Moving to paradise? (Sacramento/foothills)

emmers_m(9a/Sunset 7 N Cal)June 10, 2014


I've been lurking on your forum for some time now.

I don't live in California, but I think I am going to try to change that.

Sorry if this post sounds hesitant and uncertain - I'm not used to saying most of this 'out loud.'

SO has been itching to move out of New Jersey, so I went looking for an area that would make it worth my while to leave.

For a number of personal and professional reasons, but also in a large part for (edible) gardening purposes, I settled on the Sacramento area.

I am attracted (vs NJ) to the long growing season with its lack of humidity, sunny weather and presumably associated reduction in mosquitos and plant fungal ailments.

I'm also attracted to the growing zone, which I think will allow me to dedicate my life to the (possibly futile) quest to grow avocado trees while still accumulating enough chill hours for temperate fruits.

I was originally looking at the fertile soils in the valley, but the views available in the foothills have blown us away, so that's currently where we'd be looking for a property. Hopefully I won't be rappelling down a granite outcropping to tend my garden. :)

So the part you might think is crazy is that I've never been to Sacramento, really never been to California at all. I am aiming to fix that in the near future, but at the moment I'm just working off research and pretty pictures.

So this post is by way of an introduction, as I hope to join you.

But also I'd like to solicit some personal perspective on gardening in this area.

Is there anyone from Sacramento or the foothills that might be open to answering a few (dozen) questions?

Thanks very much!

~emmers from NJ

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

I've always liked the Sacramento area, although I have never lived there. We pass through often on our way to work at Lake Tahoe (Sacramento and Reno being the airport choices), and occasionally spend some vacation time exploring the gold country. So I cannot help you with specific gardening questions, unfortunately. Sacramento can get quite hot during the summer. Moving a little bit out, and you can experience the occasional cold snap during the winter (not on par with NJ type of cold though). But it is within driving range of quite a bit of wilderness and other places to explore, skiing in the mountains and adventure in San Francisco. Good luck on your search for your California dream. :)

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 12:02AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Ask your questions here and we can all answer

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 3:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

That is a little far north for Avocado. The most cold-hardy cultivar is I think 'Zutano', and the flavor is--meh. It's--just barely acceptable. The Sunset zone you want for Avocados is 23, where it is grown commercially. 23 is slightly inland (5-10 miles inland) in Southern California. We do grow many different stone-fruit trees successfully here with very little chill (100-200 hrs).

If you are going to move to CA, here's the #1 thing you need to look for: water supply. Cheap, reliable water supply.

I'd also pick up a copy of The Sunset Western Garden Book and study the first part of the book where the zones and zone descriptions are as you look for properties. That is going to help you a lot. Then you can look through the rest of the book and see what is going to thrive in the zone of that property. It will give you a good idea of what you can and can't grow.

But first of all, look at the water supply.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 8:29PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
emtnest(z8/Northern CA)

I wouldn't say Sacramento is anything like paradise...but if you're speaking of the town of Paradise, well that is two hours north of Sacramento. We lived in Chico where we could grow anything and everything...nine yrs ago we moved up the hill 25 minutes to the pines in Magalia, just above Paradise and can't grow a decent tomato to save my life!!! Red dirt, too many trees...even in a greenhouse I can't get veggies to grow good. I keep trying every year though. So just to let you know 25 minutes driving distance can make all the difference in the world as far as growing. Right about avocados...too far north for them. My aunt in Long Beach, CA had a wonderful avocado tree. Good luck to you.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 12:44AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

If you want to grow cados you need to be down here. You might like Ojai.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 11:09AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

stupid double post

This post was edited by nil13 on Thu, Jun 12, 14 at 11:15

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 11:11AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Central_Cali369(Sunset Z9, Fresno, CA)

California has so many microclimates. Driving a short distance can land you in a zone that is very different from the one you were just at. There are some thermal belts along the foothills of the sierras where you could grow avocados well (and have them fruit reliably!) These thermal belts are in sunset zone 9. I live in Fresno and we have an abundance of Mexicola & Zutano variety avocados throughout the city that fruit every year. Keep in mind that the thermal belts are very small and if you drive east (up the foothills) you will quickly get to areas too cold for citrus/avocados.

If you do move to more populated areas of the state (SF Bay Area, Southern California) be prepared to spend countless hours of your life stuck in traffic. Southern California freeways are especially life draining. Sacramento does have some heavy traffic during the morning and afternoon hours but it isn't nearly as bad as other parts of the state.

