Gardening in Sonoma County’s Summer-Dry Climate
Positioned along 60 miles of Northern California’s Pacific Coast, Sonoma County enjoys a two-season, Mediterranean climate marked by hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters, typical of four other west-coast regions around the world. These mild climates are often deemed perfect for home gardening despite their dry summers.
- Gardening success begins by focusing on a host of native Sonoma County and California species long habituated to our yearly moisture and temperature cycles.
- A wide variety of our native plants originate in chaparral communities, coastal bluffs, grasslands, woodlands, and desert regions.
- Many are drought-tolerant, requiring little or no supplemental water while others depend on moisture similar to their native stream sides or seeps.
- These native species provide critical food and shelter to local birds, bees, butterflies and other insects that pollinate our fruits, vegetables, and gardens.
Other Mediterranean Regions
Relying on California’s native flora is one way to garden in dry summers and wet winters, but plants from the four other Mediterranean regions adapt easily here.
- The European-Northern African Mediterranean basin, southwestern Australia, southern Chile, and the Cape Region in South Africa—all located on western continental edges at a similar latitude—are home to many species that evolved over eons to thrive in dry summers and moist winters.
- The onset of winter rains brings many plants in these regions out of a dormant, dry-season rest. For many gardeners, this pattern suggests a semblance of spring. Some plants wait until late summer or autumn to reach their floral peak.
Gardening in sync with our climate acknowledges high summer heat, a threat of fire, months with no rain, an intrusion of fog from the ocean and bay, and irregular, often concentrated, winter moisture. In short, our gardens can embrace the natural conditions.
- Selecting species that adapt readily to dry summers and moist winters is one factor in gardening successfully in Sonoma County. Equally important is applying limited but efficient irrigation only when needed.
- Despite lean, sometimes poor soil, many Mediterranean species have learned how to survive, some with specialized foliage that protects from hot summer sun, yet able to carry the garden vibrantly through several seasons.
- Such gardens may include a courtyard instead of a lawn, diverse foliage palettes with shades of bluish gray and some brown foliage in the dry season, blossoming ephemerals in terra cotta pots, and productive vegetable beds instead of exotic, ornamental flowers in summer.
- Herbs, bulbs, succulents, perennials, trees, and shrubs from other regions may mix with our own natives in harmonious patterns, beckoning gardeners in all four seasons.