We are all craving some normalcy in our lives right now, with these uncertain and unprecedented times. So, in this month's column, let's go back to basics and get down to earth. The earth in your garden that is!
Since last month, most nurseries and gardening retailers can be open for business (with social distancing and other public health guidelines), so now you can get what you need for a healthy garden. Support your local nursery by calling or visiting to get advice about plants, soil, and irrigation, and then purchase your supplies there. We also have a great online resource for picking plants for your garden at santacruz.watersavingplants.com. You can explore beautiful, sustainable, climate-appropriate, and drought-tolerant plants and trees that thrive in Santa Cruz County. You may already have your drip system or other water-efficient equipment set up to irrigate your garden. If so, be sure to check for leaks, over-sprays, or other water-wasting issues. If you haven't set up a drip system yet, take a look at soaker hoses that attach to your garden hose, or feeder hoses with smaller lines leading to water emitters with your selected gallons-per-hour flow rate. And if you don't have a "master" watering timer, you can get small timers that attached directly to your faucet to help provide a regular watering schedule. Using drip irrigation conserves water by directing it to the base of the plants, where it's most needed and reduces evaporation. You'll get the best use out of your water and help your garden grow. And don't forget that the District has a rebate for drip irrigation!
Once you've got your plants in the ground - whether beautiful blooming flowers or your favorite delicious vegetables - think about your watering schedule. With warmer temperatures, you may be tempted to water frequently, maybe every day. But keep in mind that it's often more efficient to water flowerbeds two or three times a week with plenty of water, rather than watering them every day with less water.
When's the best time of day - or night - to water? Common sense might tell you to water at night, but in fact, that can encourage fungus growth. It's been shown that doing most of your watering in the early morning is more efficient and better for your plants. But generally, try not to water in the heat of midday. At that time, the soil tends to soak up the water faster, leaving less for the main attraction of your garden - your plants-also, no sprinkler use between 10 am and 8 pm.
Be sure to feed your plants - they'll thank you! Depending on the plant type, you can choose from a variety of plant foods (check with your nursery for help). Some types of plant food use containers that attach directly to your hose to automatically deliver the right amount of food. Also, try putting a three-inch layer of good mulch around your plants. This will help the soil retain water and keep plants insulated from high temperatures. Mulch also helps keep weeds down.
It's a good idea to remove any diseased, damaged, or dead debris from your garden - if left in place, these can block airflow and growth of the rest of your plants. For your flower garden, when you see dead blooms, go ahead and cut them back (it improves the overall look and also helps ensure healthy growth next season). Don't forget the weeds…! They love summer heat and will steal nutrients and water from your other plants Regularly check for and remove them by hand (preferred to any type of systemic poison). In fact, I find weeding to be a calming, therapeutic exercise!
There are many sources of information on planning and planting your garden (or a new water-saving landscape). Here are some great online resources to get started:
We hope our community stays healthy, and your garden, during this shelter-in-place, gives you happiness (and maybe some great vegetables!) all summer long!