Robert Smaus has done more to encourage fall planting in southern California than any other person. In his groundbreaking book 52 Weeks in the California Garden, published exactly ten years ago this year he expertly articulates the benefits of fall planting. On page 1, Chapter 1 Bob’s award winning writing summarizes the fall planting message, ‘In our climate, fall is spring, at least as far as planting is concerned, and autumn, not spring, should be our busiest time in the garden.”
How prophetic that Bob’s groundbreaking California gardening book, which chronicles the weeks and months of a California gardening year, would begin with fall, rather than spring. Most gardeners, subjected to an onslaught of gardening information written for climates other than ours, might expect the gardening year to begin in spring. As Bob told us ten years ago, spring is the result, but fall is the beginning.
As a third generation gardener rich with local gardening experience as well as a keen plantsman, Bob has been professing fall planting for decades. Bob had encouraged fall planting as the Southern California Garden Editor for Sunset Magazine, as well as during his 25-year stint as the award winning Garden Editor of The Los Angeles Times. In between, Bob would discuss the advantages of fall planting during his tenure as the west coast host of The Victory Garden, the first nationally televised gardening program.
Except for a few subtropical plants like citrus, bananas and plumerias and several seasonal annuals and vegetables nearly every other plant would prefer to have its roots bedded gently into our local soil in October, or perhaps November. The soil, warmed by our long Mediterranean summer, is especially conducive to quick root growth in the fall.
Trees, shrubs, perennials, vines and just about any other plant, when planted now will not show a great deal of growth above the ground, but will be rapidly growing below the soil, more than any other time of the year. The shorter days and cooler air temperatures of fall help avoid undue stress to the plant during this establishment period.
As anyone who has dug a hole will know, attention to watering is critical toward establishing a new plant. Fortunately, when planted in October and November winter rains take care of much of the watering regimen for us. Fall planting thereby conserves the most precious resource a gardener has . . . water, using what is available naturally rather that we are able to provide artificially.
In Orange County, most plants, when planted in the fall, grow furiously underground. Root growth is unappreciated by the novice or impatient gardener, but worshipped by the experienced plantsman. When spring comes, these plants are so well rooted that they nearly jump out of the ground in their exuberance.
A few months ago Bob, who still writes for the Los Angeles Times and gardens in West Los Angeles, was again at our nursery. After visiting with him for a while, as usual, we headed out for a slow walk to look at some plants, to see what was new and share opinions on the myriad of new plants now available to southern California gardeners. We stopped several times to drop plants onto Bob’s shopping cart. After loading the plant cache into his car, along side a well-worn pair of garden boots, he talked about planting. It was May or June at the time and these plants weren’t going into the ground anytime soon. As Bob knows better than anyone, Fall is for Planting. He’s probably planting those plants now.
To learn more about Bob Smaus and what he is up to today, visit his website at bobsgardenpath.com. 52 Weeks in the California Garden, as well as his other garden books, is available at most large nurseries and bookstores. He and his wife Iris will be leading a small group on a marvelous two week gardening and culinary tour through Southern Italy, next June. For more information visit his website or earthboundexpeditions.com.
Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar