In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2005
Regional Report

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A walk in the garden on a rainy evening reveals an early-blooming tulip magnolia -- worth getting wet for!

Weathering the Rainy Season

Wet, wet, wet! The winter rains have arrived at last, and the ground is thoroughly saturated. Walking through the garden is like an aquatic adventure. Feet squish over soggy lawns, dripping foliage soaks your clothing as you walk past, and the occasional breeze delivers a cascade of icy water from overhead boughs and branches. I think trees must have a sardonic sense of humor.

Digging and planting right now is out of the question. Any gardener who has ever dug a hole in our sticky adobe clay soil knows that more of it adheres to the blade of the shovel than comes out of the hole. And, if you should walk across bare adobe soil, you will find that it sticks to your boots, causing you to be several inches taller in a very short period of time, not to mention the weight that several inches of thick, gluey mud adds to your feet. Just walking in mud shoes is equal to a visit to the gym. I think the folks back east call it "mud season." Whatever it's called, it's here.

Helping Plants Cope
Soil berms around the base of young trees should be broken down to allow standing water to escape. You can easily rebuild them when spring finally arrives. Container plants suffer in rainy weather too. Too much water will rot roots, especially in plastic containers. Soil in terra cotta containers dries more quickly because of the porous nature of the material. I recommend emptying saucers and turning them upside-down until the days start to get longer and warmer.

Now, this may sound silly, but if you have plants growing in the ground or in containers under the eaves of your home, check them to see if they need water. Although the rain seems to be blowing sideways in these winter storms, it's rarely enough to satisfy a thirsty plant. Besides, it will give your neighbors something to talk about.

Should you experience flooding in your garden, please don't eat any of the vegetables. Sewage systems are often overcome in heavy rains and contribute their contents to the storm drains. Don't take a chance, even with root crops.

Wet weather and dark days also bring out our favorite mollusks. Slugs and snail eggs are hatching now, and the hungry offspring of these creatures can do serious damage. I hate holey hostas.

If we should get a few days of clear weather, visit your local nursery. Bare-root plants are available now, and they are the most economical way to replenish your garden. In addition, they are easier to establish in your particular type of soil because there is no transition between nursery soil and native soil to stress the plant. Plants wake up in the spring to find themselves in a new home.


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