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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Jul 21

Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens

Posted on July 21, 2017 at 10:59 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

raindrops on roses
 Photo courtesy of Rick Tegeler
Do you remember the song “My Favorite Things” from the movie The Sound of Music? When life wasn’t going well, Julie Andrews’s character cheered up everyone by listing some of her favorite things. 

I was reminded of that song this week as I walked through my garden. Foxtails are growing menacingly despite my attempts to pull them up and weed-eat them down. Some creeping vine is moving through the flower beds, behaving much like kudzu. And this morning I found one of the broccoli plants wilted as it lay prostrate on the ground. Upon my touch, the whole plant fell into my hand, severed at the base by the tiniest of bugs feeding on the root stem. 

Don't get me wrong: These are not some of my favorite things! I don't yet know the name of the vine as it came up wild. Nor do I know what hatch of bugs attacked the broccoli, though I’m suspecting they may be a hatch of earwigs. However, one of my favorite things is investigating these mysteries in the garden. They challenge me to find answers. It is what I love about landscaping: There’s always more to learn, and you never can know it all. 

Among the gardening mysteries we often need to solve is how to best control insect pests, diseases and weeds. There are always new and varied methods of treatment to explore. At the same time, old methods are good to hold onto. An example of these diverse methods crossed my path this week. A friend called to ask me how to control black spot on roses. For her to access a store to buy fungicide would have required an hour of driving to and fro. Fortunately, somewhere in the far recesses of my memory I recalled using baking soda mixed with horticultural oil as an organic means to stop the fungus from spreading. 

Plants are another example of an endless avenue of unknowns. Even when we think we know a plant, we may be surprised by a new variety. Hybrids of our favorite plants continue to flood the nurseries, sometimes altering what made certain plants so special to us. The old-fashioned freesias that grew wild in my mom's garden would assault the senses with their sweet perfume every spring when they bloomed. Little did I know the new hybrid freesia sports much larger flowers, but the fragrance has been sacrificed for a peppery smell. The challenge now is to find those old-fashioned bulbs without unearthing Mom's garden!

Plants are not the only avenue for challenging the mind and staying current. Irrigation practices and equipment are advancing at warp speed, continually becoming more effective and efficient. It used to be that plants on a drip system could wilt if roots worked their way into emitters and plugged the source of water. Today emitters can be purchased with a root inhibitor to prevent this problem. Other innovations help prevent water waste: One of my pet peeves is seeing sprinklers running during rainstorms, yet today a simple, inexpensive rain shut-off device will interrupt the controller to end the runtime when effective rain has fallen. (Effective rainfall means rain is held by the soil and not immediately evaporated.) Smart controllers will also detect the rain and shut down the system until the plants need water again. 

Landscaping: It is one of my favorite things. There is so much to know, so much to challenge the mind, and so many mysteries to solve. Finding answers is one of the rewards of gardening, right along with finding beauty such as raindrops on roses.

Jul 14

July is Smart Irrigation Month

Posted on July 14, 2017 at 1:34 PM by Ann Vallee

by Keith Bancroft, Water Conservation Specialist Supervisor

Smart Irrigation MonthOnly one day in July is set aside to celebrate the birth of our nation, but all 31 days are dedicated to smart irrigation!

As much as 50% of a home’s outdoor water use may be wasted due to inefficient watering methods (i.e. irrigating too long or too often, having sprinkler heads pointed in the wrong direction and broken equipment). Because July is “Smart Irrigation Month,” now is the perfect time to spruce up your irrigation system by following four simple steps: inspect, connect, direct and select.
  • Inspect: Check your system for clogged, broken or missing sprinkler heads. If you don’t feel comfortable making repairs yourself, then find an irrigation professional certified by a WaterSense-labeled program to do the work for you.
  • Connect: If water pools in your landscape or you have large wet areas, it’s a sign that you could have a leak in your system. Drip systems are especially prone to loose connections or missing emitters, but these are also fairly easy to fix.
  • Direct: Make sure to direct your sprinklers so that they apply water only to the landscape—not the driveway, house or sidewalk. (As Thomas Jefferson liked to say, “It doesn’t matter how much you water the driveway, it won’t get any bigger.”)
  • Select: Abnormally high summer water bills are often caused by an improperly scheduled irrigation controller. Remember to update your watering schedule to follow our Weekly Watering Schedule recommendations or, better yet, select a WaterSense-labeled, weather-based irrigation controller that will automatically change your irrigation schedule based on the weather.
For even more smart ways to save, check out other outdoor water-saving technologies.

Jul 14

Irrigation and the Internet

Posted on July 14, 2017 at 12:54 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

"It must be true: I read it on the internet" is a joke we hear often. Gardening blogs and websites can be a great source of information on irrigation, landscape maintenance, soil preparation, mulching, and dealing with rodents, deer and insect pests. But as we enrich our knowledge online, we also need to seek out local knowledge and consider the unique growing conditions in our own gardens.

This week a piece of information crossed my path from a well-thought-of website that recommended irrigating vegetables with one inch of water per week. Needless to say, I was taken aback by this advice. The question that came to mind was: What is the evapotranspiration (ET) in that area? Surely the writer is not saying all veggies worldwide need one inch of water? The problem is, if readers don’t know how to adapt that advice for the ET where they live, they could be overwatering or underwatering their plants. But if it’s on the internet it must be true, right?

Put simply, ET is the measurement of water that is lost from the soil through evaporation and from plants through transpiration. (Humans perspire, plants transpire.) When we irrigate, we replace the water lost through these natural processes. If we do not provide enough water to compensate for the current ET, our plants could experience wilting or burned leaf tips. Even if adequate water is available, a plant may wilt or burn in extreme heat if it is unable to transpire fast enough to compensate for the heat. On the other hand, too much water can contribute to disease, soil compaction, weed growth and root rot. It can also cause fertilizers and naturally occurring nutrients to dissipate or wash away. Finding that “sweet spot” with just the right amount of water—not too little, not too much—helps keep plants happy and healthy.

 rain gauge
 Rain gauge
What is the formula for applying just the correct amount of water? Check MMWD’s Weekly Watering Schedule for the runtimes for your climate zone within Marin and adjust your controller accordingly. (Smart controllers will do this automatically.) The information found on the site is based on the current ET for our area, so your plants get just want they need. If you water by hand, invest in a rain gauge that will trap the overhead water for a reading; compare that to what they need and adjust accordingly. Don’t forget to add mulch to reduce the evaporation from the soil and help keep the root systems cool. 

Trust me, blanket statements about how much to water are not the best way to achieve a healthy garden. And you did read that on the internet!