Tips for Getting Your Garden Ready for El Niño

If all the forecasts come to fruition, it looks as though our parched Silicon Valley yards may finally receive some rainfall this winter. Both NASA and meteorologists are forecasting a 95% likelihood of a ‘super’ El Niño and if the few storms that hit in November were any indication, they just might be right. For those who live in Los Altos Hills or other towns where homes are perched upon knolls and yards might be sloped these five tips for getting your garden ready for El Niño are definitely worth noting.


Any unplanted areas or lawns that have been left to go brown will sprout weeds or begin to regrow and most likely become a muddy mess. A liberal amount of mulch can help keep all of these at bay. Trim back or remove any recent growth, cover with weed blocker and add mulch or wood chips on top. You can also use overlapping pieces of cardboard, burlap or thick sheets of newspaper in place of weed blocking material as they are biodegradable and will eventually degrade. And, if you want to get a head start, now is a great time to plant drought tolerant bushes, ground-covers and succulents in place of lawn. In spring, your grass will be a well-established garden.


If areas of your yards are set on a slope or hill and the current vegetation has died, it is important to encourage regrowth to minimize any potential for mudslides. Planting now will allow the new vegetation to take root before heavy rains set in. If you have a large area, hydroseeding can provide quick coverage and erosion control.


Good drainage is crucial to plants that don’t need a lot of water. Heavy precipitation can literally drown many succulents and drought tolerant plants. Keep an eye out for puddles, which indicate areas of poor drainage. Mix small pebbles and perlite into your soil to improve drainage. For plants that do need very little water, cover them to deflect the rain. Also, watch out for erosion, areas where water runs off rather than being absorbed. If not addressed, this can result in too much water in lower areas of your garden.


Most El Niño’s bring with them warmer temperatures but that isn’t a guarantee that a frost or two won’t sneak in and zap tender plants. Be prepared and cover plants with frost cloth at night whenever colder temperatures are forecast. Be sure to uncover them during the day to allow in light and air.


If the predicted rains fail to live up to expectations, you will need to continue to water your plants, including those that are drought tolerant. Just because the weather is cooler and the sun less intense doesn’t mean your garden isn’t thirsty. Be sure to deep water trees, especially pines and redwoods as they are highly stressed after four years of minimal precipitation.

By addressing these five areas in your yards now, you’ll be able to protect your Los Altos Hills home and garden whether El Niño packs a punch or fails to make an appearance.