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GARDENING : Mild Weather Makes Autumn a Terrific Time to Plant It Here


If you've been thinking about planting an orange tree or maybe a colorful shrub, you're in luck.

"Thanks to our mild climate, fall is a great time for planting trees and shrubs," says Chuck Bybee, manager of Armstrong Garden Center in Santa Ana. "The soil temperatures are still warm, which allows roots to quickly take hold and grow throughout the winter. Then when spring hits, you'll get a lot of top growth in a short amount of time."

At this time of year, most nurseries carry a wide variety of trees and shrubs, including citrus, shade trees and camellias and azaleas.

"Now is a great time to buy citrus trees like tangerines and navel oranges," says Scott Lathrop, general manager of Flowerdale Nurseries Inc., who works in their Santa Ana store. "Some citrus are in the process of ripening now, which means you can take home a tree that has fruit."

The Washington navel orange is the most popular. "It's an eating-type orange that is seedless and has a thick easy-to-peel skin," Lathrop says. Or try the Robertson navel, which is identical to the Washington, except that it bears fruit a little earlier.

In tangerines, try the dancy, which ripens in December or January, or the owari Satsuma, which ripens from October to the end of December.

All of these trees come in dwarf varieties, which are great for containers and small spaces.

"The dwarfs are very popular now, because you get good production on these smaller trees and they produce at an earlier age," Bybee says. The Robertson navel, for instance, produces a great amount of fruit.

For grapefruit, which produce fruit in the late summer and fall, the oro blanco is by far the most popular.

"This is a really sweet, almost white grapefruit that does really well here," Bybee says.

He also suggests the marsh seedless, but says to place it in a hot spot because the fruit needs intense heat to ripen. Against a white wall on the south side of the house is a prime location. The star ruby is another good choice and needs less heat to ripen.

In lemons, the improved Meyer is your best choice. It produces thin-skinned lemons that are less acidic than most lemons. For limes, Bybee suggest the bearss, which is considered the best lime for California gardens. Or if it's a "bartender" lime you want, try the Mexican lime, which is no larger than a golf ball.

If your yard is in need of a shade tree, now is a good time to buy one, especially if you want one that provides fall color.

Get brilliant fall color with a liquidambar tree. These are considered good street trees and vary in size depending on variety. They range from 20 to 60 feet in height.

Another good tree for fall color is the Chinese pistache, says Dave Betker of Mission Viejo, who is the Orange County sales representative for Monrovia Nursery Co., which carries a wide variety of shrubs and trees.

"The pistache is a deciduous tree that puts on a beautiful fall color display with leaves of scarlet, crimson, orange and sometimes yellow," he says. "It makes a good lawn or street tree because it eventually grows quite large--60 feet tall and 50 feet wide."

Also displaying color at this time of year is the floss silk tree, which has large, showy orchid-type pink flowers. It is a tall, briefly deciduous tree that has a trunk covered in spines.

Or plant the Chinese flame tree.

"This tree has attractive salmon- to red-colored seed pod capsules that stay on the tree from late summer through fall," Bybee says.

Other small trees that make attractive landscape additions include the pink and golden trumpet trees, which have trumpet-like flowers. "These are not really common, but are sold in some Orange County nurseries," Betker says. "They grow to about 25 feet and flower at a young age in the late winter and spring; the pink trumpet also often flowers in fall."

There are also camphor trees, which are evergreen with bright green leaves, and cape chestnuts, which are evergreen to semi-evergreen and have pretty pink flowers in the summertime.

In medium-sized trees, there are a variety to choose from, including the evergreen and the carrot wood, which tolerates Orange County's salt-laden soil and our hot dry Santa Ana winds. It has glossy, dark green leaves and grows to 40 feet.

Or try any of a number of melaleucas, which have papery bark that easily peels off. They flower in white, pink, orange and red, and range in size from six to 40 feet. The purple flowering plum is also attractive.

"This tree has dark purple foliage and light pink flowers in spring," says Betker, who suggests using it for an espalier against a trellis, wall or fence.

If you want a large tree fast, try the white alder. In just one year, according to Bybee, a five-gallon tree when planted will grow three to five feet.

For more compact spaces, there is a wide variety of shrubs to choose from, many of which are blooming now.

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