By Jane Gates, Signal Staff Writer
Late winter can offer up some of the nicest conditions for working in the garden. Temperatures can be mild and soil can be softened by winter rain.
It seems this season started out wonderfully for the plants, but then went stingy with precipitation. And that may mean water will be in shorter supply again. As a result, hungry and thirsty wildlife will be invading our homes and gardens, and water bills could increase.
Take advantage of the current cooler weather to do the bigger outdoor projects that are harder to accomplish in hotter, drier conditions. It’s also a good time to prepare for some of the challenges to come with our sizzling summer only a few months away.
Here are some ideas for hardscaping and some bigger projects that will make your life easier later, save you money on your utility bills and are best done now.
Replace water-hungry lawns with drought-resistant gardens, areas of mixed permeable paving, sustainable plants and synthetic grass — or more practical areas like vegetable or herb gardens.
Build raised gardens. Our local soil has little in the way of organic material, so building an attractive enclosure and filling it with rich loam where you will be growing fruits and vegetables, a cutting garden or other thirsty plants is the best way to have an easy maintenance garden that will thrive.
Raised gardens are more water efficient since they keep irrigation targeted where you want it. Higher gardens are easier to protect from wildlife damage. Individual gardens can be easily protected from frosts, winds and burning sun by adding a temporary roofing frame.
Seed or plant empty areas with California natives. This is another way to create attractive gardens that are easy-care and will lower your water bill. Make sure you choose plants that are not only California natives, but natives that are appropriate for the exposures in your garden.
There are parts of California that offer shade, and most of these natives will only be appropriate for special spaces that have these conditions. California is a big state and not all indigenous plants will like it in your landscape, so be selective.
Do the big cleaning jobs now. This is a good time to remove dead or dying trees or shrubs. This will make your home less vulnerable to wildfires or damage from fallen limbs. If you remove trees you can recycle trunks as benches, retaining walls, cut them into pedestals for seating or table tops, or slice them into stepping stones. Not only will you get practical décor, but you will save money on haul-away costs.
It’s a good time for building. Concrete dries slower and sets up better in the cooler, damper weather of the wintertime; it forms fewer cracks. Adding swimming pools, ponds, walkways, sport areas, patios, built-in barbecues and seating areas are all projects that are wisely done in the winter.
Design and install these larger events in your garden now. Once the spring is in full swing, contractors will be busy and harder to come by. Also, if you wait, you may not have your outdoor area finished to enjoy before the heat of summer arrives. Larger projects will require permits and inspections and these will add to your completion time.
Use permeable paving instead of flat concrete for flooring wherever you can. There are a number of advantages. Whether you use flagstone, stone slabs, gravel, block, brick, interlocking pavers or any other material that allows water to flow through, you can create interesting textures and designs. In some cases it can be less expensive than finished concrete.
You will avoid problems with erosion that comes when water washes off of a large, flat surface into the rest of your landscape. And permeable paving pieces are usually much easier to take up and lay down again should you change your mind about the design of your floored area during the building process — or even years later. Plus, you’ll save yourself property tax increases on impermeable square footage with the new Los Angeles county Stormwater Tax.
Other useful ideas to build into your garden now are water storage tanks or rain barrels to capture whatever rain water we might still get this winter, vertical growing gardens to cool a hot, sunny side of the house, or update your irrigation system to take advantage of multiple water-saving designs that will efficiently focus watering where it is needed and keep those summertime water bills lower!
Add some of these bigger projects to your end-of-the-winter line up. Of course, garden cleaning, soil prep, planting and regular maintenance need to be handled, too. But with some exciting additions to your garden you will be enticed outdoors to use that landscape as the weather warms.
Gardens can be good ways to entertain, to relax, to exercise or to keep the children busy. Plan and build them now. Then when school’s out or you have a yen to enjoy the great outdoors without having to travel anywhere beyond your own backyard, you’ll have everything you need in place. And if you do your additions wisely, you’ll end up with the extra bonus of saving yourself future time and money!
Are you ready to get going on your March landscape projects?