get them in the ground as soon as possible. Feed them well.

There is a rule of thumb that if you can get your winter annuals to bloom before Christmas, you can enjoy their blossoms throughout the winter. If not, they’ll languish until spring.

I’ve divided garlic and planted it among perennials in flower beds. You can plant seeds of lettuce among the garlic in vegetable beds. It will be ready long before the garlic matures. It’s a little late for planting seeds of winter vegetables but you can still put out transplants of broccoli, cauliflower, celery, and leeks now.

Those Spanish lavender plants that have provided beautiful purple blooms for several years may have to be “shovel pruned” and replaced. While you assume that the word perennial would mean that they would bloom year after year and live forever, the fact is, lavender and many other Mediterranean plants need to be replaced after four or five years. They become woody over time and will never again have that “glow of youth.”

I’ve had great luck planting seeds of wildflowers during the month of November. Wildflowers require a little soil preparation to get started and a little watering between fall rains. Once you get them started, they reseed themselves and provide you with cut flowers and garden color throughout the year. Alyssum, bachelor button, California evening primrose, calendula, cosmos, nasturtium and wallflower are wildflowers that do well in Central Coast gardens.

Tip of the month . . .

Planting California natives requires special treatment at the beginning of their garden life. First make sure your native plant is not root bound in the pot. If it is, the roots may never spread in our native clay soil. Dig a planting hole and fill it with water and let it drain. Water the plant in the pot before planting and remove carefully from the pot. California natives can be brittle, so handle tenderly. Put a stick across the top of the hole. The top of the root ball of native plants should be 2 inches above the stick. Fill the hole with native soil, make a basin around the hole, and put a layer of mulch over the roots to keep them moist. Keep roots moist but not soggy for the first year, then let nature take its course.

E-mail Lee Oliphant at; read her blog at central