Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Sow Cover Crops
If you don't plan to use your vegetable garden beds over the winter, sow cover crops, also called green manure. Cover crops enrich the soil by taking nitrogen from the atmosphere and depositing it in the roots as the plants grow during the winter months. When planting time rolls around next spring, all you need to do is mow the crop down to the ground, then rototill the whole kit and kaboodle into the existing soil. The leafy foliage improves soil texture while the nitrogen-rich roots serve as a natural fertilizer. Fava beans, kale, and vetch are excellent cover crops for this area.
Purchase Spring-Blooming Bulbs
Nurseries have a large selection of spring-blooming bulbs on hand right now. Although it is not quite time to plant tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, or narcissus, they will produce larger and stronger flowers if they are chilled in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator for four to six weeks prior to planting. Plant when the soil temperature 6 inches below the surface is 60 degrees, around mid-November.
Lawns need one more application of a slow-release fertilizer to help them through the cold winter months. Don't use a product high in nitrogen or you'll encourage lush top growth, which is susceptible to fungus disease. Decrease the time on automatic irrigation systems.
If raccoons and skunks are digging up your lawn, chances are they are looking for grubs, the larval stage of destructive Japanese beetles. Treat your lawn with beneficial nematodes, which are sold under the name BioSafe Insect Control, among others. Nematodes are not harmful to earthworms, fish, plants, honeybees, or birds. Although expensive, this is an organic control that brings excellent results if applied while the grubs are still near the surface of the soil.
Plant Sweet Peas
Plant sweet peas (Lathyrus) from seed now for spring bloom. Sweet peas are cool-season annuals that require full sun and rich, fast-draining soil. Some varieties require support in the form of a trellis. Nothing pleases me more than bunches of sweetly-scented sweet pea flowers!