Archive for October, 2011

Durango, Colorado


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Durango, Colorado

Irvine, California

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Fall is here, there’s no denying it, and to tell the truth we are loving it. There’s a certain sense of relief and a feeling that we can FINALLY catch up on all the things that were running just ahead of us in the garden all summer.

It’s time to catch up and clean up (click here for our fall cleanup tips). It’s also time to make adjustments to your watering schedules.

Durango Area

Those of you who garden in this region know that fall and winter watering can be very tricky. It all depends on how dry it is. When there is less atmospheric moisture you’ll need to water enough replace what the plants transpire. Unlike SoCal where the local water utility provides good guidelines for seasonal watering, Durango seems to either not have the information available or to have it buried so deeply in their website that it is not findable.

So we went to the Colorado State University Extension site for info. Here’s a link to Watering Basics  that you may already know — water early in the day, don’t over water, etc., but watering in fall and winter in this semi-arid climate can be a challenge so here are some quick facts to help your plants make it through the next few months:

  • Water trees, shrubs, lawns, and perennials during prolonged dry fall and winter periods to prevent root damage.
  • Water only when the air and soil temperature are above 40 degrees F with no snow cover.
  • Established large trees have a root spread equal to or greater than the height of the tree. Apply water to the most critical part of the root zone within the dripline.
  • Newly planted trees and shrubs will required more water than established ones. Water deeply and slowly.
There’s a lot more great information so click here to read the very thorough Fall and Winter Watering Basics from the Extension.

Coastal Southern California

At this point in the season plants are transpiring less water and so their needs are not as great as they were a few weeks ago. This is true even if it’s hot in the daytime because the days are shorter, nighttime temps are a lot cooler, and many plants are entering a dormant phase. Plant water needs drop by almost 30% in September so cut back your watering accordingly.

The one exception to this rule is when the Santa Ana winds are blowing. When that happens the air is extremely dry and you should give your plants supplemental water. This is especially true for container plants that may need to be watered twice a day when the hot winds are blowing. (Hint: misting them mid-afternoon will cool them down and help them make it through the most brutal Santa Ana conditions.)

The Irvine Ranch Water District does a really nice job of helping home gardeners figure out how to adjust their irrigation schedule and cycles. Click here for handy chart with suggested weekly watering schedules. You may have to make adjustments for your landscape, but this is a very good starting point.

And while we’re at it here are some good general tips for conserving water in either region and for preventing runoff — which in SoCal ends up in our ocean carrying all manner of nasty pollutants with it.

  • Water only when necessary – saves 1,100 gallons per irrigation cycle.
  • Water in the early morning, before 8 a.m., to reduce evaporation and interference from the wind – saves 25 gallons per day.
  • Check sprinkler system for leaks, overspray and broken sprinkler heads – saves 500 gallons per month.
  • Turn off hoses run when not in use and use a water-saving hose nozzle instead – saves up to 7,500 gallons per year.
  • Use a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks – saves 150 gallons each time.
  • Install a “smart” sprinkler controller – saves 40 gallons per irrigation cycle.
  • Place organic mulch throughout garden to reduce evaporation, even soil temperatures and inhibit weed growth – save hundreds of gallons per year.
  • Replace thirsty plants with California Friendly drought-resistant varieties – saves hundreds of gallons each year per plant.
BTW: Local university extensions are always great resources for any kind of gardening and farming questions you might have. And don’t be shy, if you can’t find it on the website, call them. They are happy to help.

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Durango, Colorado

Irvine, California

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Yesterday I pulled out my pruners and though I’d sharpened and cleaned the gunk off them with a scrubby pad and some water before putting them away, I hadn’t oiled them (forgot to put the WD-40 back in my tool bag). I was at my client’s house so I thought I’d just make do. Five minutes of having to pop the blades back open after every cut made me humble enough to beg for a drop of oil. Olive oil was all she could rustle up, but it worked just fine.

Those painful few minutes made me really appreciate the benefits of well-cared for tools. Sharp tools can make your gardening experience a breeze or a real pain, literally. Tools that aren’t clean and sharp can cause all kinds of problems. First, they can hurt you — dull pruners or loppers mean you have to apply more force, more often and that can cause, at the least, sore hands and wrists.

Second, dull pruners and loppers (and other cutting tools) will hurt your plants, leaving ragged ends instead of nice clean cuts that heal quickly. Crushed stems and ragged cuts also leave plants vulnerable to disease. Dirty tools carry those diseases from plant to plant. So save yourself and those plants you work so hard to nurture by sharpening and cleaning your tools.

