Growing Vegetables in Southern California
What the Garden of Eden might have been like…
Southern California has a unique climate found in only 5 areas of the world. Our Mediterranean climate allows for up to 5 crops a year for intensely worked garden. Asparagus to Zapotes – all have their season.
California’s climate and geography gives Californians just about every climate zone found anywhere in the country, from beach sand to snow-bound peaks. Ventura county can be divided into two major climates – coastal and inland valleys.
Vegetable Growing in Southern California
The coastal regions produce major crops of cool weather produce – strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. This is a major industry in the county, and is favored by mild temperatures, coastal fogs during the summer, and moderate temperatures all year long. Home gardeners can experience the same productivity and range of crops in their own back yards. Some fruits, like stone fruits, may have a hard time getting the required winter chill hours needed to set fruit, although many low-chill varieties may be suitable.
The inland valleys are subject to desert influences from the Mojave desert, and feature very summer temperatures and cold, often freezing, winters. While not generally considered agricultural, these valleys do allow use of fruit trees with high chill requirements. The extreme temperature range limits many cool weather crops that will bolt rapidly as the heat comes on, and cold winter temperatures rule out most sub-tropicals.
Where you live is an important consideration when planning your garden and orchard. The Sunset Garden Book has a climate zone map with 24 different zones, and lists plants with their climate zones. The USDA has its own climate zone designations with just 10 zones, but these broader zones fail to take many micro-climes into consideration. Because of the micro-clime I live in, a ‘thermal incline’ that gets a mild frost every 15 years, I cannot produce a decent peach or apple, but I do grow bananas and sub-tropicals. A quarter mile down the hill, bananas will freeze. Micro-climates are also influenced by nearby house walls, exposure to sun and wind, whether you live on a hill or valley bottom, and many other factors.
Ventura County has a very wide range of soil types, from pure granite, to ‘gumbo’ clay to rich alluvial loams to beach sand, with almost every possibility in between. Because of the cut-and-fill that most houses sit on, the soil may be completely different in your yard than it is just across the street. Because of our low rain fall, all undisturbed soils tend to be high in minerals and slightly alkaline.
Most of the disturbed, and many of the native, soils lack organic matter, making soil amendments and mulches an important part of garden preparation. If you amend your garden soil (that is, mix organic materials into it), it should be ‘nitrolized’ or have nitrogen-rich fertilizer added to the amendment before addition. The added nitrogen will feed the micro-organisms as they digest the organic material. If amendments are not high in nitrogen, the soil organisms will drawn nitrogen from the soil, lowering the amount available for your plants. Once the amendment has decomposed, the nitrogen will be made available again, but you are left nitrogen-poor until that occurs. Mulching (adding organic material to the TOP of the soil) will not deplete in-soil nitrogen levels.
Here’s a video showing how to plant seeds into seed trays, This is very handy for getting a jump on the weather, and I like it for starting plants under a layer of mulch.
Here are other hints, tips, vegetable advice and helpful links to help you grow a bountiful garden
For recommended varieties, please visit our ‘Recommended Vegetable Varieties‘ page.
For information on when to plant your garden, please visit the ‘When to Plant Veggies‘ page.
If your plants are not doing very well, check out the ‘Plant Symptoms and Causes‘ page.
While I finish construction of this page, check out these UC videos as well as the non-UC ones…
Home Vegetable Gardening Part I with Robert Norris, Associate Professor and Associate Botanist at UC Davis. Join him as he discusses home vegetable gardening. Topics include tools needed, recommended reading, ground preparation, planting dates, selection of varieties, and seed planting depths.
Home Vegetable Gardening Part II with Robert Norris, Associate Professor and Associate Botanist at UC Davis. Join him as he discusses home vegetable gardening. Topics include controlling bird pests, irrigation practices, and transplanting. Series: “California Master Gardener Lecture Series”
The Home Orchard Part 1 with Chuck Ingles, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, introduces a class of UC Master Gardeners to the basics of fruit trees in the home setting. Topics include basic fruit tree terminology, planting, more…
The Home Orchard Part 2 with Chuck Ingles, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, introduces a class of UC Master Gardeners to the basics of fruit trees in the home setting. Topics include pruning, fruit thinning, budding and grafting
The first of two lectures on weed identification techniques and some methods of control. Here, Tom Lanini, UC Cooperative Extension Weed Ecologist, makes his presentation to UC Master Gardener students about various weed control methods. Topics include cultivation, the use of animals like geese and sheep, irrigation, mulch, and organic herbicides. Presented as part of the UC Master Gardener Lecture Series.
The second of two lectures on weed identification techniques and some methods of control. Here, Joseph M. DiTomaso, UC Cooperative Extension Non-Crop Weed Ecologist, addresses UC Master Gardener students about weed identification and various weed control methods. Topics include yellow star thistle, mowing, burning, and the use of chemicals. Presented as part of the UC Master Gardener Lecture Series
Salad Leaves for All Seasons with Charles Dowding Charles shows you how to grow salads successfully all the year round, in large and small spaces, from window box to allotment. Charles is a commercial salad green grower in the UK