Having a productive garden in California is easy to accomplish so long as you have the right plan. Below we’ll walk you through which plants thrive in California, when to plant in California, and how to adapt your garden as the seasons change.
Hardiness zones, sometimes referred to as “growing zones” or “planting zones”, were created by the USDA to help gardeners determine which plants are best suited for a particular location.
California encompasses 7 hardiness zones. They are zones 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. Before we get started, determine which zone you live in by visiting this interactive USDA hardiness zone map.
At their core, hardiness zones only represent how cold a particular area gets in winter. This information, combined with the average frost dates for your area, is the key to planting the right herbs and vegetables in California.
Below, we’ll guide you through the best crops to grow in your zone in California and when to plant them.
If you’re living in California planting zones 10 and 11, congratulations! You’ve won the lottery in terms of spring weather for gardening. Zones 10 and 11 typically do not experience frost, which means most common produce will happily grow in your garden throughout March, April, and May.
Some of our favorites for spring planting in these zones are crops you can continue harvesting well into summer, such as okra, eggplants, anaheim peppers, cherry tomatoes, and butternut squash. The world is your oyster, so plant what you like!
These crops will feel much more comfortable in the moderate temperatures of spring, as opposed to the intensity of a California summer. And their short growing period means once temperatures begin to rise, they’ll be ready to harvest and replaced with plants more adapt to the California heat.
For warm weather crops such as these, start seedlings indoors in March. In April and May, once temperatures at night are consistently above 50 degrees, transplant established plants to the garden.
In California growing zone 5, spring is considerably cold compared to most other areas. As a result, the viable growing season in these locations is fairly short.
To get the most out of your garden in California zone 5, seedlings should to be started indoors. We also recommend using a blanket of straw to help protect transplants from a surprise frost.
With so much of the growing season experiencing cooler temperatures, focusing on frost tolerant crops is a great strategy for success. Vegetables such as collard greens, broccolini, green peas, and cabbage can usually be planted in late April or May for zone 5. Cool weather crops that have a bit longer growing period, such as Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and artichokes, are another great option for the colder areas of California.
But at the end of the day, for most common garden vegetables in California zone 5, planting will have to wait until things warm up in June.
California hardiness zones 10 and 11 have a pretty long growing season. Because of this, you can get away with harvesting the majority of crops through the end of fall to the beginning of winter.
Feel free to experiment with other common produce that don’t fall in the cold hardy category, such as anaheim peppers, banana peppers, cherry tomatoes, and bell peppers. Again, try to aim for plating in late summer, such as August or September. Be sure to watch the forecast as winter approaches, and cover plants with a blanket of straw or plastic buckets if temperatures dip down to the 40s. You may be surprised to see how resilient your plants can be in zones 10 and 11.
Want to keep gardening in California zones 6, 7, 8 and 9 even as the weather cools? You might be surprised by your options!
Fall crops for California zones 6, 7, 8 and 9 are typically planted around July and August. This should give the plant enough time to establish itself before cold weather begins to set in. Think cold-loving crops such as cabbage, broccolini, and radishes. Hardy root vegetables and durable leafy greens are great options, especially if you’re looking for something to plant in September or early October.
For California growing zone 5, fall gardening is a race against the cold. Likely, you’ll want to plant short season fall crops during July or August, to ensure ample harvest time before the season’s first frost hits.
Cold hardy produce are the most viable fall crops for California growing zone 5. Some of our favorites for California are broccoli, romaine lettuce, carrots, and iceberg lettuce. Not only can these type of plants withstand a bit of cold, but they’ll be great roasted or thrown in soups and stews during the California winter months.
You can also extend the life of your fall garden in California zone 5 by using methods such as hotbeds, covering plants with a plastic sheet at night, or “overwintering” perennials such as tomatoes and peppers.