Atmospheric river, El Nino, and low-pressure systems are just a few trigger words we hear on the news that remind us about that drainage issue, leaky roof or hazardous tree we haven’t taken care of yet. As the heaviest rain event of the winter just passed here in Santa Cruz, it’s the ideal time to examine the impact on your yard. Depending on the size of your property, the below checklist takes only a few minutes and can potentially save you thousands in the long run.


These large friends may pose the greatest risk to your home and safety. Failing limbs, uprooting trees and cracking trunks can all cause severe destruction. After a storm it is important to inspect every tree on your property. Start by making sure there are no hanging limbs that may break and fall while you are performing your inspection. Next, investigate the trunk and root system for any cracks in the tree or the soil. Cracking or heaving soil around a tree can signal a potential for failure and should be reviewed by a certified arborist. Lastly, do a scan of the canopy to ensure there are no cracked or hanging branches, (binoculars come in handy for tall and large trees). Many tree and limb failures have warning signs and directly after a storm will be an optimal time to gauge probable issues.


We tend to forget about our underground water management systems until they don’t work properly. After a downpour you’ll be able to see what worked and what didn’t work in your drainage system. The first step is to check for any clogged or blocked drains. If you do find a blockage, work to free the flow quickly. Next, confirm that your downspouts are steered in the right direction, poor design can cause additional issues. If drainage problems go unchecked, it can lead to failed retaining walls, damaged siding on homes, erosion and much more. You may also find that there is standing water under your house, a French Drain may be just what you need to move the subsurface water away from your structure. Check out previous Landscaping Lessons on drainage for more ideas and solutions.

Plants and landscaping

Occasionally planting areas can become flooded, which may pose harm to sensitive plants and flowers. Proper swales and grading are vital to get water moving out of your planted areas, as sitting water can kill your beautiful plants. You can use a dry creek bed as an easy and effective way to divert water into an area where it won’t impair delicate greenery. A dry creek bed is a low lying area or swale that is covered with cobble stone and sparsely added with water loving plants such as Juncus or Carex grasses. This provides a stable location for water to slow down and absorb into the soil. It should always be your intention to retain all stormwater on your property and give it a chance to soak into the soil, recharging our aquifers and eliminating oils and debris from flowing into storm drains.

Hillside and erosion

Similar to trees and tree limbs, your hillsides will “talk” to you about their stability if you’re willing to listen. There are often signals as your hillside begins to become saturated and unstable. Some of these signs may include small amounts of soil movement, cracking in the soil structure, water seeping out of the base of the hillside and water run-off becoming concentrated in one area. Survey your hillsides for these and other signs of possible erosion, looking closely at areas where vegetation is sparse, such as surfaces recently burned or relandscaped. If a hillside has been newly graded, it should be considered high-risk and protected with a ground cover. This could include landscape fabric, mulch, planting, or plastic, but never leave freshly graded areas exposed to the elements.


This last storm brought with it strong winds, which we all know can disrupt and damage fencing. Fence boards can act as a sail in the wind creating tremendous stress on your fence posts. Walk the perimeters looking for any battered or loose sections and strongly shake the fence to check for its stability. Don’t forget gates and entry ways as well. Identifying these issues now can help save time and money in the future.

The honey-do list always seems to increase after a large rain event, so take care of these key items before the next storm rolls in. As many of us found out this week, unexpected weather will come to steal our sleep, sanity and in the worst-case situations, leave damage to our properties.