In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2009
Regional Report

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Succulents and ornamental grasses will withstand drought with very little or no water.

Serious Drought

Contrary to the recent rains, it looks as if the predictions for a serious drought are real. Although some areas in the North Bay and in the Santa Cruz Mountains have received as much as 4 inches of rain per storm, the reservoirs are still way below normal. Lexington is only at 33 percent of capacity, even with the heavy rains in February. I'm betting that there will be water rationing by June. Be prepared to say good-bye to your lawn.

If we do have mandatory water rationing it is very important to protect your trees. Most garden trees are lazy louts and rely on surface water from lawn sprinklers. The roots will only grow where the soil is moist. In years that receive average rainfall this is not a problem. However, when the lawn sprinklers are turned off, those same trees will suffer because they have not put put down roots into the permanent moisture table. I recommend deep watering now to encourage the roots to grow deep into the soil.

There are special tools that attach to the end of a hose that will apply water well below the surface of the soil. Soaker hoses also work for deep watering. Lay them out around the drip line of the tree and allow them to run overnight so that the water can penetrate deep into the earth.

Redwood trees in particular are going to suffer. They do not have deep roots, but rather a thick, fibrous mat that supports the tree by sucking up moisture that has been collected in the fine needles and then drips down onto the soil beneath the canopy. It's imperative that you allow redwood trees to maintain their protective mulch of needles to prevent the soil from drying out. Also, the larger the redwood, the more water it will require during the dry season. I recommend setting up a semi-permanent soaker hose system that you can attach to the gray water from your laundry machine.

Most landscape shrubs will survive on a once-a-month watering schedule so long as the surface of the soil is deeply mulched. Use a soil probe to see that the water has penetrated at least 24 inches into the soil. The probe will push easily through damp soil, only to be stopped when it reaches dry earth.

Shallow-rooted tropical shrubs such as hibiscus and gardenia can be transplanted into containers where they can receive individual care. Containers should be double potted with a layer of newspaper or straw between the two pots. Keep in mind that the insulation layer will provide hiding spaces for slugs and earwigs. Remember, the more sun a plant receives, the more water it will use.

I recommend at least a 6-inch layer of mulch. Local City Park and Recreation Departments will deliver, usually for free, a truck load of tree chippings that work perfectly well for mulch.

No fertilizer this year for landscape shrubs and trees. Fertilization will cause new growth which requires more water. Keep your plants in a resting mode throughout the dry season if possible. Citrus are the exception. They require moist soil throughout the summer months. Mulch will help cut down on water usage for all plants, citrus included.

This is going to be a tough year, friends. Feel free to contact me with your questions. We are all in this together. But on the bright side, at least you won't have to mow the lawn!


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