I use my tools all year round and don’t really have a season here in coastal So Cal when I store my tools. Even so, I should go through this routine once a year. Mary Beth is much better at this so I asked her to tell us what she does in the late fall when gardening season is over in the Durango area (and which, obviously, will apply to all colder climates).

Mary Beth: After I clean and sharpen my tools I spray them with WD-40 and rub them with fine steel wool to remove any rust. The I wipe them with a clean cloth leaving a thin layer of oil to prevent rusting over the winter. To store them I put them back in my clean tool bucket in a dry place.

Many gardeners prefer to clean and store shovels, etc. in a bucket of sand and oil mixed together. (Mix 3/4 quart motor oil or mineral oil into a 5-gallon bucket of sand which should be damp but not moist.) Store tools with their blades buried in the oiled sand, or, after plunging them into the oil/sand mixture, hang on pegs off the ground.

Here it is in a nice list:

  1. Go out into your garden and find all the tools you’ve left lying around. (I know there are at least a couple hiding there!)
  2. Clean off all the sap and dirt. You may need a solvent to remove the sap.
  3. Sharpen blades of pruners, loppers, shovels, hoes, weeders, saws, etc.
  4. Oil the blades, hinges and other metal, moving parts. Leave a thin coat of oil on metal to prevent rust.
  5. Tighten bolts and screws. Check handles on long tools to make sure they are securely fastened.
  6. Store in a dry area off concrete floor, hanging tools from pegs or leaving them in the oil/sand bucket.
  7. Don’t forget to wash your gloves. If they are leather, condition them before putting them away.


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Durango, Colorado

Irvine, California

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Why are we startled? Really!? Fall comes every year at the same time, yet we always seem to be caught off guard when those first cool mornings hit. For most it means the end of the growing season and a welcome respite from our garden chores. But not so fast buckaroo! There’s still the Fall Cleanup to do.

There are actually two sets of chores in the garden now. One is cleaning up your garden, which we will look at today. The other is tool cleanup and storage which will be our post next week.

#1 Take stock.

Go out into your garden with your garden journal (You are keeping one, right?) making note of what worked and what didn’t. If a plant didn’t thrive, was bug infested, or disease ridden, it just might be time to “shovel prune” the thing to make a space for something that’s more suited to your climate/micro climate. You’ll have all winter to ask around and see what worked for your neighbors, or to talk to the folks at your local nursery about more suitable plants.

Bring your camera along and take a few photos to have when you’re looking at garden catalogues in the dead of winter. Not only will it cheer you up, but you’ll have a better idea of what new plants to order and where they should go.

#2 Final harvests.

Keep an eye on the weather reports. Harvest the last of your veggies just before that first frost hits. Or, put up some hoops and floating row covers to protect your crops for the early light frosts extending your growing season by a few weeks. Mary Beth did this in June, but you can still install them as a weekend project if you hurry.

#3 Clean, clean, clean.

Remove dead and dying plant material from your garden beds to prevent diseases from overwintering. Be especially vigilant in your rose beds — leave not even one fungus-infected leaf behind! Here’s a link to a great video on the Annie’s Annuals (amazingly great source for plants) website that shows how Annie “tears up” the garden in November to get it ready for spring. (Thanks for Dirt Du Jour for posting this.)

#4 Dig up dahlia tubers.

Yes, we know you hate this chore, but do it! You’ll be patting yourself on the back when these beauties are in full bloom next year. Click here for MB’s great “how to.” In coastal California you don’t have to dig up dahlias. You can just cut them back to the ground in November.

#5 Plant spring-flowering bulbs and wildflower seeds.

In Southern California this is the perfect time for putting in some spring-flowering bulbs. Click here for a list of bulbs that will do well in our warmer temps and for some good sources. You might want to consider filling in some early spring blank spots with native wildflowers. Planting time for wildflower seeds is mid-November through mid-March, but get your seeds now. Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano has nine mixes formulated specifically for California gardens using only native plant seeds.

#6 Cool Season Crops for Southern California.

Here in So Cal we really don’t get much of a break from gardening, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on your energy level any given day. Regardless, fresh, homegrown veggies on your dinner table make it all worthwhile. You can grow arugula, beets, broccoli, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, mache, escarole, favas, green onion, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mesclun, mustard, parsnips, radicchio, radish, snap peas, spinach and turnips.

Seeds should have gone in mid-September and you can probably get away with planting most of them if you do it right away, otherwise buy some starts and you’ll be right on schedule.

Ok. That’s enough for now. Next week we’ll talk tools.

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