Dutch Iris - Illustration by Helen KrayenhoffSeasonal norms are being tossed out, but we still base most of our garden plans on historical data. For outdoor enthusiasts around the Bay Area, fall comes in two distinct phases: an early warm weather phase (sometimes called Indian Summer), followed by a cooler phase in October and November. In the garden these phases roughly correspond to enjoying floral displays while diligently supplying water at first, then grooming and planting in preparation for the coming year as Mother Nature turns on the spigot. The element of water, or lack of it, dictates our garden activities at any time of year but in no other season is there such a marked transition from beginning to end.

The key to success is to adjust your watering habits, whether manual or automatic. Planting almost anything during the Early Fall is possible but requires extra vigilance. I recall an October that started out hot and windy here, and all of my new plants needed watering at least twice each day. But with this in mind, there are still options.

Many bulbs, succulents, Mediterranean plants and California natives are already dormant and can be planted with little risk of desiccation. Woody shrubs and trees are also good candidates for fall planting, as long as you water deeply. And some of our most spectacular color comes from annuals at this time of year, which with diligent irrigation will spice up an otherwise somber scene. However, I suggest waiting until the weather prognosticators call for cooler conditions before direct-sowing your wildflower or vegetable seeds.

Availability at the Nursery may also play a role in your planting habits during these months. Bulbs in particular, will only be available briefly, whereas perennials, trees shrubs and vines will be in good supply throughout the winter at Berkeley Hort. A few ever-popular bulbs that will be gone by the end of October need to be mentioned.

Allium sphaerocephalum
The tall Drumstick Onion

Freesia hybrids
Especially the single flowered fragrant varieties

Narcissus poeticus ‘Actaea’
The charming Pheasant’s Eye

Iris hollandica
The Dutch Iris, especially the blue strains

You can hold these for planting later if need be. In the meantime, fire up the grill and put your favorite beverage on ice.