Justin White, Landscaping Course | Pre-Winter Landscaping Checklist – Santa Cruz Sentinel

After a long period of dry and hot weather, we are finally seeing low pressure trends off the Pacific Ocean which will bring much needed rains to our region. We are all hoping for a rainy winter and if our wishes are granted you will want to prepare your property for that rain to come.

Since our winter of 2020 has been unusually dry, you may have forgotten that drainage problem flooding your garage, that leaky roof on your shed, or maybe that precarious tree branch hanging over your driveway. Whatever flaws in your property, it’s important to spend time documenting these potential dangers. Below are some common issues to look for.


These great friends can pose the greatest risk to your home and your safety. Failed branches, uprooted trees and cracked trunks can all cause serious destruction. After a storm, it’s important to inspect every tree on your property. Start by making sure there are no hanging limbs that could break and fall off while you are doing your inspection.

Next, examine the trunk and root system for cracks in the tree or in the ground. Cracking or lifting of the soil around a tree can signal a potential for failure and should be examined by a certified arborist. Finally, scan the canopy to make sure there are no cracked or hanging branches (binoculars are useful for tall and tall trees). Many tree and branch failures have warning signs and right after a storm will be the optimum time to assess likely problems. If you have any concerns, I recommend contacting a local logging company or arborist to come take a look. Some large trees can be wired as part of a proactive approach to prevent them from splitting or breaking branches.


We tend to forget about our groundwater management systems until they don’t work properly. One of the first things to look for is any clogged or blocked drains. If you find a blockage, try to clear it before the heavy rains return. Next, check that your downspouts and gutters are clear and also make sure that they are facing the right direction; poor design can cause additional problems or pooling along your home’s foundation. Each property will have different drainage components. For example, if you have a sump pump, be sure to verify that this unit is still running and ready to pump out unwanted water. Left unchecked drainage issues can lead to failing retaining walls, damaged siding on homes, erosion and more.

Plants and landscaping

Sometimes planting areas can become flooded, which can harm sensitive plants and flowers. Proper channeling and leveling is essential in getting water out of your planted areas, as standing water can kill your beautiful plants. You can use a dried up stream bed as a simple and effective way to divert water to an area where it won’t damage delicate greenery. A dry stream bed is a low area or swell that is covered with pebbles and lightly supplemented with aquatic plants such as Juncus or Carex grasses. This provides a stable place for the water to slow down and absorb into the soil. Your intention should always be to withhold all stormwater on your property and give it a chance to seep into the ground, recharge our aquifers, and remove oils and debris from flowing into storm sewers.

Hillside and erosion

Similar to trees and tree branches, your hillsides will “tell” you about their stability if you are willing to listen. There are often signals when your hill is starting to become saturated and unstable. Some of these signs can include small amounts of ground movement, cracks in the soil structure, water seeping from the base of the slope, and runoff concentrating in one area. Examine your hillsides for these and other signs of possible erosion, closely examining areas with sparse vegetation, such as recently burned or redeveloped areas. If a hill has been newly leveled, it should be considered high risk and protected with ground cover. This can include landscaping, mulch, planting, or plastic, but never leave freshly leveled areas exposed to the elements.


Strong storms are accompanied by strong winds, which we all know can disrupt and damage fences. Fence boards can act like a sail in the wind, putting enormous stress on your fence posts. Scan the perimeters for damaged or loose sections and give the fence a strong shake to check for stability. Also, don’t forget the doors and entrances. Identifying these issues now can help save time and money in the future.

Proactivity is always the best approach when it comes to your landscaping, so take the time now to check out these potential threats before the (hopefully) heavy rains this winter!

Justin White is the CEO of K&D Landscaping, which is headquartered in Watsonville, California, and has received the “Company of the Year 2020” award by the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce. White is also the current president of the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) local on the Central Coast. He is involved in several non-profit organizations in the community. For more information on landscaping, exterior and garden needs, contact K&D Landscaping at kndlandscaping.com

Terri S. Tomasini