By Signal Staff Writer Jane Gates Photo: Salvia May night (Title: “Plant the ‘May Night’ salvia in autumn so it is ready to bloom in spring.”) As of Sept. 22, autumn officially has arrived. That means outdoor gardening conditions will become more comfortable as the weather offers us cooler nights and more relief from heat. Autumn has always been the planting season for native flowers, trees and woody shrubs. But with summer’s burning, triple-digit heat shortening what used to be the ideal planting season of springtime, the fall is now becoming the best season for all our gardening projects. Cooler temperatures allow plants to establish root systems over the winter months and whatever rain we have will be oxygenated and will help new plantings thrive better than artificial irrigation. Sooooo… the autumn planting spree begins now! And here are just a handful of suggestions to help this best-season-for-gardening get off to a good start: Seed wildflowers on bare soil and hillsides Photo:phacelia closer group (Title: “This California Phacelia is a small native wildflower that blooms with rich, blue bells.”) If you have hillsides that need a quick fix or some filling-in while drought-tolerant perennials establish themselves, consider seeding with easy-to-grow wildflowers. Try California Poppies, yellow and white “Tidy Tips,” the brilliant blue Phacelia, Godetia in crisp pinks and whites for full sun, or “Baby Blue Eyes” for partial or full shade. If we get rain this winter, these seeds will cover your open areas with cheerful flowers come the early spring and they’ll help stave off erosion on hillsides while slower-growing perennials become established. Sprinkle seeds just before rain is predicted and hope raindrops plant them before the hungry wildlife gobbles them up. Seeding is inexpensive, easy and can fill empty spaces with a riot of color from winter’s end until the heat of summer comes. Showy flowers hide in the plain packages of bulbs, rhizomes and corms Photo: daffodil cluster (Title: “Daffodil bulbs cheer up any garden — and the gophers won’t eat them”) Gardens large and small can benefit from planting bulbs, rhizomes and corms. They are simple to plant and ready to go. Keep an eye out for them as they trickle into the shops. Or order your bulbs now from catalogs online. Although most bulbs have a relatively short flowering life, they are incredibly showy when in bloom. In the right conditions, they’ll multiply underground to give you bigger flower clumps each year. Always plant bulbs in groups so they will form a natural-looking cluster. When clusters become too big, divide them up into other areas or give away extras to friends and neighbors. (If you already have overcrowded conditions, this is a good time to start divisions.) Iris clumps can also be divided now. (They are not actually bulbs, but rhizomes.) Edible bulbs like onions and garlic should be dug when the foliage starts to die back, and the bulbs should be allowed to dry off for a few days before storing in a cool, dry area. Now is also a good time to plant garlic and onion starter bulbs called ‘sets’. Search out flowering bulbs like Chasmanthe, Dichelostemma and Brodiaea that grow well in Santa Clarita with little added water. These are less toothsome to the gophers than other bulbs and corms. Gladioli, Watsonias and Freesias produce great flowers for cutting, but require more water. Lilies (technically corms) do best with a little shade. (These latter flowers are best planted in sunken wire baskets to discourage hungry gophers.) It’s amazing what colorful plants come from dreary looking bulbs, corms and rhizomes. Use them to fill the garden with explosions of color starting in the late winter. (NOTE TO LAYOUT: THIS STORY CAN BE CUT HERE TO KEEP IT TO A PAGE) Go native… or at least drought-tolerant Photo2: Flowering eriogonium buckwheat conejo (Title: “This Conejo buckwheat is a relative of the ones that grow wild on our hills.”) Now is the best time to fill your landscape with drought-tolerant plants and California natives — from now through April. There are some splendidly showy flowers in the Buckwheat, Acacia and Salvia families that survive with very little extra water once they have lived through a well-watered summer or two. Hopseed Bush (Dodonaea) is a large shrub or small tree with good drought tolerance and comes with green or deep red-purple foliage. Coreopsis daisies display bright yellow flowers. The Desert Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla) has fluffy pink blooms. And Dymondia will turn a full sun area into a solid mat of green, punctuated with occasional yellow daisy flowers while growing less than an inch high. All these garden plants have minimal water needs. Time to plant winter edibles Photo: Enclosed raised veggie gardens (Title: “Raised and enclosed gardens can help protect food gardens.) As other parts of the country close down gardening for the winter, we celebrate starting our best planting season. We can even grow fresh food in winter. Because our weather has become much drier and warmer in the past half-dozen years, wildlife, especially rodents, have taken to invading our homes and gardens. Year-round, they are stealing fruits and vegetables, especially if you live on the edge of open land like I do. I ended up converting my greenhouse into a “screenhouse” – pretty much a big cage encased in half-inch metal hardware cloth that encloses a safe growing space. Inside is filled with raised beds for edibles. In the winter, however, you have a better chance of success outside a ‘screenhouse’ since gophers and ground squirrels tend to hibernate at least some of the time. But even if you have to build some protection, don’t miss out on the cool-season crops you can now plant. Lettuce, broccoli, carrots, beets, cabbage are only a handful of vegetables that love our winters. Best time of the year for woody plants and lawns Autumn and winter are the best times to trim and plant trees and lawns. Opt for water-wise tree selections and plant them with systems that water slowly and deeply. Use lawns only where they are most useful. Water is likely to be the world’s biggest point of conflict in the future and our own local water bills will continue to rise. Wherever possible, replace lawns with useful or more colorful choices that take less or no water at all. This will also cut down on garden maintenance; lawn irrigation systems, mowing and raking.