Posts Tagged ‘Watering Plants’

Pink Dahlia 2

Well that’s a long title! I started out with a question about storing dahlia tubers in our warm climate in SoCal and ended up with a whole mish-mash of advice. Here goes…

It’s time for fall garden care and clean up. If your garden is anything like mine, it has been totally fried by the drought and relentless summer heat. I vacillated between trying to get my very-thirsty plants enough water and feeling guilty about using precious water when we are experiencing the worst drought ever. Hearing the messages that we need to dramatically reduce our water use and that we can’t expect much if any rain this winter made me feel very self-indulgent about watering my garden. So I watered, then I didn’t, then I panicked when my plants started wilting, and watered again until I felt too guilty. Needless to say, my garden looks awful. My container plants suffered the worst – many will need to be replanted or, better yet, retired.

Clearly I need to completely rethink the whole garden and start replanting with drought-tolerant plants. That will be a slow process. This is not cheap as you all know!

And because no one really knows what the hell will happen next and solid advice for our new reality is slow in coming, that’s probably a good thing. It will be a little while before the experts figure out the best way for us to deal with it. In the meantime, pray, chant, dance for rain; whatever you think might work, but do it because things are looking really bad.

The best I can tell you right now is to cut back your damaged plants, but not too much. They don’t need more stress. Clean up fallen garden debris thoroughly and mulch like crazy – 3″ at least, keeping it a little bit away from the crown of your plants and at least 5″ away from tree trunks.

As for dahlia tubers, in our warm climate you can leave them in the ground to overwinter. After they have died back, cut the stems back to between 1″ and 4″, clean up the surrounding area, and put down 3″ of dry mulch. They will re-emerge in the spring when the ground warms up again. One caveat is if you live in an area near the canyons or in the foothills where you get more than a light dusting of frost. In that case read this post that Mary Beth did a while back about digging up and storing your dahlia tubers.

That’s it for now. I’m out to the garden to start triaging my sad-looking plants.


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It’s getting really hot pretty much everywhere, so we’re going to focus on keeping your plants well-watered. Plants transpire (evaporate) water vapor through tiny holes on their leaves — mostly on the underside. This helps to cool the plant and draws nutrients from the soil and roots to the upper parts of the plant. On hot or dry, windy days plants can lose a lot of water, sometimes faster than they can take it up, and that can stress them making them more vulnerable to insects and disease.

  • When the temps get into the 90’s and above you may need to water your plants twice a day — early morning and late evening.
  • Container plants are especially vulnerable in this hot dry weather. Check for wilting.
  • Some wilting can be normal for certain plants, but if they look really droopy and the soil is dry don’t wait, water right away.
  • Check newly planted trees and shrubs. Keep them well watered — deep watering is best.
  • Water deeply in advance of hot Santa Ana winds. Don’t wait for it to start blowing.
  • A good layer of mulch, 2 -3 inches, will keep plant roots cool and will cut down on evaporation.
  • Make sure bird baths are clean and have plenty of fresh water
  • Make sure you drink plenty of water while you’re out in the garden — heat exhaustion and heat stroke are no fun.

Garden pests are hard at work this month so stay on top of it.

  • Keep aphids under control by knocking them off with a spray water from the hose.
  • You can try the same for whiteflies and be sure to wash off the sticky honeydew too.
  • Watch for tomato hornworms, they’ll be chomping on your tomatoes this month. They’re hard to see; look for their frass (poop). Click for a pic.
  • Keep an eye out for ladybug larvae which have a voracious appetite for aphids. Protect them and let them do the work for you.

Ladybug larva. It looks scary, but it's one of the beneficial insects you'll be happy to have in your garden.

It’s time to divide your Iris. Lift the clump up with garden fork, snap off leaf fans with about 3 inches of the rhizome attached. Trim leaf fans back to 5 inches tall and replant them in soil amended with compost. Water well.

Garlic scapes should be popped off when they are in a full curl, but don’t throw them away!

Chop scapes up and saute them in olive oil and serve over pasta. They’re really good in scrambled eggs too.

Keep an eye on your garlic for signs that the bulbs are ready to harvest. When the bottom 3 or 4 leaves start turning brown it will be time to lift the bulbs and cure them. Depending on the variety of garlic this should start near the end of July into August.

Treat yourself to a bouquet of flowers to enjoy indoors — that is why you grow them right? I love scattering a few small vases filled with flowers through the house.

And finally, start plans for your fall vegetable garden.

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There’s no theme or focus today, just a little of this and a little of that — kind of like what’s going on in my head today.

Tip #1 — Getting Transplants Off to a Healthy Start

Now that we’re all scrambling to get our baby plants in the ground, here are a few tips to help you do it right.

  • Make sure your soil is loose and friable — which means crumbly. Vegetables have very fine root hairs and need a looser soil structure to be able to grow well. This is especially true of carrots which will get gnarly if they encounter anything in the path of their root as they grow.
  • Amend your soil before you put in your transplants, but don’t put anything in the hole you dig for your plants. That means no fertilizer (dry fertilizer will burn the roots killing the plant) and no weird additions that your grandmother swears by. New research by the folks at the University of California shows that plants do best with nothing but the dirt you just dug up around their roots.
  • Now you can fertilize your plant, but only a little bit! To help your starts recover from transplant shock, mix a little fish emulsion into a watering can or bucket and water in your transplants. Use just enough fish emulsion to color the water.
  • Don’t forget to water your babies well over the next couple of weeks. Never let them completely dry out. Once they are established, you can water less frequently.

Tip #2 — Keeping Container Plants Watered

One of the big issues with containers is keeping them moist enough throughout the dog days of summer. To that end we suggest mixing water absorbing granules into your potting soil. We have been using Soil Moist in our pots and it works like a charm. But we only use it with ornamentals, never with edibles because it’s petroleum-based.

We recently heard about another product by Zeba called Quench which is an “all natural, starch-based product.” It supposedly releases water into the soil more readily than the petroleum-based products. A grower we talked to at a well-known nursery swears by the stuff. So we’ll be giving it a try it in our containers this summer.

Mix it into your soil according to the package directions. Use only the amount specified — more is not better. Use even a little bit more than you’re supposed to and the granules will swell up and push your plant right out of the pot! It should cut down your container’s water requirements significantly and save you from coming home one blazing afternoon to droopy or, worse yet, dead plants.

That’s all we’ve got for this week. Happy gardening!

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