I get frantic when rain is forecast. Southern California doesn’t get rain often, so I really feel the need to take advantage of each event. Rain provides ideal conditions for certain garden tasks. Some are best done just before the rain starts, some during the precipitation, and others soon after a storm moves on.
Which are which? I need a list so I don’t forget. Maybe you do too?
Gardening just before the rain
Remove lid from compost bin. Let the rain moisten the compost materials to help them break down.
Sow seeds. Then you won’t have to worry about watering them. Plus, if they’re small seeds that need to be sown shallowly, then you can just sprinkle them on the soil surface and the rain will stick them in place; a few weeks later you’ll see them up and growing. Think especially of small seeds like lettuce, parsely, carrots, and poppies.
Gardening during the rain
Transplant. The cool and humid environment helps plants endure the shock of being uprooted and given a new home. I’ve found that live oak saplings do best when transplanted during a rain, as do boysenberries and raspberries, and vegetable seedlings. I once transplanted a six-foot tall apricot tree during a rain and it never skipped a beat. Don’t try this if you have a heavy clay soil though.
Collect rainwater. Of course! Put that trashcan under the downspout.
Direct rainwater. Give the rain that falls on a roof or driveway a course to follow toward soil where roots grow. This can be an artificial riverbed below a downspout (as I wrote about in my post, “Rain makes dreams come true”), or it can be a hose connected to a small rain barrel that directs the rain over to some fruit trees. (See my post, “Getting rainwater from a barrel to your plants.”)
Spread wood ash. Sprinkle ash from the fireplace under trees and it won’t billow and blow away as it does during drier times.
Gardening soon after the rain
Sow big seeds. Big vegetable seeds like to be sown in thoroughly wet soil and then left alone. Think peas, corn, squash. Push them almost a knuckle deep and then they don’t need any additional watering until the plants are up and leafy.
Mulch. Perfect time to lay a new layer of wood chips under trees since it will seal in the moisture below.
Mow. Less sneezing while the grasses and other weeds are moist. Seeds are also less likely to blow into other areas and spread the weeds.
Pull weeds. Roots come out easily in the moist soil. Also, if there are no seeds on the weeds, you can leave them on the surface to dry out and enrich the soil. Remember not to try this with certain weeds like purslane, which will root again into moist soil. It’s also better to chop off larger weeds “below the waist” rather than uproot them. For more explanation on that, see my post, “How to outsmart garden weeds.”
Finally, smell the sage. To me, it is the aroma of Southern California after a rain. Whether it be black sage, white sage, or sagebrush, this perfume in the air is uniquely here. If you don’t have sage in your yard, well, after a rain is a perfect time to take a hike in the nearby sage-covered hills.
You might also like to read:
(for more on the myriad benefits of a wood-chip mulch under trees)