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What to Plant in Your Sonoma Garden This Fall

There’s still plenty of growing fun to look forward to as the days become cooler. And now is also the time to prepare for spring.

Saying goodbye to your summer garden’s radiant sunflowers and scrumptious tomatoes can be kind of heartbreaking. But there’s still plenty of growing fun to look forward to as the days become cooler. We looked to Sonoma’s garden pros for fall planting inspiration. While fall and winter plants don’t provide the colorful show that spring and summer plants do, there’s still lots to cultivate in sunny Sonoma during this more subdued season. And for a spectacular spring, the time to start planning is now. All you need to do is dig a little bit deeper.

Grow your greens

The gardens at Wild Flour Bread in Freestone (140 Bohemian Highway) are fantastically bountiful — make sure you peruse them before or after you get some of the bakery’s legendary scones or breads. While the fruits of summer’s labor can now be seen hanging heavily on trellises (grapes, pumpkins and squash), hardier crops are flourishing alongside them, including kales and cabbages. These leafy plants prefer the cold but can withstand heat, so they’re a good choice for planting right now. Staggering planting times a week or so apart can keep a crop growing over a longer period of time.

Experiment with garlic

Wild Flour gardener Sally Smith loves planting garlic this time of year because of the experimentation involved in growing different varieties. The bakery sources seeds and plants from Harmony Farm Supply and Nursery (locations in Sebastopol and Petaluma); the nursery carries garlic in varieties that range from super spicy to mild and rich. This year, Smith will grow hard neck and soft neck varieties — she likes to weave the soft neck garlic bulbs together and give them as gifts. Her main advice for planting: “The plants will do whatever they want. You think you’ll get control — just let ’em go.”

Plant those bulbs

Now, before the first frost, is the time to plant spring bulbs. Daffodils, hyacinths, tulips and more can make up a great cutting garden. Planting with bloom times in mind — that time range from late winter to early spring — allows for staggered blooming.

Act on your impatience

If waiting for those spring bulbs to bloom makes you feel crazy with impatience, King’s Nursery in Santa Rosa (1212 13th St.) provides an excellent option. They recommend planting cold-hardy blooms in the spaces between the bulbs. Pansies or Icelandic Poppies and other flowers can color the garden beautifully while you wait for spring.

Use a cover crop

If you’d rather put your garden to bed for fall and winter, consider planting fava beans to enrich the soil with nitrogen. This creates a naturally fertile planting ground come spring. We like to take a cue from the test gardens at Cornerstone Sonoma (23570 Arnold Dr.), where the raised beds grew fava beans last season. The beanstalks grow high (at around four feet — not enough to reach a giant, but still) and provide a pop of green during winter.

Don’t forget perennials

Fall is a good time to plant perennials since cooler temperatures won’t stress young plants. Perennials are stalwart elements of the garden, making things easier on the gardener while offering a little color during dormant times. Verbena on a Stick at the test gardens at Cornerstone Sonoma (see photo in slideshow) fill in the gaps between crops. They attract pollinators to boot, which are good for the earth and the garden aesthetic.

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