The Do’s and Don’ts of Winter Landscaping

Thinking about starting your San Luis Obispo landscaping project during the rainy season? Read this first…

This is a special time of year in SLO County. After months on end of dry weather, we are finally getting some rain. The hills are beginning to turn green and the days are short. Lovely!

It’s not well known, but fall and winter are excellent times of the year to install new landscaping, as long as it’s done right. In this article, you’ll discover some ideas you can use to take full advantage of the wet weather. You’ll also learn how to avoid potential issues that could happen during your rainy season landscaping project.

Do: Install Natives

SB DaisyThis is the perfect time of year to install California native plants. By putting them in the ground during the rainy season, they have a much easier time getting their root systems established.

Native plants are adapted to our weather patterns, so they expect to have the majority of their water needs met during the winter months and to receive very little water in the summer. This means if they are planted this time of year, they can get accustomed to their new home much easier and quicker than if they were planted in the summer. This will reduce the amount of supplemental irrigation they will need next summer. Plus, you will see faster growth and have healthier, more resilient plants!

Do: Use Rainwater Catchment

Rainwater catchment is perfect for San Luis Obispo and the surrounding areas. Whether it’s a passive system such as a rain garden or an active system with a rainwater tank, you can utilize a scarce resource that is literally flowing down the storm drain!

metal-tank3A lot of people think it doesn’t rain enough on the Central Coast to harvest rainwater. Fortunately, this is only a myth. In fact, you can collect over 600 gallons of water for every inch of rain. That’s if you are collecting off a 1,000 Sq. ft. roof. Many homes have much larger roof surfaces, so the collection potential could be even more. Either way, by using rainwater Catchment, you can get thousands of extra gallons of rainwater to use in your landscaping, for watering vegetables, or even for washing the car.

Our winter weather patterns work well for rainwater harvesting. Typically we get a one or two day rain event, followed by weeks of dry weather. If you have a rain tank, you can use the water you collected during that dry period, and then watch it fill back up again next time it rains.

Although you’re not likely to collect any rainwater during the summer months, many cities have non-potable water supplies that you can use to refill your tank. This water is much cheaper than potable water.

If you’d like to learn more about rainwater harvesting, check out our free guide “ Rainwater Harvesting in SLO County”. You’ll learn all about the reasons and methods for rainwater harvesting.

Don’t: Compact the Soil

Soil compaction happens when the particles in the soil are pressed up against each other, which reduces air space in between the particles. Areas that get a lot of traffic from people walking or machinery driving over the ground are prone to compaction. This can occur over a long period of time or quite suddenly, depending on the circumstances. After it rains, the soil is particularly susceptible to becoming compacted.

In locations such as San Luis Obispo, where the soil is typically a clay mixture, compaction happens especially easily.

Your plants simply won’t grow well in compacted soil. Their roots will have difficulty growing and water won’t be able to properly permeate throughout the soil. This means slow growing, unhealthy plants that will eventually bite the dust due to the effects of compaction.

Although soil compaction should always be a consideration when building a landscape, it is especially important to keep in mind after it rains. The soil needs to properly dry out before heavy machinery is used. Landscape crews need to take precautions on the foot paths they use to move throughout the landscape as they work, being careful not to overuse a particular route.

When selecting a landscaper for your winter project, make sure to choose a company that is well versed in soil health. A perfectly beautiful landscape can be doomed from the start by poor choices from the landscape contractor that lead to soil compaction. There are plenty of great landscaper in San Luis Obispo, but just do your due diligence during the hiring phase.

Do: Be Flexible

During the summer months, we are all but guaranteed that it won’t rain. In the winter, however, all bets are off. This can make it difficult for your landscaper to stick to the schedule. A few days of rain may delay the project. Even after it’s done raining, it may still be too wet to work (see above info about soil compaction). In our experience at Greener Environments, we’ve never had a problem with our clients being flexible on rain delays, but it is a good thing to keep in mind when you are setting your expectations for your winter landscaping project.

The other thing to be flexible about, is of course the holidays. Many companies like to take some days off around holidays to give their employees some time with their families.

This is also a two-way street. It is perfectly acceptable for you to request that your landscaper takes a few days off the project around holidays so that you and your family can have some privacy and space. It’s hard to have a nice relaxing visit with your relatives with construction noises going on outside!

This should of course all be discussed prior to starting the landscaping project so you and your landscaper are both on the same page about the project schedule.

Don’t: Overwater

This is a no-brainer because of course you should never overwater, but it’s actually quite easy to give your plants too much water in the winter. In most cases, plants are put on an automatic watering schedule. This is good because it’s easy and you don’t have to try to remember to water, but in the winter when it rains, the automatic schedule can be problematic.


Smart controllers make it easy to avoid over watering. You can even use your smartphone to control them!

You’ll need to keep an eye on the weather and adjust your watering schedule accordingly. If it’s going to rain, go ahead and shut the automatic irrigation off. Even after it rains, you may not need to water for a while. You can always tick your finger in the soil at the base of your plants and check to see if it’s still moist. This is a quick way to determine if it’s time to turn the irrigation back on.

Summer time weather is fairly predictable, so it’s easy to set a watering schedule. In the winter, short days, cooler weather, and the possibility of rain means you’ll need to be more proactive about your irrigation.

To make it easier, a great option is to install a smart irrigation controller. These controllers automatically adjust the watering schedule to accommodate the weather. This not only conserves water, it also reduces the risk of causing damage to the plants from overwatering.

Too much water can cause just as much harm to your plants as too little water. Watch out for signs of overwatering such as wilting, yellow leaves, brown spots, or leaves falling off. The tricky thing is that underwatering can also cause many of these symptoms, so if you are in doubt check with your landscape contractor for help.


The rainy season in San Luis Obispo is a great time for landscaping. Just make sure to take a few precautions and select your landscape wisely. If the job is done right, your plants will become established quickly and easily. Leading to fast growth and more drought resistant plants. If you have any further questions about San Luis Obispo landscaping, please feel free to contact us.