The ornamental grasses have turned a pale straw color, and the winds have begun to scatter their strappy foliage across the lawn. Just a few leaves cling precariously to the trees.
It's time for staying inside, for planning next year's garden, for resolutions and new beginnings. Indeed, as though to inspire us, daffodils and hyacinths are already peeking out of the wet, cold soil. A few brave paperwhites are blooming.
While Mother Nature conspires to keep gardeners indoors, it's a good time to talk to some of the area's most passionate gardeners and ask for their best advice.
Here's what they said:
Dell Richards, Sacramento: "For a larger-looking garden, plant tall, not wide, trees around the edges so the eye is drawn up and out. Ignore the 'small yard small trees' rule. Study your garden at dusk or in the moonlight when colors are less bright and the form stronger. Go with as many plants of one color as you can afford. It will be more impressive than a lot of different plants in different colors. Overplant the beds, but make sure to leave 'negative' space for balance."
Mike DeBord, Camino: "My grandpa told me to create areas of discovery in the landscape. Design a path that requires a person to follow it around a curve to find a special area in the landscape a 'wow' experience. Author Carolyn Singer ('Deer in My Garden,' 'The Seasoned Gardener') found a real gem for those who landscape in deer country: Don't use nitrogen-rich fertilizer. The nitrates in fertilizer produce the same flavor as salt, which deer love. When buying deer-resistant plants from the nursery, protect them for six to eight weeks to allow the fertilizer applied by the nursery to dissipate. I haven't fertilized in two years and the deer that walk through on a daily basis have virtually stopped eating my deer-resistant plants.
Bob Hamm, Sacramento: "Buy the Sunset Western Garden Book and check all plant purchases against it. (It's not perfect, but it's very good). Second, when shopping at big-box stores, always reference Sunset. I've seen too many people buy plants that die because they were given incorrect information about them (i.e., frost-tender but sold as hardy)."
Barbara Oliva, Sacramento: "Think carefully about the future as you plan your garden. When your kids are grown, you've retired, and life looks wide open, calculate how long before knees and back start to impinge on your activities."
Daisy Mah, Sacramento: "You'll never be bored with the world of plants out there. Learn a plant's needs and origins. Gracefully accept that not all plants will live in your area. Check online for advice, and consult the Sunset Western Garden Book. Visit and support arboretums and public gardens. Join a garden club. Try growing California natives and other wildlife-friendly plants to help sustain bees, butterflies, birds and more. Avoid using pesticides. Experience the joy of hand weeding. Gardening takes time, rewards patience and diligence, and connects us to the natural world."
Carolyn Singer, Grass Valley: "When you learn how many wonderful native and non-native choices there are for the water- efficient landscape, your garden may be defined more thoughtfully and responsibly. Choose plants that need little or no irrigation once established. Save the water for your edible crops."
"Farmer Fred" Hoffman, Herald: "When you use broad-spectrum synthetic insecticides, the bad bugs will eventually find a way to overcome, usually developing resistance to the chemical. If you increase the population of good bugs on your property by limiting the use of insecticides and providing the right plants for food and shelter, the good guys will usually defeat the bad guys.
"Second, Bermuda grass is forever: Runners on top of the soil, runners beneath the soil, prolific seed heads, roots that can live for decades waiting for a bit of light. Instead of thinking eradication, think control. Surface removal combined with a summertime soil solarization and topping the area with several inches of compost and mulch can ease your fight against Bermuda grass. It will still pop up here and there, but it can be controlled with regular, judicious yanks. Bermuda grass is married to your yard. And just as in any marriage, you've got to pick your battles. Call this one a draw."
John Morris, Penn Valley: "A garden is a sanctuary. Don't worry about the small stuff. If you enjoy your garden, the small stuff will take care of itself.
"I carry three pieces of advice into the garden. The first I learned from Warren Roberts, former superintendent of the UC Davis Arboretum. He'd see an over-used plant like nandina or agapanthus performing beautifully, and say, 'Nothing succeeds like success.' In other words, don't shun plants that adapt themselves perfectly to our climate and can thrive in many conditions just because they are common.
"Second, the late English garden writer Beverley Nichols wrote 'You double the size of your garden by cutting it in half.' Think about it: Put a pathway through a large yard, and suddenly you have two gardens, each a more manageable size.
"Finally, be ruthless. If a plant displeases you, take it out and plant something you like in its place."
If these nuggets of wisdom provide inspiration, feel free to share them with other gardeners.