In honor of summer solstice, this article will outline:
- Some historical background about the best time to plant crops.
- A monthly fruit & vegetable planting guide for Southern California.
As our ancestors transitioned from hunter-gather tribes to farmers, it became increasingly important to understand what was going on with the weather. The major factor for seasonal crop success (then and now) is temperature. If you plant too early, then frost will kill your plants. Plant too late and they won’t have enough time to develop before the growing season is over.
Without digital watches or online calendars, the early agrarian societies looked to patterns in the sky as a guide. All kinds of celestial objects were tracked and given various levels of importance. However, the biggest and most important object in our sky has always been the sun.
Monuments around the world were built to track the patterns of the sun at important transition-points marking the seasons. For many of these ancient creations, sunlight passed through custom-designed openings to illuminate specific areas at important times. The longest day of the year (the summer solstice) was one of those important days that guided the early farmers to the fields.
(FYI: The science of studying this prehistoric understanding is pretty interesting and is called archaeoastronomy).
We are blessed in Southern California with our Mediterranean climate and the longer than average growing season. As a result, there is something you can plant at any month of the year. However, the length of the day and atmospheric temperature continue to be critically important factors for the specific plant you can successfully cultivate at different times of the year.
For delicate plants, we still have cold enough weather in the winter to get an occasional killing frost. For other crops, hot temps can cause a plant to bolt into flowering and seed before they produce the food we want. To find out your exact growing zone (anywhere in the U.S.) and what to expect, check out my earlier article, Climate Zones: What can I grow in my yard?
Development of this guide:
As a result of the various plant specific details, I have been working on a month-by-month planting guide for a long time. My personal plan was to create a guide that I could refer back to often without having to needlessly memorize all the details. Then I thought… I need to share this with others.
This planting guide is a consolidation of multiple other guides (which often disagree) mixed with oversight from years of personal experience. Please let me know what your experience is too; I am always looking to improve the content with individual feedback.
Variation and pushing limits:
It is important to note that this is a ‘guide’ and not a uniform law. There are various micro-climates in Southern California that are impacted by factors such as proximity to the ocean and mountains.
Even different locations in ones own yard may shorten or lengthen these planting ranges. For example, planting near a South facing wall will accelerate the schedule and planting in a shady North side of a building will do the opposite. Of course you can also plant seedlings inside at an earlier date so you can get a head-start on the season.
The guide is intended to be as specific as possible without being overwhelming with details. Individual plants are listed in the first column below in alphabetical order. The numbers in the chart listed in the row adjacent to the plant name refer to the months of the year.
Ways to use the chart:
- One way to look at this chart is by the specific plant. So for example, if you look at Asparagus, you will see that both January and February are good planting times for this plant.
- If you want to know what you can plant for a specific month, just look down that month column and cross-reference to the plant on the intersecting row. For example, if you want to know what you can plant in June (6) you will see that Beans, Cantaloupe, Corn, Cucumbers, Okra, Peppers, Pumpkin, Radish, Squash, Sunflowers, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, and Watermelon are good choices.
- Everything on the chart (except for asparagus) is for growing from seeds.
|Jan (1)||Feb (2)||Mar (3)||Apr (4)||May (5)||Jun (6)||Jul (7)||Aug (8)||Sep (9)||Oct (10)||Nov (11)||Dec (12)|
|Asparagus (from crowns)||1||2|