Drought: Gardening Tips

Water dedicated to landscape can often be reduced by 20 to 40 percent because over irrigation is very common. Gradually reduce the amount of water applied over a few weeks – giving lawns, trees and plants time to adjust.

Editable Gardens

Water restrictions and conservation should be taken into consideration when deciding on starting an edible home garden. If local water allocation allows for an edible garden, homeowners can grow fruits and vegetables in their backyard using water-wise practices.

Water-saving Edible Garden Tips:

  • Plant an appropriate size garden for your household
  • Plant shorter season crops and drought resistant varieties
  • Know critical watering periods, for example transplanting and fruit development
  • Apply a 3” to 4” layer of mulch
  • Compost adds nutrients to soil and can produce higher yields
  • Remove weeds, which compete for water resources
  • Install a water efficient drip irrigation system

Lawn Care

A lawn is almost always the single largest user of water in the home landscape. Many gardens have large expanses of turf that are never used but require considerable time, effort and resources to maintain. Use turf only when it serves a purpose, such as play or entertainment areas.

Water-saving Lawn Tips:

  • Select water efficient varieties suited for your local climate
  • Replace nonessential turf with ground covers, mulches, decks and walkways
  • Adjust irrigation schedule monthly – to reflect seasonal changes
  • Water at night, ideally between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., this reduces evaporation and wind will not be strong enough to interfere with sprinkler patterns
  • Mow lawns higher during very warm weather
  • Helps reduce growth rate
  • Protects lawn from sunburn
  • Promotes deeper root growth
  • Shades soil, reduces weeds

Plant Care

Do not introduce new plants to your landscape during a severe drought. Even California native plants aren’t drought-resistant until they become well established. When water restrictions allow for new plants to be introduced into your landscape, select drought tolerant varieties appropriate for your climate zone. Introduce new plants during the fall, allowing them to become established by winter rain.  

Water-saving Plant Tips:

  • Remove plants in crowded beds or low-priority plants competing for soil moisture
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch!
  • 3 to 4″ layer reduces water evaporation and weeds
  • Protects roots from heat
  • Reduces weeds who compete for water
  • Avoid heavy pruning
  • Do not overuse fertilizers, which increase growth and water demands
  • Infrequent deep watering encourages deeper root growth, and results in plants with greater drought tolerance  
  • Use a drip irrigation system, grouping plants with similar water needs together on one drip irrigation line

Tree Care

When water is limited, most people choose to water fruit trees, landscape trees, and shrubs.  Lawns, groundcovers, and bedding plants can be reestablished over a relatively short time, but trees and shrubs need years to mature and are less easily replaced.

Ornamental Trees:

One or two deep irrigation’s with a garden hose several weeks apart in spring and summer will often keep trees alive through summer, especially if roots are relatively deep

Will drop leaves or wilt under severe water shortage, but with appropriate care will survive

Fruit and Nut Trees:

Early-season water applications will keep trees alive, but reduces fruit production

To produce a good harvest, deciduous fruit and nut trees need adequate water in their root zones continuously from bloom until harvest.

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Seed Saving – Gardening Starts With Planning

If you want to save seed from your garden, understanding basic concepts when you are planning your garden will make seed saving much easier.

Know Whether Your Parent Plant Is A Hybrid Or Open-Pollinated Variety.

Hybrids, which are created by crossing plants of two different varieties, generally do not produce offspring with the same traits as the parent plant. Seeds saved from open-pollinated varieties, on the other hand, will produce plants identical to the parent. Heirloom seeds, which Seed Savers Exchange sells, are open-pollinated varieties with a history of being handed down from generation to generation.

Know Your Plants’ Specific Name (Genus And Species).

Cross-pollination is the transfer of pollen between plants. To save pure seed, you want to prevent cross-pollination between two different varieties in the same species. Planting just one variety in a species will help ensure you save pure seed.

If you know your plants’ scientific name, you will know which ones may cross-pollinate.

For example, the squash commonly grown in the Seed Savers Exchange gardens could fall into one of three species: Cucurbita maxima, C. moschata, and C. pepo. These species won’t typically cross-polinate. On the other hand, Brassica oleracea includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, and kohlrabi, all plants you might think wouldn’t cross-pollinate, but actually do. Read up on the cross-pollination habits of the plants you are saving seeds from to ensure you won’t run into issues.