Once in California, you'll discover many other exciting fruits you can grow (depending on your location.) White Sapote, Pomegranates and Cherimoya are just a few things that you'll discover. Butia palms, also, produce a large amount of sweet, tangy fruit that's great for making jams.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 11:38AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

California is currently having the worst water shortages in the country, a 100 year drought - large metropolitan areas are moving toward using sea water as a source.

Then there is the lingering aftermath of Proposition 13, as well as the 18% income tax.

For a lot of people these days, California is a state you move away from.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 11:45AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
BarbJP CA 15-16/9B

Does Sacramento have hills and valleys!?

Oh, wait, you mean the foothills of the Sierras just east of Sacramento! lol, jk!
The city of Sacramento is pretty flat, and it can get really, really hot in summer. But there are some areas near the river that can pick up breezes from the delta that can be cooler then the rest of the city.

You can grow avocados in Sacramento, the trees do just fine, but the blossoms are more frost tender, so in colder winters you may lose the flowers, and get no crop that year. The other posters are right, there are a lot of micro-climates in California, so you may be able to fine an area that's more sheltered from frost and wind in the winter.

The foothills are nice too, but do get colder in the winter, but cooler in summer, generally. I think the real estate is a little less expensive there too. It's a popular retirement area.

Books you will need; "Sunset Western Garden Book", the west's garden bible, like some others said.
Lots of good info and a great encyclopedia of plants.
Plus it lists and explains all the micro-climates of CA, so if I were you, I'd get it first and use it to help decide where you want to move to.

Gordon Courtright's "Trees and Shrubs for Temperate Climates" is great for landscape plants. Lots of good info in the front too. Great pics. It's a little expensive, but I've used mine so much over the years, it was well worth it. If you do spend the money for it, get the hard cover, it will last longer. Used is fine too.

Here is a link that might be useful: Trees and Shrubs for Temperate Climates

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 12:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Central_Cali369(Sunset Z9, Fresno, CA)

I always think of Sacramento and Fresno as being sister cities anchoring the two ends of the Central Valley. They are similar in size (Fresno is significantly larger, but the Sacramento Metro Area has a larger population) and are similar in climate. Average temperatures vary by 1 to 2 degrees throughout the year, and the annual rainfall is virtually the same. Both cities lie along major rivers (although the San Joaquin has been dammed and reduced to a shadow of what it once was,) and both sprawl toward the foothills of the Sierra.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 3:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The foothills are quite a bit colder then in the valley. You will find that many of the plants you think of as "California" like Lemons,citrus and Avocados wont grow even snows lightly in the foothills.
Now,Davis is close to Sacramento,nicer to live in I'm told. Its why UC Davis a great ag-hort program.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 3:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
emmers_m(9a/Sunset 7 N Cal)

Thanks everyone for the replies! (Especially the positive comments on the avocado front!)

Realistically I do know I'm going to be pushing it with my potentially futile avocado quest, but I am willing to tilt at that windmill.

I'm hoping that by finding a good microclimate on my future property - since we're looking for a view of some sort a slope is almost guaranteed - protecting the tree(s) when young, and having potted and dwarf 'backups' that will be easier to protect I will have a shot at the avocado thing.

My 'foothills' terminology might not be quite accurate (you tell me). We'd be looking to be fairly close to the city but just not quite on the valley floor - not too much further east than Lake Folsom.

Staying below the snow line is important - that is one of the 'lines in the sand' (or rather, snow) SO is drawing for our relocation, and after repeatedly shoveling onto snowbanks taller than me this past winter I no longer find that as silly as I once did!

So yes, you all have zeroed in on many of my questions:

1. The heat - what's that like for people and plants? All I can think about is getting out of this intolerable humidity. It really sounds like it cool off dramatically every night, and that seems like it might be the key to not being bothered so much by the heat.

1a. I assume I'd be more comfortable gardening in the morning or evening - can I do that without being swarmed by mosquitos?

1b. Am I looking for a full sun area for garden/orchard? My NJ experience has taught me that I want a completely cleared acre or two (which, to counter the income tax point raised above, could run me $20k-$35k in NJ property taxes based on some listings I've seen) but maybe I need to consider partially cleared areas for some garden shade?

3. Water. It did seem like the Sacramento area has a pretty good water situation (at least so far.) For extensive gardening, does the property I buy need to have an agricultural well or irrigation water? How does the latter work (seems like canals!?) What kind of trouble would I be getting into buying a property with only city water or a domestic well? (Long term plans would be for large scale rainwater retention and grey water reclamation, but that'd be years away.)

