In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
April, 2012
Regional Report

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Bok choy thrives with deep watering from 5-gallon nursery bucket buried up to its rim.

Water, Precious (and Expensive) Water!

Teaching plant roots to grow deeply for water will lessen irrigation needs during hot weather but still enable plants to thrive.

Before planting baby plants and seeds, make sure that irrigation drip lines, soaker hoses, sprinklers, and trenches are in place.

My technique of "planting" empty 5-gallon nursery containers up to their rims in the garden is an easy way to provide nearby plant with deep watering, since it releases its bucketful of water 12 inches deep. Adding a shovelful of manure or compost to the bucket turns the plain water into manure or compost tea every time it's filled. Incorporating manure and compost into the planting bed around the buckets ensures a constant and mild feeding for plant roots every time the bed is watered. The addition of soaker hoses laid on the soil surface and covered with compost or mulch enables additional watering with little evaporation that also stimulates microbial decomposition of the compost for even more consistent feeding.

The weather and the texture of your soil will determine the amount and frequency of irrigation to apply to your garden. Heavy clay soils require less irrigation than sandy loam soils. During periods of long, hot weather, plants need more frequent and longer irrigation than during periods with more moderate temperatures. Irrigation which keeps the soil soggy will increase root rot problems.

To test how deep your irrigation water is going, especially in lawns, water for the usual length of time and then push a trowel into the soil its full length. Push the soil clump to one side, or lift it out completely, and look at both the depth of the roots and the water line in the soil -- it'll be dark toward the lawn surface and lighter where it's dry. The water line should be just past the longest roots. If it's not this far down, replace the clump, water again, and test another spot until the water line extends below the roots. Adding all these irrigation times together gives you the correct amount for each watering. Don't water again until two-thirds of the root length is again dry. This may mean that you can double the time between waterings, and the grass roots will not suffer during the really hot portion of the summer.

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