Fall is Planting Time

Oct 9, 2023

The Mediterranean climate of Contra Costa County has us spoiled for choices in growing handsome perennials and shrubs, including many native plants that attract local beneficial insects and nourish our ecosystems. Whether you are planning a new garden or adding to an existing one, references abound to help you select and plant perennials successfully.

September through Thanksgiving is the best time to plant most perennials and shrubs, especially California natives. The soil is still warm enough to encourage good root development and most importantly, cool weather and winter rains get plants off to a good start. Make sure you water them well when first planted, then continue watering until winter rains start.

Plants adapted to a Mediterranean climate need moisture until their root systems mature (with some succulents being exceptions). These plants may still need water during the summer to look their best but will tolerate a long dry summer much better with well-developed roots.

“Drought-tolerant” is a somewhat misleading term. Several dry months during our typical Mediterranean summers do not result in a drought. “Climate-adapted” or “water-smart” are more helpful terms to describe plants. These are adapted to the normally dry summers and wet winters common in many Mediterranean areas. Water conservation during any California summer makes economic and ecological sense.

Some reliable favorites include Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), Sunset Manzanita (neat and tidy), De la Mina Verbena (Verbena lilacina 'De La Mina'), Salvia ‘Bee's Bliss' (needs room), Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum), Epilobium, Yarrow, and California Buckwheat. Check the Native Plant database listed below to see which plants will do well in your zip code or in a particular spot in your garden.

The first four references below are robust websites to help you select perennials that will work in Contra Costa County. We are biased toward water-wise California natives, although perennials from other Mediterranean climates can do well here. If you have a lot of garden space, you may want the help of a professional landscaper (see last reference).

• East Bay MUD water-smart plants (natives and non-natives): https://www.ebmud.com/water/conservation-and-rebates/watersmart-gardener/watersmart-plants
• UC Davis “All Star” Plant Database (natives and non-natives): https://arboretum.ucdavis.edu/plant-database
• Contra Costa County water-saving plant database (natives and non-natives): https://www.contracosta.watersavingplants.com/search.php
• Native plant database from California Native Plant Society: https://www.calscape.org/
• How to find a landscape professional https://rescape.memberclicks.net/directory

Help Desk of the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County (EAS)