After Southern California's much-needed moisture this past week, your garden is likely giving a sigh of relief. Even with all the mud, gardening after the rain is one of my favorite ways to get outside, get dirty, and breathe in the freshness of damp earth. Soil just feels more alive after a good soak; the worms are stirring, the microbes are working, and together they aerate and nourish the ground in ways you can't even see at the surface.
To keep your garden looking good this spring, check off these three simple tasks that are best done after the last storm passes.
#1 Start weeding. All that rain, along with the longer days of the season, means the weeds will start sprouting with a vengeance. (Luckily, rain softens the soil, making weeding much easier on the hands and back.) Tackle them now while they're seedlings to prevent them from taking over your garden. Common weeds like creeping wood sorrel (what many people mistake for clover, as it has shamrock-like leaves) spread by putting out thin, creeping stems along the ground which readily root at the nodes. That means they multiply rapidly and grow in thick clumps, becoming quite invasive if left to spread in the confines of a raised bed.
Dandelions, another common weed, have long taproots that will send up new shoots if you don't pull up the entire root. Pick them while they're small as they more easily release from the soil. If you have dandelions growing in a protected part of your yard (and you don't use pesticides), they're among the most nutritious greens you can eat! Weed them before dinner and you'll have an instant, free, and nutrient-packed salad that beats even the best kale!
#2 Spread some mulch love. To keep the weeds at bay after you've pulled them all up, spread a 2- to 3-inch thick layer of organic mulch on your soil. Not only will the mulch smother any weeds straining to poke up through the ground, it'll help hold in moisture and warm the soil, which is especially important after all the rain.
Mulch also keeps the soil from eroding (and the rain from washing away all the nutrients) if we have another deluge in the spring. If you have existing plants in your garden bed, mulch around the stems (leaving a "moat" of a few inches around) and not right next to the stem, as it could cause rot.
To mulch large areas, lay down pieces of cardboard and apply a thin layer of organic mulch to keep everything looking tidy. Cardboard is highly effective at killing weeds as it deprives the seeds and plants of sunlight and passage, and it will biodegrade naturally by the end of the season, making more mulch.
#3 Turn the compost heap. If you have an open-air compost heap in your backyard, you'll want to fluff it up with a garden fork. Turn it over, stir it up, and give it some good aeration after it's been soaked and compressed by several days of rain. If the compost is still very wet after a week of forking and air drying, balance it out by adding your browns — that is, a healthy helping of dried leaves or shredded paper to help absorb the excess moisture.
Overly wet compost can't breathe; it suppresses aerobic bacteria (the ones breaking down all the organic matter) and introduces anaerobic bacteria (the ones that cause compost to smell rotten). Above-ground compost heaps need good air circulation to properly decompose. You'll want to do the same thing even if you have a closed compost heap, as heavy rain can easily leak into a lidded bin or compost tumbler.