Know How Your Plants Pollinate.

Understanding how garden plants are pollinated will help you prevent cross-pollination. Some plants will self-pollinate before the flowers are even open, making them less susceptible to cross-pollination. Examples of “selfers” are tomatoes, peas, and beans, On occasion, insects can cross-pollinate selfers. Plants that are insect-pollinated (squash or cucumbers) or wind pollinated (corn and spinach) are more likely to cross-pollinate.

Understand Market Maturity Vs. Seed Maturity.

Some fruits are market mature, or ready for eating, long before the seed is mature. Examples of this include cucumbers, eggplants, peas, beans, and cabbage. Take into consideration spacing and timing when planning your garden for seed saving. For example, imagine a carrot– you pull this sweet root out of the ground after about two months, and there is not much plant showing above ground. However, the seed is not mature for harvest at this point. The carrot plant must grow for a longer period so that the seed can reach the proper maturity. When you harvest the seed, a carrot plant can be up to four feet tall and one year old.

For Beginners, Keep It Simple.

Remember, some plants are easier to save seeds from than others. Saving seed from “selfers” is a good way to get started. There are ways to prevent cross-pollination, but if you’re just starting out, planting just one variety per species, can ensure your seed has not cross-pollinated.

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Know Your Friends In The Garden

The days are getting longer and warmer, signaling that spring will be here soon. This is when beneficial insects begin to emerge. Attracting predatory and parasitic beneficial insects to your garden helps reduce the population of pest insects by consuming them or using them to house and feed their offspring. Pollinators are also beneficial insects who spread pollen between flowers which is essential for fruit and seed production. We will discuss pollinators at length another time. For now, our focus is to help you reduce the populations of pest insects such as aphids, whiteflies, scale, mites, mealybugs, thrips, leafhoppers, psyllids, small caterpillars to name a few who damage your plants. The average backyard is home to thousands of insects. Only a small fraction of these are detrimental. Beneficial insects are the defenders of the garden and we must promote and protect them.

One of the first beneficial insects to emerge is the soldier beetle. The adults are slim bodied, ½” long, varying in color from red to brown with black, brown or gray wings. They are important predators in the garden consuming aphids, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects. Another beneficial insect that arrives with the onset of spring is the convergent lady beetle (ladybug, ladybird). The larvae resemble a mini alligator with horizontal stripes of orange and black. Both the larvae and adult stage of the lady beetle are voracious eaters. There are many types of ladybugs and other beneficial insects that look like the ladybug. The vedalia beetle, mealybug destroyer, twice stabbed lady beetle and spider mite destroyer are a few of them.

Not to be forgotten, are the insect parasites. These are parasitic wasps and flies. The larvae of these wasps and flies feed on other insects, or they live inside their host and exterminate them. The leafminer parasite, aphid parasite and the whitefly parasite are a few examples. Some of the best beneficial insects are spiders. Spiders feed on a wide array of insects. Additional beneficial insects are the minute pirate bug, assassin bug, green or brown lacewing, Praying mantis, snakefly, damsel bug, and the predaceous ground beetles.

As gardeners, it is our job to attract and promote populations of beneficial insects by planting plants that will provide them with food and habitat. One idea is to create a boundary of flowers; when the bad bugs enter the boundary, they will be gobbled up by the good guys.  Scatter plants that attract beneficials in and around your garden as well, the more the merrier. Fall and winter flowering beneficial flowers are alyssum, calendula, candytuft, chervil, chamomile, poppies, snapdragon, stock and sweet peas. Beneficial insect attracting spring and summer flowers are angelica, asters, black-eyed Susan, catmint, coreopsis, cosmos, dill, goldenrod, marigold, sunflower, Shasta daisy, thyme, and yarrow.

Consider the impact of non-selective insecticides on your beneficial insect population before you spray the garden to kill something. Non-selective insecticides will kill or have negative effects on a wide variety of insects, good and bad.  Know what you are spraying for. It might be a good, beneficial bug, not a bad bug. The safest insecticides to use are horticultural oils and soaps. Feel free to stop by the garden center for help identifying your insects in question.

 

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