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How to Plant Vegetables in California

By Barbara Fahs ; Updated September 21, 2017
California is the perfect environment for many vegetables.

California has a wide range of climate zones, but most of them are conducive to growing a vegetable garden. For the northern counties and along the coast, cool season vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage do well in the summer. In the San Francisco Bay area, all veggies thrive during the warm summer, and cool season veggies do well in fall and early spring. Southern California boasts year-round gardening weather, although some crops, such as tomatoes and zucchini, must be grown in summer.

Planting Vegetables in California

Test your soil in the fall to learn its pH. Most vegetables prefer a slightly acidic soil that measures between 6.0 and 6.5. If your soil is alkaline, as are many clay soils in California, add sulfur when you prepare your garden area. If your soil measures very acidic, below 5.5, add hydrated lime.

Spade or rototill your garden area in fall to prepare it for spring planting. If your soil is very dry, run a sprinkler on the area for at least one hour the day before you dig or till. Spread a layer of any type of compost about 3 inches thick on top of the soil and then dig it in, going down at least 6 inches. Rake the bed level.

Start seeds indoors for the vegetables you want to grow, beginning about six weeks before your projected final spring frost. Be sure to give them filtered sun or artificial light at least eight hours a day and keep the soil in their pots moist at all times.

Set out the young plants on a cool or foggy day, or wait until late afternoon, to avoid transplant shock and possible sunburn. Dig holes slightly larger than the root systems of your plants, take your vegetable plants out of their small pots and then gently set them into the holes. Fill in with the soil you removed and pat gently around the plants’ bases to settle the soil. Water all plants thoroughly and keep the soil moist for their first week or two, especially if it doesn’t rain and the weather is warm. After that, most vegetables will do well with a deep watering once a week.

Stake or provide support for plants such as tomatoes, pole beans, cucumbers and other climbing varieties.

Fertilize all vegetables with a balanced plant food after their first month in the ground, and repeat fertilization once a month until late summer. A plant food with an N-P-K ratio of 12-12-12 works well on veggies, or you can choose organic fertilizers such as compost, worm castings or fish emulsion. Vegetables thrive with an application of dry steer manure: scatter 1 lb. over each square foot of garden area. If you use chicken manure, use only 1 lb. for every five feet of area.


Things You Will Need

  • Soil test kit
  • Sulfur
  • Hydrated lime
  • Shovel
  • Rototiller (optional)
  • Compost
  • Rake
  • Sulfur (optional)
  • Hydrated lime (optional)


  • Late March is the average last frost in the Bay Area—check to learn when it occurs in your specific region.
  • Many vegetables prefer to be watered at their root zone and not above from a sprinkler: Overhead watering can cause blossom end rot on squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and many other plants.
  • If you make raised garden beds that are about three feet wide by six or eight feet long, you’ll be able to access the plants in your beds without stepping on the soil and compressing it.
  • For sandy soil with an overly alkaline pH (over 7.0), add 1.2 ounces of sulfur for every square yard of garden area. For loamy and clay soil, add 4.6 ounces of sulfur for every square yard.
  • To make sandy soil more alkaline (that is, to reduce acidity), add four ounces of hydrated lime for every square yard. To increase the alkalinity of clay soil, add 12 ounces of hydrated lime for every square yard.
  • You can save time and work (but not money) if you purchase bedding plants at your nursery, but the selection will not be as large as that found in seed catalogs.
  • Plant the seeds of root crops, such as carrots or beets, directly into the soil because these plants do not transplant well. A;sp direct-seed zucchini. Cucumbers and, especially, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers transplant well from starter pots.
  • See References for information about growing a winter vegetable garden.

About the Author


Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens" and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to "Big Island Weekly," "Ke Ola" magazine and various websites. She earned her Bachelor of Arts at University of California, Santa Barbara and her Master of Arts from San Jose State University.