In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
May, 2013
Regional Report

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Reduce the size of thirsty lawns by adding borders of colorful, drought-resistant perennial plantings.

Save Time and Resources with Wise Watering

Watering your garden wisely not only helps conserve a resource that is increasingly scarce, it saves you time and energy as well. Here are some low-maintenance watering tips that will to prepare your garden and landscape for a long, dry summer ahead.

Water Trees Now
Many trees and shrubs depend on winter rain for water. Oaks and olives are a few deep-rooted trees that naturally survive on very little summer irrigation. By watering them deeply now, while water is still available and cheap, your valuable landscape plants will have a better chance to survive the summer. Use a soaker hose to apply water around the drip line of trees and shrubs. Allow the water to run until it reaches two to three feet deep for trees. Use a soil probe to determine how deep into the soil the water actually penetrates. The probe will push easily through damp soil and come to a halt when it reaches dry soil. The deeper the water penetrates, the deeper the roots will grow.

Water Lawns Deeply
The same advice applies to lawns. Water infrequently but deeply now, to a depth at least 8 inches, to encourage roots to grow deep into the soil. Later in the season, when water is in short supply, your lawn will have a better chance of surviving if its roots have grown down far enough to reach the reserves of moisture deep in the soil. Remember that infrequent deep watering is much better than frequent shallow applications of this precious resource.

Design Low-Maintenance Flower Beds
When designing your flower beds, include mainly drought-tolerant perennials such as artemisia, coreopsis, penstemons, California fuchsia, and salvia. Cluster more water-hungry plants into smaller beds, both to cut down on your water use and to make it easier to provide plants with the more frequent irrigation they need.

Apply a thick layer of mulch to existing perennial beds to keep the soil cool and prevent moisture loss. Mulch is probably your best defense against drought. It protects the soil surface and prevents water from evaporating. It also keeps weed seeds from germinating by shading the surface of the soil. It's important to keep weeds under control. Greedy weeds will rob landscape plants of valuable moisture if allowed to grow unchecked.

Water-thrifty Containers
When planting in containers or window boxes, use ones that are double insulated against heat and moisture loss. One low-maintenance strategy is to plant in a smaller pot and then nest this pot inside a decorative outer pot, making sure both have adequate drainage. Pack the space between the two with straw, newspaper, or peat to keep the inner container cool and moist. Always apply a layer of mulch to the soil surface of containers.

Keep the Veggies Coming
As with your ornamental gardens, spreading mulch and using drip irrigation or soaker hoses in the food garden will reduce your chores and save water. Wet the soil to a depth of at least 18 inches when you irrigate.

If water is really scarce, select deep-rooted plants that require less water. Tomatoes are deep rooted and will survive with much less water than corn, which is a thirsty crop. Perennial vegetable crops such as rhubarb will survive nicely with deep, infrequent watering.

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