Tag Archives: watering advice

May – Words of Wisdom

With each new season, we start fresh with high expectations for a bountiful harvest of vegetables and mouth-watering fruit,  fragrant flowers to pick for bouquets and healthy plants to attract beneficial insects to the garden. As the months pass it seems one problem after another crops up. Don't get discouraged, though. Most any condition or disease can be corrected with the right information. I get many emails from readers with some of the same problems that you might have. Here are a few recent inquiries.

 

GARDEN HOSES

One reader asked about the safety of her new hose. The label on the hose states not to drink from it and she is wondering if it's safe to use it to water her organic vegetable garden.

Most of us grew up drinking water from the hose and on a hot day we still do. But is it safe? A recent study by the Ecology Center, a nonprofit environmental organization based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that reviews consumer products addressed potentially hazardous chemicals in gardening tools. The group tested nearly 200 gardening products, including hoses and discovered some disturbing findings.

To illustrate how chemicals can migrate from harden hoses into water, the research team left a section of garden hose filled with water out in the sun for several days. When the water was tested it was found to exceed federal standards for safe drinking water for several chemicals- including 4 times the standard considered safe for phthalates, 18 times that for lead, and 20 times that for BPA, an organic compound banned from baby bottles.

Most garden hoses that are sold are still made of PVC which can leach unsafe levels of lead into water. There are safer options available, though. Food grade Ether-based polyurethane or natural rubber hoses are a better choice. Look for hoses with nickel or chrome-plated fittings as brass can also leach lead into water.

Plants don't generally absorb lead, unless there is a high concentration of it in the soil but who wants to take a chance? With any hose, even one labeled "drink-safe' let the water run until it's cold before you drink from it because bacteria can grow in warm standing water.

CITRUS ADVICE

Another reader asked what she should do for her Meyer lemon which has yellow leaves. I told her that the yellowing is due to insufficient nutrients. First, apply a fertilizer containing nitrogen. There is also a chance that iron, sulfur and magnesium could be in short supply. Look for these ingredients on fertilizer bags and apply as directed. Also don't overwater citrus. Let the plant dry 2" below the soil surface between deep waterings.

LAWN CARE

Lawns also need a deep watering to train roots to grow deep. When to water? One easy method is to walk on the lawn and check in an hour after stepping on it. If it hasn't rebounded the lawn needs water. Also leave grass clippings to decompose after mowing. You'll need to mow about once per week so the clippings are short and can decompose quickly.

RHODODENDRONS

When everyone's rhododendrons but yours are blooming what can you do?  This plant sets flower and leaf buds in late August or September so fertilizing regularly for the next few month is important. Also water deeply when the soil is dry 1-2" deep and mulch the soil around your plant to keep the roots cool and moist. Rhododendrons and azaleas are shallow rooted so don't work up the soil underneath.

Feel free to email your questions to me. I'm happy to help.
 

May is Water Awareness Month

We know that water is a precious and vital resource.  Even our bodies are about 60 % water and the brain is 70%. Less than 1% of the water on the Earth, however, is suitable for human consumption. With the population increasing and the water supply staying the same, water conservation indoors and out is important. A well planned landscape makes water conservation outside the home even easier. Since May is Water Awareness month here are some tips to consider.

Start with simple things. Rock, stone, and permeable paths and driveways add visual interest to the landscape and don’t require irrigation. Improving your property’s soil quality aids in saving water regardless of the plants grown there. Organic materials added to the soil help establish a strong root system for plants. Nutrients in the soil allow the plants to become stronger, too. Adding a layer of mulch increases the plant’s efficiency by retaining moisture and keeping the soil temperature stable.

Choose the right plants for your location. California natives or plants from similar climates in the world are low maintenance, low irrigation plants and usually need less tending, fertilizer and pruning. Your choice of groundcover can make a big difference, too, in how much water the landscape saves. Keeping grass areas to a minimum generally reduces the amount of water needed to keep the landscape looking green and fire safe.