4. Slope. What steepness of slope will be prohibitive to veggie gardening?

Thanks again for all the input, and I am on my way to purchase the books mentioned!


    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 7:47AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

As of right now,Sacramento might be on a flat rate for water. It might change,there was a article about that recently in the local San Jose Mercury.
Sacramento does get the Delta breeze...even blazing hot days cool to the 60's at night. I would say the average hot summer day is like 90f high and 60f low. As a rare super heat wave makes for 105f like heat..the lack of humidity and cool nights means everybody's happy with a doughboy pool!
My parents had a home out there when I was a kid..I remember.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 1:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Central_Cali369(Sunset Z9, Fresno, CA)

I think the heat affects people more than it affects plants. You'll find that fall and spring are really the only seasons for planting new things. If you move to the foothills, you'll likely have several arcostaphylos and an oak or two. I would advise against removing native species unless it's absolutely necessary, as deforestation is not something you would want to contribute to in CA. As you move closer to the valley floor, the oak forests give way to endless grasslands. This area would be ideal for planting an orchard. West of Folsom Lake, like you mentioned above, would land you in this transition zone.

Another thing to consider is the threat of wildfire. The danger of fires if greatest in the foothills, where there is a lot of vegetation (oaks forests) as opposed to on the valley floor, where fires have little more than knee-high grass to keep them going.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 3:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Sierra_Heather(7 ish)

I live in the central Sierra Foothills about two and a half hours south of Sacramento, at the upper elevations of what one might call the foothills. You travel from 2,000' to above 3,500' in 3.5 miles to get to my house from town, so that's a big jump in a short distance!
3,000' elevation is considered by most folk here-abouts to be the snow line, which is very different than what you are used to on the East Coast.
The Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley regularly has temps into the upper 90's and low 100's during the Summer. On average, Sacramento has 15 days over 100* in Summer, but has the advantage of the Delta Breeze, Nature's air conditioning, which helps cool the overnight temps. The humidity is less than 50% much of the Summer.
The foothills, or "Gold Country" "Mother Lode" belt runs North/South from Downieville in Sierra County to Coarsegold in Madeira County.See any California Gold Country map and look for Hwy 49. The "Foothill" elevation ranges between 1,000 and 3,000 feet.
What marks it from the Central Valley is more defined seasons. In the Summer months, the foothills do not benefit from the delta breeze, so often the overnight hours sustain temperatures greater than those of Sacramento/San Joaquin. In the Winter this means the foothills have very little fog as compared to the valley.
The Foothills are home to most of the Apple Orchards of California as well as an abundance of grape vineyards. In other words all crops that require heat then chill to mature.
The soil of the Central Valley is a rich sandy loam, born of centuries of Spring runoff (snow melt) from the Sierra Nevada. The foothills are not as blessed, some would say not at all, being comprised mainly of red clay, which turns from boot-sucking muck when wet, to rock hard when dry. There is very little that can be readily tilled, so most resort to raised beds, who's decomposition eventually makes the underlying clay more workable, or lots and lots of digging in of compost. You see very little acreage tilled and row planted in the foothills. Lots of terraced vineyards, but most of the food crop cultivation is on a small scale. Foothill areas serve as Spring grazing for cattle when our native grasses can grow faster than you can mow, but most years, by late May/early June, the green turns to brown. There are no Summer rains in the Foothills or the Central Valley. The California coast is shrouded in fog for much of the Summer, but none makes it inland to the Central Valley or Foothills, making the humidity quite low. Only the very occasional thunderstorm will dampen the Valley and foothills during the Summer months, most T-storm activity being restricted to afternoons between the hours of one and three, above 7,000 feet.
Consult the Sunset Western Garden Book, as others have mentioned, it is a gardener's Bible for California.
I myself would NOT choose to live in the Valley or lower foothills (too much congestion in every sense of the word) instead I content myself with living on a mountaintop, an hour,s drive from the Valley to the West , Yosemite to the South, or the Sierra high country to the East.
I call my home Paradise too, but not the same Zip Code as the one you're looking into.
Happy Hunting!

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 7:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
emmers_m(9a/Sunset 7 N Cal)

My apologies for my absence from this thread - I've been preparing for my first visit to the area. I get on the plane today :)

Unfortunately it seems like the weather is going to be beautiful! It had originally looked like it was going to be 98 or so, but the forecast is down to 91 now and cooler in the lower foothills.

