Drought or Deluge?

Scientists are predicting that California may experience a wetter than normal winter this year due to an El Nino event, with warmer oceans and stronger than normal rainfall. Does this mean the drought will be over? Not likely. California’s water supplies are in such a deficit that one very wet winter will certainly provide relief, and possibly lead to flooding and mudslides, but will not completely reverse our present water storage shortfall. Rainfall is expected to be concentrated in Southern California; we need several feet of snowpack in Northern California to provide needed supplies throughout most of the State. You can read more by clicking on the following links: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-el-nino-forecast-20150721-story.html#page=1 and http://www.water.ca.gov/

What does this mean to your garden? California is a summer-dry climate, regardless of the rainfall we receive in the winter. Make your landscape more resilient to respond to both dry and wet conditions. Here are some steps you can take to prepare for and benefit from the predicted rains, while also maintaining a healthy drought tolerant garden:

1) Protect your plants from flooding. Where will water pool and collect in a downpour? Most drought tolerant plants do not like to sit in a bog. Ideally your plants have been set slightly above the adjacent grades and your landscape will direct excess water to a rain garden or water barrel. Take steps now to adjust grades, install a cobble swale or rain garden depression and direct runoff away from your drought tolerant plants.

cobble_swail 2) Slow, spread and sink the runoff. If we do receive heavy rains as predicted, we need to do our best to slow the water from our roofs, downspouts and paving, and allow it to sink into the soil with rain gardens, permeable paving surfaces and rain barrels that slowly release the water. Doing so will help to recharge our aquifers, reduce downstream flooding and also protect our creeks, rivers and lakes from polluted runoff from water rushing down our streets, picking up oil and contaminants along the way. Visit: http://ucanr.edu/sites/scmg/Feature_Articles/RAIN_GARDENS__Practical_and_Beautiful/ for more information.

3) Continue to build healthy soils. A healthy, uncompacted soil full of microbiology will act as a sponge, absorbing and retaining moisture longer, while naturally providing nutrients to your plant’s roots. Sheet mulch new or existing landscapes to jump-start the process and avoid using synthetic chemicals, which can eliminate the life in the soil. View a video and download instructions here: http://www.bayfriendlycoalition.org/LYL.shtml

capture_the_rain4) Capture the rain. Keep this valuable source of water onsite by collecting water from your downspouts in rain barrels for later use. They do not have to be fancy – a dark, covered 32 gallon trashcan will do! One inch of rain falling on a 100 square foot roof will collect about 60 gallons of water! A friend of mine collected all the runoff from her roof last year (a dry winter too, remember?) and filled ten 55-gallon containers! She is still using that water to irrigate her garden using a bucket and watering can. Learn more about the many options at: http://www.urbanfarmerstore.com/pdflibrary/rainwater-harvesting/ ; http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/ ; http://oasisdesign.net/water/rainharvesting/

Sarah C. Sutton

Sarah Carolyn Sutton is a licensed Landscape Architect with over 30 years experience in sustainable landscape design and construction. As a LEED Accredited Professional and a Certified Green Building Professional, she advises on numerous sustainable projects and programs—locally and nationally. Ms. Sutton earned her degree in Landscape Architecture and was awarded the Eisner Prize in the Creative Arts, at the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley.

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About Sarah C. Sutton

Sarah Carolyn Sutton is a licensed Landscape Architect with over 30 years experience in sustainable landscape design and construction. As a LEED Accredited Professional and a Certified Green Building Professional, she advises on numerous sustainable projects and programs—locally and nationally. Ms. Sutton earned her degree in Landscape Architecture and was awarded the Eisner Prize in the Creative Arts, at the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley.

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