Your method or irrigation helps conserve water. Hand watering where possible, especially new plantings, directs the water exactly where it needs to go and you can shut off the hose as soon as the plants receive enough water. A soaker hose is another efficient option that reduces evaporation during the watering process. An automatic irrigation system with a rain sensor, weather based controller or soil moisture sensors is the newest way to save water.

Both San Lorenzo Valley Water ( http://www.slvwd.com ) and Scotts Valley Water Districts ( http://www.svwd.org ) offer many tips and incentives to conserve water. Scotts Valley Water Conservation intern, Amanda Robinson, explained they are very interested in getting out the word about using less water-intensive plants – there are lists on the website of drought-tolerant plants and water smart grasses-  as well as customers replacing lawns and old pop-up sprinkler systems. Their rebate programs offers several landscaping credits including  drip irrigation conversion credit, weather-based irrigation controller credit, replacement credit for converting an existing lawn to water-wise grasses, and lawn replacement to synthetic grass. Both districts have guidelines and procedures to apply for the rebates on their websites.

Scotts Valley gave 13 lawn replacement rebates in 2010 and 5 so far this year. Weather-based irrigation controller credits numbered 5 in 2010. Cistern credits for catching and storing rainwater totaled 3 in 2010 and 1 Low volume irrigation system conversion credit was given. Visit the web site for your water supplier to get more info. Don’t miss out on this important information and possible rebate.

There is even a workshop this Saturday, May 14th at the Scotts Valley Water District office from 10am – 1pm. Sponsored by the Ecological Landscaping Ass.and presented by Joy Albright-Souza, attendees can bring dimensions of their yard or project area and take home a class-created landscape plan. The cost is $45 and can be paid by check at the door. Call 831-419-5994 for more information.

Let’s make every month Water Awareness Month.
 

Watering tips for Santa Cruz Mountain Gardens

Summer is in full swing now and you may be torn between reading a book on the chaise lounge or pruning the wisteria. Actually, it’s important to do both. Watering is crucial also as plants are vigorously growing and the warmer weather evaporates available soil moisture quickly.

Ignore generalities such as "provide one inch of water each week" or "don’t water at midday,the leaves will burn". Instead, become aware of your garden’s moisture needs. Hot, sunny, windy slopes or shady beds with clay soil and new plantings all require a different watering strategy.

When is the best time to water? Is it true that water droplets will scorch leaves in the sun? According to a study published in New Phytologist, a journal of research in plant science, there is a slight risk of leaf burn on fuzzy leaved plants like ferns. The hairs can hold the water droplets above the leaf surface and act as a magnifying glass to the light beaming through them. The study also reported that water droplets on smooth leaves, such as maples, cannot cause leaf burn, regardless of the time of day.

However, in my thirty years of gardening , my own observation is that the leaf burn on a fuzzy leaf must be very small, indeed, as I’ve never observed any damage. If you find a plant needs water midday, by all means go ahead and water it. Containers even benefit from the cooling effect that watering provides.

That being said, watering in the morning is the most efficient whether you water by sprinkler, drip system, soaker hose or by hand. The water soaks deep in the soil without risk of evaporation. It bolster the plant for the day and has dried from leaves by evening reducing the risk for foliar diseases like mildew. Plant roots are also more receptive to watering in the morning.

Water makes up 90-98% of every plant we grow. It’s needed for photosynthesis, as well as reproduction and defense against pests. Checking soil moisture and improving a soils ability to absorb and hold water should be a priority when you’re out in the garden. Don’t wait for plants to wilt and burn before correcting watering problems.

Most plants need 18" depth of well-drained soil to thrive although trees and many vegetables roots grow several feet deep. More than an inch of water per week may be needed for their success and in the case of many trees and native plants, deeper but more infrequent watering is required.

