Making Your Garden Climate Resilient


By Janet Beazlie and David Beazlie, BSLA, Landscape Designer

Has this crazy weather been driving you crazy? First there was lots of ice this winter down in our valley outside of Forestville, but no rain; then 80-degree heat followed by rain! What can you do to protect gardens from weather extremes and drought? Many approaches we already use in our gardens help our plants survive unexpected extremes. In this article, we hope to give you easy, cheap, earth-friendly ways to care for your garden that will help it thrive even when climate conditions are erratic.

Sonoma County’s climate varies widely depending upon elevation and whether you live on the coast or inland. USDA climate zones are not as specific as those used in the Sunset Western Garden Book. Know your Sunset climate zone and buy plants that like those conditions and are hardy.

Buy from local nurseries plants that have been grown here and are therefore adapted. Consult nursery professionals for the best varieties that don’t need lots of water. Use native plants to build a heathy ecosystem. Biodiversity, variety in your garden, develops resilience and keeps plant diseases and pest outbreaks from decimating your garden.

Create microclimate zones in your yard by using trees, shrubs, and perennials in multilevel plantings to create shade when needed. Use plants that will attract and feed birds, bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. They pollinate your plants and keep control of insect pests.

Prune fruit trees and ornamentals when they are dormant to improve their structure so branches won’t break in storms or under the weight of fruit. Pruned trees need less water when excessive foliage is trimmed.

Build Healthy Living Soil so it is rich in nutrients, holds water, and protects plant roots.  It’s more than adding a little organic matter as compost and then covering with an inch of mulch. Healthy, living soil is full of organic material, microbial life and vibrant mycellial fungal systems.  Mulch that is three to four inches deep will protect plants from peak heat and cold as well as keeping water in the soil longer.

As for homegrown fertilizer, create a vermiculture compost container for some of your kitchen scraps and a yard compost heap for the yard waste. Vermiculture involves raising red worms in food scraps, soil, and with shredded paper. These worms then produce a rich liquid of nutrients that when added to water is a great organic tea to use in fertilizing your plants. By using good homemade compost or by buying locally made compost, you help mitigate climate change by not using petroleum based fertilizers or compost trucked from far away. By keeping an outdoor compost heap, you convert your yard and food scraps into rich organic matter that builds healthy soil.

Conserve Water. Use rain catchment and swales to capture rain or channel rainfall. A swale is a contoured curving low place that slows down excessive rainfall and channels it toward areas that need the water. It is not a ditch. Catching the rain off your roof and piping it to a tank will give you water when it’s not raining.

Install pressure compensating drip irrigation in your gardens and you will use much less water than hand watering with a hose or using sprinklers.  Now is the time to check your drip irrigation system to make sure there are no leaks, missing emitters, broken or plugged lines. Set your drip timer to water in the early morning so your plants will receive the water before they are stressed by the day’s heat. Watering in the morning also discourages rot or fungal diseases. Soil rich in organic matter, with fungal threads of mycelium, and covered with a deep layer of mulch will hold water longer. Use mycelium culture or cultured fungi spore fertilizer blends to enhance water retention and nutrient uptake.

Expect the unexpected and prepare. Our frost date is April 15, but in our valley, we’ve seen frost on April 30. So we start our heat loving tomatoes inside. When we plant them outside, we cover them on cold nights.  We offer climate resilient garden workshops on May 5 and May 20. Contact us at

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