Life + Outdoors » Down and Dirty

Rainy Day Gardening



Talk to any gardener or farmer in your life about how things are going now that it's spring, and you'll probably garner a wistful sigh, followed by them looking dejectedly at the long-term forecast, which seems to be a wet Groundhog Day time loop. Look! Some sun! Oh, oops, just kidding. Rain. Then showers, then more rain.

As I write this, I can see some blue sky, which makes me want to run out and start digging in the dirt. But, while you may be tempted to do the same, we both need to wait. With all the copious rain we've had this past winter and early spring, the soil is saturated, and if you dig, you'll compact it, which is bad for the soil and any plants you put in the ground. Ideally, wait three to four days after a steady rainstorm before you dig that dirt. If you're fortunate enough to have raised beds or large pots, you might be able to plant some things sooner than three days, depending on the drainage.

Since it seems like it's never ever ever going to stop raining, what's a frustrated gardener to do? Here are a couple of ideas:

Start those seeds, if you haven't done so already. If you aren't lucky enough to have a greenhouse, you can start seeds on a shelf with a shop light. Heat is just as important as light, but if you don't want to purchase a heat mat, make sure your seed trays are in a spot that stays relatively warm. Some people like to start seedlings on a sunny windowsill, but it's not ideal, as the plants will start reaching for the light soon enough and become leggy and weak. New seedlings often need 16 hours of light to germinate and grow properly. Your local garden centers have plenty of supplies to help get your seeds off to a good start.

Sheet mulch new planting areas. Even when it's wet and dreary, you can still get a head start on planting areas that are going to be overrun with weeds once it does stop raining. Maybe carve out a section of that lawn that doesn't provide food for anything, humans, insects, or animals, and plan on putting in some native plants. The pollinators will thank you. You've probably heard about the super blooms that occur in desert areas after copious rain. Well, the weed seeds also do their own super bloom once the sun comes out and the soil warms up a little bit. We use overlapping cardboard in our landscape projects with a thick layer of mulch — 6 inches is ideal, but you can put less if you don't have that much mulch handy. The thick layer will help suppress weeds, and for the weeds that do come up (because they will), it's much easier to pull them out through the mulched area. You can also use newspaper, but you'll need a lot more to smother those weed seeds. It's crucial that you overlap the cardboard so that no little plants can poke their way through a gap. The mulch will eventually break down and feed the soil, but in the meantime, you can cut a hole through the cardboard to put in plants. Just make sure you wait until the soil has dried out a bit.

Build a cold frame or DIY hoop house. There are a gazillion plans on the internet about how to build a cold frame or little hoop house. You can even use something as simple as scrap plywood and a glass window to make a cold frame. A neighbor down the street has built one up against the south side of their house, which makes it ideal to plant, as the temperature inside the cold frame is warmer than outside and acts as a heat sink. If you have extra PVC pipe around, you can make a little hoop house/greenhouse over a raised bed. A few conduit clamps, some PVC pipe, and heavy-duty plastic will do the trick.

Do some "backyard shopping." That means looking around your garden to see where volunteer plants have popped up in less-than-ideal locations. Figure out where you'll relocate them once it warms up a bit.

Brush up on plant identification. Is that little seedling a weed? Or is it a volunteer poppy that showed up way across the planting bed? Many new seedlings are hard to differentiate.

Do a little research. Read up on what kind of plants you want to put in your garden or yard. Starting the first weekend in May, you'll have your pick of many plant sales. Humboldt Botanical Garden and the California Native Plant Society have their sales that weekend. Other organizations usually have plant sales around the same time. Watch the NCJ calendar for upcoming events.

Look through those garden catalogs again. Or browse the seed racks at the local nurseries. Daydream about when you can plant sunflowers and pick out your favorite ones to start from seed.

Sharpen and oil your garden tools. Be ready to go the first day you can get out and plant.

I hear a rumor that spring will eventually arrive, weather-wise, even though the calendar says it already started. Mother Nature didn't get the memo this year, but when it does arrive, it should be off the charts.

Julia Graham-Whitt (she/her) is the owner and operator of the landscaping business Two Green Thumbs.

Add a comment