Hopefully that won't make me overconfident about being able to hack the heat.

Please be assured I wasn't talking about cutting down any trees. I was talking about site selection - if I'm buying a long term property it can darn well be one with a good gardening situation!

I was asking if, like in NJ, I'm looking for a large full sun cleared area (either naturally or where someone has already done the dirty work!) or if gardens in the CA sun would appreciate a more shaded area among the trees.

Sierra_Heather, thank you for your comprehensive overview! I do think I need to be closer to the city at this time (airport/business services) but I'm hoping the lower foothills will represent some congestion relief when compared to either the city or NJ.

I don't think I'm scared of the clay (although I will observe a moment of silent regret for the fertile valley soil that might have been my garden) coming from a similar situation here. I'm quite used to dumping 10yds of compost onto my smaller garden every year, so as long as I can find reasonable source for compost in quantity and unless the clays of the 'garden state' have some magical properties I think I should be all set.

I'm more afraid of rock - I see photos with rock outcroppings frequently and hope I can find a place with some soil to speak of!

So I will be driving around the routes 80, 50, and 49 corridors on my trip, trying to see some houses (more as examples to validate or refine my plan than serious shopping yet) and learn about the towns/neighborhoods.

I still have some uncertainty about shopping (even window-shopping) for my garden/orchard for the next 20 years when I don't fully understand how things like sun, slope and water are going to interact there.

Any tips on what to look for when selecting a property for a very large garden and orchard (when I've already compromised the selection with the 'view' thing, so I know it'll probably be on a slope)?


    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 8:52AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Central_Cali369(Sunset Z9, Fresno, CA)

Oh wow! Welcome to the Golden State! I hope you find what you're looking for here. I think you'll find it extremely valuable to see the terrain in person. You'll be amazed at how fast the terrain and vegetation changes in such short distances. You'll also notice that plants that can be grown in Sacramento may not be long term viable plants in El Dorado or Placerville.

Happy exploring!

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 11:46AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Just bring lots of $$$. Use Zillow for an estimate of property values and resultant property taxes, on specific addresses.

I think about moving elsewhere...and I think, nope. As long as we can afford to live in the SF Bay Area, we're staying.

People come from all over the world to oohhh and aaahhhh about the things we take for granted. They feel lucky if they get to go to Monterey or Napa two or three times in their lives. It takes us less than 90 minutes to get to either place, and we go at least twice a year for 3-5 day visits. A lot more often we go to Sonoma Cty, which we prefer.

Once you leave CA, you can't afford to come back. I have friends who are millionaires, and even THEY couldn't afford to return to CA.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 6:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Min3 South S.F. Bay CA

No one has mentioned gophers to you. We came from the east coast and watched a newly planted little fruit tree go straight down into the ground (really!!!) before we knew the truth.
Also the mosquitos are nothing all the dry summer (really really nothing after living on the E.C.) and not bad here even in the rainy season, comparatively.
But in spite of gophers, we are never leaving our Paradise! Hope you find yours. Min

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 10:44AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

@%#%&%#%@%# gophers!!!!!!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 11:19AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
BarbJP CA 15-16/9B

About the gophers, I concur!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 9:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Sierra_Heather(7 ish)

HAHAHAHA BarbJP!!! I concur!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 11:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Sacramento is good for roses, but I am sure you can have a much better garden in New Jersey. I was there once and it is so green and pretty. New Jersey is called the garden state. Sacramento is all dried up and brown. I suggest visit before you make up your mind to move there. You need winter cold to grow things, and it does not snow in Sacramento. In fact Sacramento would be a major step downward from New Jersey.
I noticed you came out here, I hope you were not too heart broken. Grass Valley is a nice area.

This post was edited by tropical_thought on Sun, Jun 22, 14 at 14:12

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 2:08PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Down around San Diego they have beautiful avocado plantings and the summers are mild. You might want to look around. I'm in Sunset 23 in Orange County. I don't have any avocados but I do grow apples, peaches and plums. Tangerines and lemons grow well here and so do strawberries. Water prices are high. Bugs and humidity are not problems here.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 12:59AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bahia(SF Bay Area)

Sunset zones 16 and 17 are also ideal for avocados and stone fruits, and the western side of the Sacramento Valley near Fairfield/Vacaville have some sweet spots of this milder climate, views of gorgeous hills dappled with oaks, and less severe summer heat because you'd be closer to the bay. You'd probably save yourself some money on property prices if you let go of the idea of growing avocados on your own property, not really ideal in the Sacramento area foothills.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 1:28AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
slowjane CA/ Sunset 21

any news from the op on the trip? did your experience differ or align with your expectations? just curious....