You can easily measure how much water you are applying. If you have a sprinkler system, place a straight-sided container like a tuna can on the outside edge of the area being watered. Let the sprinkler run until one inch of water has accumulated in the can. When using a drip system or soaker hose, irrigate until a 3" deep test hole dug 1 ft out from the emitter or end of the soaker is moist. Moisture at that level indicates than an inch of water has been applied. The best way to determine how many inches of water your soil needs for a good soak is by digging down after the water has had a chance to settle. When watered well, the soil should feel cool and damp at the bottom of the hole. If the soil feels warm and dry you haven’t watered long enough. You need to do this test just once to get a feeling for how much water your soil can hold and how deeply it’s soaking in.

Be kind to your plants this summer. It only take a few minutes for a drop of water suspended form a soil particle to be drawn upward from a root tip to the farthest leaf blade and then released from leaf stomata as air cooling vapor. How cool it that?

Garden coaching

Right plant-right place

Lately I’m getting a lot of requests for garden coaching. The economy probably has something to do with it. People want to know what plants will thrive in the different areas of their gardens or why something isn’t working. Who can afford to waste $ on the wrong plant in the wrong location?  When I make house calls there are several problems that seem to keep cropping up. Maybe one of these tips will help make your garden grow.

  Poor soil
If your soil looks like a sandy beach, amend it each time you plant something new with organic matter like compost or planing mix. Then be sure to mulch the surface to preserve precious moisture and soil structure and keep roots cool. Yearly, add organic mulch around existing planting keeping the immediate area around the crown of the plant open. If your native soil is just a little on the sandy side, you may not need to amend the soil much before planting but don’t forget that all important mulch. Crushed gravel or cobbles uses as a mulch holds in moisture the same way as bark or compost.

Those of you who live under redwoods may have the opposite problem- heavy clay soil, dense enough to make pottery. Surprisingly, adding organic matter to these soils solves this problem, too. The key is preserving the soil structure fterwards by mulching so it doesn’t pack down every time you water or during the winter rains.

 Not watering deep enough or watering too often
Sure there’s a period of time when you first plant something that you need to water more often until it’s established but even then watering every day is rarely needed. As a rule of thumb, water a new 1 gallon plant when the top 1/2 " – 1" is dry. A newly planted 5 gallon container will need watering when the top 1 1/2 – 2" is dry. A tree or large shrub planted from a 15 gallon container needs watering when the top 2-3" is dry. Hot days as well as shady locations vs sunny sites will all affect how long you can go between waterings.  When you do water apply enough to water the entire root zone deeply. If the water doesn’t penetrate 1-3 ft down, depending on the plant, it will suffer and even die. Drip systems are great if you have them set properly. Don’t waste water by having your timer set for 10 minutes every other day. If you have 1 gal/hour emitters that’s less than 3 cups of water each. How deep is that going to penetrate? Set your system so that each zone gets enough water for long enough to really count. This applies to established low-water use plants, too. They need a deep soak every 2-4 weeks.
One last tip on drip systems: make sure the emitter isn’t right next to the stem or trunk. Plants need water applied at the drip line where the feeder roots are located, not drowning the crown. Move it out as the plant grows and the dripline enlarges.

  Gopher baskets
If you need to plant in gopher baskets, make sure you eliminate the air pockets between the root ball and the side of the basket. Many times I’ve dug around a plant that is not doing well only to find big air spaces down the side of the basket or the planting hole where the soil was not properly tamped down. The roots on that side of the plant will die under these conditions and possibly the whole plants will be killed.

  Right plant-wrong place
Become familiar with the sun patterns of your property during the growing season- spring through fall. Many of us don’t have winter sun and lots of plants can adapt to this but they are more exacting when it come to light requirements during the growing season. It gets pretty hot around here so a spot with sun in the afternoon is fatal to a plant that is not a sun lover. For those optimists out there, those delicate rays that filter through your trees do not constitute a sunny garden. You have bright shade and there are lots of great plants that can provide color and texture in your shady garden. Make sure you follow tip #1 in both spots so your plant isn’t fighting crummy soil on top of everything else it has to handle.

Hopefully, these tips will help make your garden grow better.