- Author: Cindy Watter, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
Last week, during a respite from the downpour, I decided to plant a potted shrub that needed to go into the ground. I had put off that task because who likes to dig in rock-hard soil? I decided now was my chance. I picked out a place that had enough sun and where I had done a mediocre job of sheet composting a year ago.
I say "mediocre" because I had left out the layer of compost, having run out of this essential material. I just put down some cardboard and then put mulch on top of it.
When I sank my spade into the earth, one year later, it was almost like sliding a hot knife into butter. The cardboard was a lacework of perforations because the worms had eaten most of it and then obligingly deposited their castings and aerated the ground.
I had let the spot alone for a year, and nature had done the rest. Finally, a positive result based on indolence! A formerly daunting task only took five minutes.
When the hard rains end—and I had given up on ever writing those words—take a look around your yard and take stock. Are there damaged limbs on your trees that need to come down? You should take care of those. Has topsoil been washed away, exposing tree roots? You should cover them with more dirt, and put mulch over that.
If water is pooling around shrubs or trees, you can dig little ditches to drain it away. You don't want standing water to cause root rot and, possibly, a downed tree. Drought has stressed your shrubs and trees, and you want to keep them alive. They are expensive to replace.
Don't forget to turn off your irrigation system. You won't be needing it for a while.
Now is a good time to repot plants. After a year or so, the dirt in your flowerpots gets packed. Remove the plants from their containers. Maybe you want to plant them in your yard, maybe not. If not, consider a larger pot. If repotting, trim the roots with scissors if they are tangled. Loosen the soil around the roots so they can spread. Use plenty of compost and put mulch on top of the soil so you don't have to water as often.
Do you have tall perennials? The rains can cause them to droop or even collapse. Now is a good time to trim them. You can also use plant supports.
I was admiring my lilac tree a few years ago. It looked so beautiful in the rain, and then, plop. It fell over. The blooms were full of water, making the tree top heavy. I grabbed an old nylon stocking (I keep a pile to use for garden ties), fastened the lilac to the deck railing and it recovered.
Bare-root trees are dormant now, so now is the perfect time to plant them. If you already have fruit trees, prune them in January. You should prune your roses now, too.
Rainy weather is helpful if you want to plant a winter garden of lettuce, kale and fava beans.
Which reminds me: look out for slugs. I put a copper strip around my brugmansia, their favorite plant in my yard. I should just relax and let that be the snail recreation area, as they are not attracted to anything else in my landscape.
Damp weather is perfect for weeding. Weeds will come up easily, roots and all. Suddenly, a tedious chore is gratifying.
Now would be a good time for sheet composting. Put down a layer of corrugated cardboard, edges overlapping, then six inches of compost, then a thick layer of mulch. The layers will decompose, improving your soil and smothering weeds.
Study where water pools in your yard and plan a rain garden. A rain garden is a place to channel water so it can seep into the landscape instead of flooding your basement, weakening the foundation of your house or damaging trees. You can build one yourself or call in the professionals, but first you should observe where the water stands in your yard just after a storm, and see how long it takes for the soil to absorb it.
A rain garden is not a water-storage system, but a water-management system. It has three components: a pool to collect water, a ditch/swale system to lead the water to the pool, and a berm, or raised edge. The idea is to direct the water that is pouring off your roof or pooling inconveniently in your yard to a shallow depression where it will sink into the ground.
While not a weekend project, a small water garden could be constructed in a few weekends. When it is finished, it will look like a mild depression in the ground that is filled with plants—very attractive, especially in a naturalistic garden. In fact, rain gardens can be so pretty it is hard to believe they are functional. You can find a lot of information online about constructing water/rain gardens.
From the mundane to the ambitious, gardening tasks abound after rainy weather. Just bundle up and get started. Your garden will thank you.
Workshop: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for a workshop on “Winter Rose Care & Pruning” on Saturday, January 14, from 10 a.m. to noon via Zoom. Learn how to prepare your roses for the upcoming growing season and how to choose the right rose for the right place in your garden. Attendees will be invited to join a hands-on pruning workshop at Napa's Fuller Park rose garden on Thursday, January 19, from 10 a.m. to noon to practice pruning one-on-one with a Master Gardener. Register at https://ucanr.edu/2023WinterRoseCare
Workshop: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for a workshop on “Garden - Garden Ergonomics: Using the Right Tool the Right Way,” on Saturday,
January 28, from 10 am to noon, at Las Flores Community Center,4300 Linda Vista Avenue, Napa. Learn proper body mechanics and how to avoid common gardening habits or activities that are risk factories for injury.
Help Desk: The Master Gardener Help Desk is available to answer your garden questions on Mondays and Fridays from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Send your questions to email@example.com. Include your name, address, phone number and a brief description of the problem. For best results, attach a photo of the plant. You may also leave a voicemail message with the same information at 707-253-4143.