A Guide to Winter Landscaping in California

Winters in California may not lend themselves to the season’s picturesque white snow blanketed scenery, but they do bring about colder temperatures and more precipitation that will shock your vegetation if you don’t plan for it. Prepare your landscape for the seasonal shift so that your dream vegetable and flower gardens will fervently flourish come spring. Plan ahead with what it is you want to grow, plant seeds that are designed to grow during this time period, and prune when your plants are no longer susceptible to frostbite. By taking the necessary precautions and proactively engaging in your landscape’s specific needs you are sure to set your plants up for optimal success.

The following outlines 8 tips and tricks for winter landscaping in California that will help make a difference in your home’s exterior ambiance. Beyond these topics we highly encourage you to pay attention to the weather, adapt to extreme circumstances, and revel in the ability to apply labor when the sun’s intensity has noticeably softened. Winter is said to be one of the nicest times to garden along the west coast.

#1 Start with Prepping Your Soil

Whether you choose to amend or fertilize your soil, this is an excellent time to get started. If you know your region’s soil composition then you have a good idea of what it needs to improve the overall structure. If you’re newer to this concept then we highly suggest you test your California soil and learn more about soil improvement here.

Improve your soil’s physical properties, such as water retention, permeability, water infiltration, drainage, aeration, and structure. Add nutrients with compost (and fertilizers if necessary) and make sure your roots have the best environment possible to grow. To prevent root suffocation, aeration is particularly important during the higher prep months of winter so act accordingly. If your soil is sandy, Ligna Peat is an excellent amendment. If you live in a more clay based area, Organic Amendment Mix is a better suited option.

#2 Fix Drainage Issues

Pay attention to drainage and make sure your plants or lawn don’t get waterlogged. Add drainage lines, clean out your gutters, and add fillers where you need to assure water moves in a way that is beneficial for all. Drain rock works well for back-filling perforated drain pipe and french drains as it allows water to flow in an intended direction. Horticulture Lava for generic soil amendment works well to add the pore spaces in your soil. If you are worried about water runoff from your property to the storm drains, opt to create a beautiful rain garden bioswale area in your landscape.

#3 Select Plants that are Designed for Winter Growth

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to selecting plants that are designed for growth during the “Persephone Period,” aka when day length is less than 10 hrs and plant growth essentially halts, choose native California plants. Opt for landscape variations that grow naturally within your area to compliment your home’s exterior design. Plant spring annuals, early summer bulbs, shrubs, and bare-root fruit trees early during a thaw to allow them to ripen. However, do pay attention to the forecast. Avoid taking this step if there is a hard freeze or cold snap coming soon.

If your area allows for it, keep your garden going with plants that can’t take the summer heat. Prime examples are leafy greens, cauliflower, peas, cabbage, broccoli, and many more.

#4 Plan Ahead with Seeds, Sow in Pots

Although you can spread your seeds amongst your garden during a transitional winter to spring thaw period, or as some would call a robin snow, it’s best to get them started by sowing in closed, ventilated containers that sit outside. This keeps them safe from animals and provides you the ability to cover if necessary for more insulating warmth. Focus on seeds that are well adapted to winter exposure and make sure your seeds haven’t expired.

#5 Add a Winter Blanket of Mulch

Add mulch to your soil for insulation and protection, especially for plant roots that reside in the top few inches of soil that are susceptible to persistent freeze-thaw patterns. Allow the warm incubator to improve the soil’s microbiome so that the ecosystem remains healthy. Suppress weed growth and retain soil moisture, especially in clay prominent regions. If wind, rain, or surface runoff are an issue, mulch will minimize the amount of soil erosion that could take place.

#6 Smart Pruning

Although heavy frosts and snowfall aren’t as common in California they do occur and need to be prepared for. Prune deciduous fruit trees once they’ve become dormant and trim your hedges, shrubs, and trees to eliminate dead or decayed branches. With that in mind, resist the urge to prune frost-damaged plants. The damaged parts may well protect the rest of the plant during the next frost. A general rule of thumb is as follows: Shrubs and trees that bloom on new growth should be pruned in the winter and early spring, while those that bloom on old growth should be pruned in late spring or summer (after their flowers fade).

#7 Remove all Leaves & Debris from Your Lawn

Give your lawn some breathing room by removing all dead plant matter and debris. This will eliminate unwanted pests, allow for an adequate amount of moisture without root rot, and help it remain healthy. It’s best to compost all the collected leaves and garden debris and apply them to your garden in the Spring or Summer! This way you are keeping your yard waste down and keeping the compost loop within your garden!

#8 Lastly, Enjoy the Process

Enjoy cooler temperatures for labor, the process of pre-planning your immaculate garden, and caring for the plants you’ve become familiar with over the years. By engaging in preparatory practices that address your soil’s composition, warding off the negative effects of frost, factoring in the Native plants that are made to survive in your area, and planning ahead with both your seeds and your pruning, you’ll be able to set your plants and landscaping up for optimal success.

If you have further questions or need assistance, our family at Lyngso is here to help! Please contact us.