Do’s and don’ts for gardening after heavy rains
January brought a deluge of storms to Sonoma County, driven by a series of dramatic atmospheric rivers. As the month draws to a close, Santa Rosa has registered some 11 inches of rain for the month.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story. In the 23 days between Dec. 26 and Jan. 17, many areas of the county were hammered. Guerneville had 30.21 inches of rain, and nearly 24 inches fell in Cloverdale and Healdsburg.
All that water helped the region rebound from three years of drought, filling reservoirs but also flooding roads and fields and felling trees.
Heavy rains can raise a host of concerns for homeowners. The Sonoma County Master Gardeners have compiled a smart list of things we should and should not be doing in our still soggy landscapes, from watching out for certain critters to giving special care to flood- and water-damaged plants. They also have tips for checking trees for future risks. Falling trees can be dangerous, damage property and even prove deadly.
Mimi Enright, program coordinator for the Sonoma County Master Gardeners, said the blast of back-to-back atmospheric rivers and years of drought are a reminder of the need for better storm water management.
“We need to be thinking about how we manage our storm water more moving forward because of climate change,” she said. “We’re going to have periods of intense rainfall but we’re also going to have periods of intense drought.”
Do check for snails and slugs. These critters thrive in moist environments. You’ll often see them on sidewalks and driveways after it rains. Their feeding makes irregular holes on leaves and flowers, and they leave behind a slimy trail. Pesticide sprays and dusts are not effective under really wet conditions, so don’t bother using them. Instead, pick off the snails by hand or trap them with a wooden board trap (go to bit.ly/3we4msQ to see how).
Do remove weeds and unwanted plants. It’s much easier to pull weeds and remove unwanted plants when the ground is wet. Use this time to your advantage by catching up with any winter annual weeds like oxalis, nutsedge and groundsel. Be on the lookout for more in the coming weeks.
Do dump standing water. As the weather warms, areas with standing water become breeding zones for mosquitoes. This wet winter already favors a big mosquito season, so do your part to reduce mosquito habitat around your home. Dump out standing water in flowerpots, saucers, wheelbarrows and buckets, and clean clogged storm drains and gutters. Find more information at bit.ly/3D01Jie.
Do keep conserving water. During the fall and winter months, do what you can to use less water. Over-irrigating your plants during this time can lead to root rot and other waterborne pathogens. Turn off or adjust your irrigation schedule to reflect the increase in rainfall. You might buy a rain sensor for your sprinkler system to avoid irrigating while it’s raining.
Do be on the lookout for ants, cockroaches and earwigs. These pests may invite themselves into your home during flooding or heavy rains. Seal any cracks or openings in your house to block them from entering. Use weather stripping and door sweeps, and place sticky traps near entryways. Keep food tightly sealed and your environment clutter-free to prevent these pests from getting established indoors.
Do remove mushrooms. Wet weather encourages the growth of above-ground fruiting bodies of fungi. Mushrooms aren’t harmful to your garden or lawn, but you may want to remove them to prevent children and pets from eating them. See more information on mushrooms at bit.ly/3GSgPHO.
Don’t fertilize your garden, lawn or outdoor potted plants. Any fertilizer you apply now likely will be washed off the ground or rapidly leached from the soil and into our waterways. Wait until the winter storms have passed and there is a stretch of time between days with rain.
Don’t use pesticides (sprays, dusts or drenches). Like fertilizers, these products are more likely to only contaminate waterways than control pests. Rainfall quickly washes away pesticides applied to foliage as sprays. Those applied to the soil as a systemic drench likely won’t be taken up by the plant in waterlogged soils. Instead, they’ll become runoff. Pesticide dusts need to stay dry to be effective, so now is not the time to use them outdoors, either.
Don’t prune plants. Unless you need to remove damaged limbs or branches after the recent windstorms, avoid pruning plants under wet conditions. Pruning at this time can make plants vulnerable to pathogens and easily spread disease from one plant to another. Apricot, cherry and olive trees should never be pruned during cool, wet conditions.