Southern California wiinter garden

Southern California garden in the winter


Prepare the Southern California garden for whatever the weather offers

Although the holidays are forefront in many people’s minds, the winter is beginning and 2016 is just around the corner. What will the weather bring us? How will affect us and the Southern California garden? Forecasts have this winter as being a record breaking deluge. Or maybe the rains will miss us altogether. Time will tell. Filling up our water storage reserves will be a welcome event for California, but too much rain all at once can spell disaster. Don’t let the weather ruin your holidays. Keep your home and garden prepared so you can focus on family and fun.

One of the reasons I advocate “water-wise” gardening is because the term takes into consideration the best ways to efficiently put water to work in your landscape. That needs to cover drought years, El Niño winters of heavy rainfall, and years of in-between precipitation.

Planting in Southern California

Prepare your Southern California garden in winter months. (Sketch by Jane Gates)

Historically, we live in a dry climate; low humidity, low rainfall. Most of our soil is low in organics due to millennia of sparse, desert-like native growth (as opposed to the thick acid soils that have evolved in heavily forested parts of the country where rains are plentiful and centuries of these plants breaking down into natural compost has created an entirely different soil structure) and high in minerals from rock erosion.

Also, historically, we have gone through many extreme droughts that have lasted from a few years to a several decades. All have been peppered with rainy years, some even offering torrential rains.

If we are to receive pounding rains this year, here are some actions you should take right away.
• Clean out your house gutters, downspouts and drain areas so water will not back up.
• Dig out filled-in vee ditches (those cement vee-shaped depressions that were built to protect you from sliding mud).
• Walk your property and note depressions or low areas that can fill with water – especially if they lead up to your home or other structures. Then dig a swale (a channel that leads to a safer drainage area) to conduct the water safely away.
• Have your roof checked for potential leaks.
• Clean up your yard so there is no material that could blow or float into a water dam (or catch on fire should wild fires burn in your area).
• Cut off dead tree branches or living branches that could scrape against your house in wind and rain.
• Tie down or put away items that could be blown over, swept into swimming pools, smack into windows or structures or become dangerously airborne.
• Consider building in ways to save water in your landscape.

Think about designing your yard to be water-wise in drought or rain. Cool months can offer opportunities for sketching out ideas, building and planting new designs. New plants will establish roots better with natural, aerated rain than with treated, expensive city water. Digging is easier in moist (but NOT wet) soil. And there are some excellent new designs out there to create your own water storage in both underground tanks and above-ground barrels as well as other ideas for rainwater harvesting. These can be integrated into artistic designs and become aesthetic assets as well as practical water (and money) savers. Designing to make your landscape efficient and easy-care can actually make your garden look showier if done right.

Take steps now to make sure your landscape and home are prepared no matter what weather we have this winter. And consider redesigning your outdoor space so you never have to be anxious about extreme weather or the inevitable, increasing water rates (which, as I understand it are scheduled to increase considerably over the next few years to pay for growing population demands, additional home construction and infrastructure repairs – whether we have more rain or not!).

Now’s the time to prepare your landscape for this year’s winter to keep your home safe. Then enjoy the holidays — and any other time of the year — with more peace of mind. And look forward to enjoying a gorgeous, useful, low-maintenance garden come the springtime! Are you ready to begin?