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 2:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi - I hope your California trip was a success. I moved to Sacramento many years ago from Delaware. and immediately fell in love with California. I'm sure you can find a property you would be happy with in this area, although I have to agree with the postings that say you won't have much luck with avocados in Northern California. With the large variety of fruits and vegetables that thrive here, you won't mind buying your avocados. In my small city yard, I have figs, stone fruit, table grapes, blueberries and a vegetable garden.

That said, there are some things to keep in mind. First is access to water, as you already know. Research carefully, and keep in mind that drilling a well can be expensive and is not a sure thing. While the Central Valley has some of the best farmland anywhere because of the rivers, there are many areas in the valley with infertile clay and hard pan. Many areas in the foothills have shallow, granite soils. Again, research a specific area carefully.

I didn't notice any posts mentioning deer, which are common in the foothills. They can make landscaping a real challenge - a hungry deer will eat even plants labelled deer resistant. They can be fenced out of a garden, but it will take a tall fence.

Full disclosure - we also have mosquitoes. All that said, I think you would be happy to make a move here if you take the time to find the right location. If you can move and find temporary housing, it would make the search easier. Best of luck - please let us know what you decide to do.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 8:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
WoodcrestD(9b, sunset 19 Riverside)

I'd think for avocados you'd be better in southern California. Quite a few avocado groves nearby here in sunset 19. Or how about Fallbrook in north san diego county, not too crowded, fairly close to ocean a definite plus and supposedly the california avocado capital

Another resource worth looking at is the california soil map which will give some guidance on soil composition and agricultural value.

This post was edited by WoodcrestD on Sun, Jun 29, 14 at 21:19

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 9:18PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
BarbJP CA 15-16/9B

Hmm, I guess the south Bay Area must be milder than the Sacramento area. I have no problem growing Avocados here. Learned something new, ; )

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 10:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Avocados are fine in coastal CA, which includes the South Bay Area. There are three exceptional avocado articles in our local Edible East Bay magazine. The third article in the linked Search list, "East Bay Avocados - Invisible No Longer" talks about the many heirloom and local varieties that are not sold in nurseries but that thrive in coastal CA.

Here is a link that might be useful: Edible East Bay-Northern CA avocado articles

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 12:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Yes the SF bay/peninsula is more temperate than inland, also with many microclimates. I know many people in the San Jose area who grow avocados. However property prices are very high and climbing in the SF bay area.

Mosquitoes - yes they exist here but compared to the east coast they are nothing, I have had a single mosquito bite in CA during many years of living here! Sacramento is too far inland for me, too extreme in climate.

OP, what do you plan to do for a living or are you retiring? It can be difficult to retire to CA due to the high tax rate, and if you or spouse will be working, there is a wide gap in employment opportunities in CA... there are lots of tech jobs in the SF bay area but it's the most expensive to live in. Sacramento was hit hard by the housing crash and I'm not sure how well it's doing now.

If Sacramento area doesn't please you, you might want to look at Watsonville and San Juan Bautista areas near Salinas - some of the best growing land around, and very pleasant climate, spectacular hills. Closer to the coast, the temperatures are much less extreme than inland.

This post was edited by tinan on Mon, Jun 30, 14 at 12:46

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 12:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

Don't get too scared off of places that "might get some snow in certain years" You might not have a good avo crop, but we call it snow when the ground is white even if it is only an inch and melts by noon.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 1:03PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
chrysanthemums california!
Hi all, I bought these lovely yellow chrysanthemums...
Vyoma Hadkar Khaparde
Privacy Trees?
Good afternoon, I'm hoping to find a recommendation...
Sunset Magazine slowly being gutted
A real shame. I've been a subscriber for decades, ever...
Looking for Soil Testing Company Recommendations
I'd like to have my soil tested and would like some...
hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA
LADWP turf removal rebate
Hello! My partner and I bought our house in March....
Sponsored Products
Moving-Gear Desktop Clock- Black
$56.95 | Bellacor
Quinze And Milan | Frame 100
Source Outdoor Wave All Weather Wicker Chaise Lounge Pair With Side Table Multic
Carpyen | Finger Pendant Light
$504.00 | YLighting
Groovy Metallic Green Motion Lamp
$19.91 | Lamps Plus
Amalfi Paradise Area Rug (5'5 x 7'7)
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™