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How to save your soil during heavy rains

Flowering buckwheat.
Flowering buckwheat. Joseph M. DiTomaso

In preparation for a wet, El Niño year, let’s make sure our soil is covered up and ready for the potentially heavy and damaging rainfall coming our way.

“Your soil can become someone else’s headache when it leaves your property,’’ warns Margy Lindquist, local district conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Soil detached and transported in runoff can clog up and reduce the effectiveness of expensive infrastructure like pipes, drains, inlets and outlets.”

In addition, she added, you’ll have lost a valuable resource. “Topsoil forms slowly over a long period of time — on average, one inch per 500 years under natural conditions.” So protect your soil — and be a good neighbor — by planting an effective cover.

The best way to create a good, longterm ground cover is to look to the plants that were here before we introduced species that crowded them out. According to Lindquist, several hundred years ago our landscape was “dominated by native perennial species such as purple needlegrass, nodding needlegrass, CA melic, blue wildrye, creeping wildrye, squirreltail, pine bluegrass, deergrass and others. These would have been interspersed with broadleaf natives such as buckwheat, yarrow, wildflowers and small woody plants.”

To protect your soil, keep runoff water free of sediment and establish long-term, aesthetically pleasing native vegetation. You’ll need the right combination of seeds. Take a cue from history and include native perennial grasses, then add a few native herbaceous species such as buckwheat, yarrow, clarkia, CA poppy, lupine, phacelia, blue curl, or goldenrod to create a diverse and aesthetically pleasing, soil holding, stand of vegetation. To help quickly stabilize the area, over seed with non-native, fast establishing annual small grains, such as barley, oats or other small grains commonly used for erosion control.

If you do all this, you will get through the winter proud of the fact that you kept your soil at home where it belongs. Your satisfaction will be compounded by the knowledge that you are providing habitat and food for pollinators. And when summer comes, your native planting will be much less thirsty than standard landscaping plants.

Got a gardening question?

In San Luis Obispo call 781-5939, Arroyo Grande, 473-7190 and Templeton, 434-4105. Visit us at http://ucanr.org/sites/mgslo/ or email us at anrmgslo@ucanr.edu. Follow us on Instagram at slo_mgs and like us on Facebook. Informative garden workshops are held the third Saturday of every month, 10 a.m. to noon at 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. Garden docents are available after the workshop until 1 p.m. To request a tour of the garden, call 781-5939.