This year, summer brings pretty much everything gardeners don’t want to deal with — high temperatures and the need to conserve water.
Here are some tips on helping your plants survive the next few months without driving your water use too high.
Change your watering schedule
If you’re waiting until mid-morning or afternoon — or even at night — to water your garden and plants, you’re not taking the best advantage of the water you’ve got. The later in the day that you water, the higher the evaporation rate, so your plants aren’t getting the full benefit.
Watering at night does greatly reduce evaporation, but letting your plants sit in damp or soggy soil all night can lead to mold, mildew and an abundance of insects that like the moisture.
The best time to water is early in the morning. That gives plants time to absorb the water before evaporation is an issue, and prevents them from having what gardeners call wet feet.
Mulching your flower beds is the best way to keep water in the soil, where it’s most needed. It also cuts down on weeds. Mulch should be 1 to 3 inches deep.
The Bay Area is blessed with a climate that allows us to grow a wide variety of plants, but the question always remains: Should we? We could have a tidy English garden, but that would require an excessive amount of irrigation.
Look instead to California native plants. There are thousands of varieties that will thrive in our climate and, once they are established, require little, if any, additional irrigation.
Summer isn’t the ideal time for planting them because even though they are drought tolerant, they need water to settle in. It’s best to plant in the cooler months — make a note on your calendar — when, we hope, the winter rains will handle much of the irrigation.
How to water
Try watering less often but watering for longer periods of time. That will encourage your plants’ roots to follow the water downward, expanding as they grow. Deep root systems can better tolerate periods of drought.
Look into installing a drip irrigation system and a modern control system that will allow you to put the water where it’s needed, when it’s needed. Sprinklers can be wasteful, and older controllers don’t allow flexibility for adjusting times and days.
What to water
If you are cutting back on your watering, consider which plants can survive with less water, which plants you could sacrifice and which plants will most need that precious commodity.
Vegetable gardens are the focus for many people. If that’s you, then allot most of your water budget to them. However, most gardens can do fine with a little less water. Reduce your watering and keep an eye on the garden for signs that you’ve cut back too much.
Foundation plants — established trees, shrubs and other older plants — should receive sufficient water to protect your investment and preserve the hard-to-replace plants.
Lawns typically use the most water in our yards. Either cut back on water and learn to live with a less than vivid green lawn, or go the distance and stop watering it at all with an eye toward replacing it with minimalist landscaping and low-water plants later this year.