Planning Vegetable Gardens in Mediterranean Climates: 3 Common Mistakes

Planning a spring garden

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This time of year, many gardeners in California’s coastal and inland valley areas, commonly described as Mediterranean climates due to their moderate, wet winters and warm, dry summers, are in the process of planning their vegetables gardens for spring and summer.  Here are three common mistakes:

Choosing the wrong plants. Pictures in national gardening media can be enticing, but plants that require extended periods of moist soil and moderate, humid temperatures (tropical plants) are generally not a good choice for gardeners who live in California or other Mediterranean climates. So no matter how much you may want to grow your own ginger or turmeric or peanuts, most California gardeners are going to struggle with these plants and reap a limited harvest. Gardeners who want to make the extra effort may be successful growing some of these plants in  containers, where specific micro climates can be carefully controlled and modified.  See Ginger: Growing and Harvesting for Culinary Use and Turmeric: Container Gardening and Harvesting. Gardeners who live in Mediterranean climates can successfully grow many of the jewels of the home herb and vegetable garden, such as tomato, corn, lettuce, basil and pumpkin. Why not choose one or more of them?


Tomato ready for harvest.


Choosing the wrong varieties. Keep in mind that even for the same plant, there are typically many varieties with an array of characteristics. Gardeners who live in inland valleys will generally want to select heat-tolerant varieties that will last well into the summer; gardeners along the coast will typically want to grow “early” varieties that don’t require as much heat to fruit and ripen. And each area will have a slightly different palate of pests and diseases. For example, gardeners along the coast are typically more concerned with mildews and purchasing mildew resistant varieties can be critical to success. Seed catalogs and packaging labels in garden centers typically describe a particular variety’s resistance to specific diseases. For a complete guide see Common Terms for Seeds and What They Mean. 

Planting too early or too late. Plant too early and small plants may struggle in cool, wet weather. Plant too late, and plants may not have time to develop root systems necessary to pull enough water from the soil on hot summer days or develop leaf canopies large enough to protect ripening fruit from summer sun.

Planting too late can results in stress.

Planting too late can results in stress.


Gardeners in most of the United States plant spring seeds based on their USDA zone. However, USDA zones are inadequate for making informed decisions about what to grow in California because they are based on average annual minimum winter temperatures only, and do not take into consideration other critical factors for California gardening and landscaping, such as summer and winter high temperatures, annual rainfall, humidity, overall climate and seasonal changes in climate, or the number of days annually of hot weather or frost. The USDA zones place portions of Los Angeles in the same zone as San Francisco, despite the vastly different growing conditions, temperature ranges, climates, and high temperatures between those two cities. Much of California’s coastal inland and valley areas are frost free, so using minimum winter temperatures and USDA zones are generally not helpful. For this reason, GardenZeus uses a climate zone system optimized for California and for your individual zip code. To take complete advantage of GardenZeus resources for California gardening, go to GardenZeus, enter your zip code and select plants. For a complete explanation of GardenZeus climate zones, go to California Climate Zones.

And remember: heirloom and open-pollinated varieties typically have a longer time to maturity than many hybrids and need to be planted before many hybrids and “early” varieties of the same plant. Seeds catalogs usually list number of days to first harvest or maturity, sometimes listed as just a number (70 days), usually meaning the average number of days from the time the seed sprouts or the seedling emerges from the ground to the time fruit or flowers can be harvested. If you are planting in new or infertile soil, are new to gardening or inexperienced with the vegetable that you are planting, or working under challenging gardening conditions, the actual time to maturity may be longer than listed in seed descriptions, and in some cases much longer. To arrive at the total number of days from planting the seed to maturity, you need to add the germination time, which varies widely for different vegetables and flowers but is most commonly about a week or two. For more information, see How to Choose the Best Seeds for California Gardeners.

GardenZeus has comprehensive, customized growing information by plant and zip code. To get started, enter your zip code here.


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