Like many Californians, Kate Karam replaced her traditional landscaping with water-wise alternatives. But recent winter storms have her worried that her new drought-tolerant plants are getting too much water.
“I’m watching them rot,” said Karam, a plant expert for Monrovia Nursery Co.
That’s a common dilemma for many gardeners who made the switch to less thirsty plants – or even if they stuck to traditional landscaping. Too much rain can cause complications.
Sacramento’s rain totals, for example, are more than 10 inches above normal for this time of year. Clay soils, in particular, have difficulty absorbing all that extra moisture.
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That’s the issue confronting Karam.
“I had pretty bad clay soil,” she said. “I really didn’t prepare my soil well enough (before putting in the new garden). I should have excavated and added more sand and gravel to improve the drainage. That should be the huge lesson learned from this year. You really need to dig down a good (12 inches) and tackle that clay before replanting.”
That’s not an option now – especially when the soil is so saturated. The immediate game plan is to help things dry out and recuperate.
“My agaves do not look good,” Karam said. “The kangaroo paws probably won’t make it either. I’m concentrating on saving my redbuds.”
Her solution? “Pull the mulch off the garden,” she said. “You can always put it back, but right now you need the soil to start drying out.
“You need to encourage drainage,” she added. “My friend and I literally went out in the rain and were digging trenches away from my redbuds, so they weren’t standing in pools of water. That’s what you need to do: dig culverts and direct water away from those plants that can’t take it.”
That’s probably the only kind of digging to do in saturated soil, which is best left alone until it dries. And when digging those culverts, make sure water drains away from all building foundations.
Succulents are especially at risk of rot from too much rain.
“Roots may drown when plants sit in pots or low spots that fill with water,” said succulents expert Debra Lee Baldwin.
Check your succulents for trouble signs such as rotted leaves, Baldwin said. “Remove mushy leaves before rot spreads to the plant’s stem or crown.”
After storms, look for problem areas in your garden, she added. “If puddles and muddy areas remain long after a storm, French drains may be in order.”
If slopes are eroding, create little dams and diversion channels with large rocks, bricks or stones. Then, add gravel or mulch to cover the slope and diffuse the impact of future storms.
Remember to dump out any water that’s collected in pots, bins, barrels or other spots around the garden, Baldwin said. Those can quickly become mosquito breeding grounds.
Look out for another consequence of heavy rain: Weeds! They’ll sprout like crazy as soon as the weather warms and the sun starts shining.
“Wherever soil is exposed to sun, weeds will sprout,” Baldwin said. “Get them when small. All too soon, they’ll have deep roots, go to seed, and look you in the eye.”