Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Cut Back on Water
Reset your irrigation systems to decrease the amount of water going to lawns and shrubs. The days are getting shorter and plants aren't using nearly as much water as in high summer. Reduce watering on container plants too. Feel the soil with your fingers; if it's dry 2 inches below the surface, water. If the soil still feels damp, wait a day or two, then check again.
For larger flowers, pinch out all but one bud every 4 inches along the branches of camellias. Make sure to leave buds further down each stem for continuous bloom during the spring. Fertilize plants with 1/2 strength, acid fertilizer. Large amounts of nitrogen applied now will cause bud drop.
Remove Faded Annuals
Any annual plants that have finished producing for the year should be pulled and added to the compost pile. Add organic compost to the soil, then rejuvenate your garden beds with winter-blooming flowers or cool-season crops, such as beets, broccoli, cilantro, kale, or peas.
Start a Compost Pile
Fall is the ideal time to start a compost pile. Fallen leaves, grass clippings, and chopped yard debris can be used to create "Gardener's Black Gold." Simply cut up the larger pieces and throw everything into a pile. Wet it occasionally with the hose, and turn the pile over from time to time with a spading fork. That's all there is to it. You will be rewarded with rich organic compost to use next spring in garden beds, as potting soil, or to top-dress existing beds. Continue adding plant material throughout the winter months. No dairy or meat products, please.
Caring for Dahlias
Keep dahlias in good shape by removing spent flowers and fertilizing with liquid fish emulsion to strengthen the tubers. Once the flowers have faded altogether, continue watering and fertilizing until the foliage begins to yellow. Then withhold water and allow the plants to go dormant. Tubers should be dug and stored from mid-October through mid-November to prevent them from rotting in the soil during the wet winter months. Dust tubers with sulfur powder to prevent rot. Store in paper -- never plastic -- containers in a cool, dark location until the soil warms in the spring.