In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
April, 2014
Regional Report

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Planting a plastic bucket along with transplants will enable deep watering all summer long.

Getting the Garden Ready for Dry Weather

Do you want to prepare your garden and lawn for dry weather ahead? One of the best ways is to "teach" plant roots to grow deep in search of water. You "instruct" your plants by watering deeply, yet infrequently, which encourages roots to grow deep into the soil, which lessens their irrigation needs during hot weather. Frequent shallow watering results in shallow roots systems that are much more vulnerable to drought.

The actual frequency of irrigation will depend on the weather -- temperature and rainfall -- and the type of soil you garden in. The weather and the texture of your soil will determine how much water your garden needs. Heavy clay soils hold on to water and require less frequent irrigation than sandy soils. But you may need to add water more slowly to clay soils to give it time to soak in deeply rather than running off. Water will penetrate more readily into sandy soil, but they'll also dry out sooner.

No matter what kind of weather and soil Mother Nature hands you, using mulch -- especially organic matter such as leaves, straw, or grass clippings -- will temper the drying and heating effect of the sun. Your irrigation will be more efficient since less of the water will be lost to evaporation.

Make sure that irrigation drip lines, soaker hoses, sprinklers, and trenches are in place before root systems get too large. That means now, before you get too many new transplants settled in.

Handy Watering Aids
Here are three ways to use recycled items to help your plants drink deeply.

Plastic gallon jugs: With their bottoms cut out, these jugs can be buried neck-down into the soil, just up to their rims. They'll become funnels for irrigation and liquid fertilization. Filled with a shovelful of manure or compost, they'll provide nutrients every time you fill them with water. The opening at the bottom will release the water a foot deep, keeping roots happy all summer long.

Two-liter plastic soda bottles: Punch two small holes into the metal screw-on cap. Remove the hard plastic base, cut off the rounded bottom of the bottle, and replace the base as a cap. Sink the bottle upside down into the soil, and firm it around the bottle to hold it in place. Remove the base (now the top) to fill the bottle with water or fertilizer solution, and replace it to retard evaporation.

Gallon- or larger-sized containers: Punch holes in the lower halves and bottoms. Sink them to their rims between plants or seedlings. Irrigation and fertilizer solutions can be poured into these containers to gently seep into the soil a foot or more deep. Plant roots will grow down in search of this nutrition and consistent moisture, and these deep roots will support the plant well during longer periods of hot weather that may kill plants with more shallow root systems.

The 5-gallon and larger sizes can be used in the holes dug for hills of melons, squash, etc., since the container prevents the hole from filling up with soil with each watering.

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