50 tips to get ready for the rainy season

Dated: December 7 2023

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Article from the Nan Sterman, San Diego Union Tribune, December 2, 2023

December is gift-giving time, and what better gifts to give your gardening besties (or yourself) than the opportunity to become a better gardener? 

That’s the goal of Garden School, the gardening program designed specifically for San Diego and Southern California gardeners. Visit waterwisegardener.com for more information and to sign up.

Prepare for rain

Weather forecasters tell us to prepare for El Niño, which is a wet winter weather pattern. Climate change researches say to expect strong but intermittent storms overall, so with El Niño, rainfall may be extreme. While rain doesn’t hurt plants, the side effects of the rain might.

  • Clean out rain gutters so water falling onto the roof goes into the downspout rather than off the edge of the roof and flattens all the plants beneath. Compost the debris or use it as mulch.
  • Direct water from your roof’s downspouts to capture rainfall and store in a cistern. Use that water to irrigate plants during dry periods. Some cisterns are installed above ground, others are buried underground and out of sight. These storage systems are made of concrete, fiberglass and polyethylene.
  • Water cisterns can hold hundreds to thousands of gallons. Choose a size based on the size of your roof. Water capture is typically 62 gallons of water from every 1,000 square feet of roof. Direct downspouts from the roof to the cistern.
  • As you prepare planting beds, create opportunities to shape the soil to include dips and swales to capture water so it can percolate into the surrounding soil. Bank water now to make it available for long-term withdrawal by plant roots in spring.
  • Low spots where rainwater collects are also opportunities for swales. As you construct a swale, line the bottom with several inches of woody mulch. The mulch absorbs water and holds it so it can percolate into the water slowly. The idea is to bank the water in the soil so it can be accessible to plant roots.
  • Remove weedcloth, landscape fabric and plastic sheeting under mulch. We want the rain to percolate into the soils, but these materials prevent that from happening and turn the soil below as hard as concrete and impermeable to water.
  • Bare hillsides are at huge risk of erosion, even mudslides, in the rains. String straw-filled or compost-filled wattles across hillsides to slow water on its way downhill. Alternatively — or in combination — spread lengths of landscape burlap (also called “landscape jute fabric”) over the bare dirt.
  • Replant iceplant-covered slopes with woody trees and shrubs. First, because iceplant is invasive, and second, because in heavy rains, iceplant can slide downhill in sheets. Remediation is expensive and messy, so be proactive, not reactive.
  • Prune trees carefully so the weight of wet leaves won’t bend or break branches.
  • Until we get rain, continue to run irrigation once every week, two weeks or month, depending on the types of plants each zone irrigates. As the seasons change, adjust the frequency of irrigation, but always run the water for the same number of minutes.
  • Empty water that accumulates in dishes under potted plants, buckets, containers and other places where the constant moisture can drown plant roots or become a mosquito nursery. (This applies to all times of year, not just the rainy season.)
  • After the rain, stay off the soil for two days. Wet soil compacts easily, so rather than dig or weed or plant, do chores like repotting plants, cleaning your toolshed and planning for spring.
  • Be sure to run your irrigation the day before any Santa Ana winds are expected. Saturating the soil protects plants from desiccation.

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Lisa Ashkins

My family and I moved to San Diego from Oregon in 1967, so I consider myself a “near native'. Over the years, I have lived in many wonderful San Diego communities including Clairemont, Kensington, F....

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