Thursday, May 15, 2014

Watering in the Drought

We are having a drought year, which makes good watering practices even more important.  There isn't any water to spare, so it's crucial to use water wisely and efficiently.  Here are some tips and tricks:

  • Mulch over your soaker or dripper hoses.  A good layer of mulch cuts down on evaporation and helps hold moisture in the soil.  It protects your plants root systems from extremes of heat.  Compost makes a great mulch, and if you live in Santa Clara County you can get free compost from the Sunnyvale SMART Center.   Straw is another great mulch, but try to get rice straw as it won't have seeds-- seeds in straw translate to weeds in your garden!   My dill and lilies are happy with a thick mulch of compost covering the dripper hose, as you can see in the picture below.

  • Water deeply when you do water.  Leave your soakers on for 30 - 40 minutes and let them get the underlying soil nice and moist.  I water twice a week during the spring and fall, and three times a week during the summer (or during heat waves like we just had!).

  • Water when it's cool outside, at night or in the early morning.  If you are hand-watering, or have sprayers, water first thing in the morning so that you don't attract slugs and snails (they love to come out at night, and water just encourages them).  If you have well-mulched dripper or soaker hoses, you can water at night or in the early morning.

How can I tell if a plant is stressed and needs extra water?  Look at the leaves-- they will be drooping, as shown in the picture below.

Some people will tell you it is just the plant getting through the hottest part of the day. Don't believe them-- yes, the plant is slumping to reduce its surface area and lose less moisture through evaporation.  But it's doing it because it's water stressed.  A plant which is getting enough water will not droop during the daytime, even when the temperatures are extreme.  Contrast the two pictures, taken at the same time during a 95 degree day.  One squash plant needs water, the other is perfectly happy with the heat!

When you are going to have a heat wave, do an extra watering before it hits.  Be extra careful about recent transplants that may not have deep or established root systems-- they can almost always benefit from some hand watering at the base of the stem, even if they are on a dripper system.   Consider doing extra watering of any planters or containers you may have.  Some containers are always on the edge of drying out, and a heat wave may push them over the edge.

Happy watering! May you and your garden have a great year, despite the drought!


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