by Charlene Burgi
Drought conditions can force us to reassess and prioritize our landscaping. This past weekend our nieces and their families visited us from the Marin and the Sacramento areas. After the initial family hugs and settling in, the conversation quickly turned to gardening during this drought, especially as we move into the peak of summer. The family recalled that Jack and I survived the droughts of the '70s and the early '90s and asked us to share our knowledge with them. They were children during the drought of 1976-77 when we had a two-acre nursery and landscape contractor's business.
They talked about redwood trees beginning to defoliate and neighborhood lawns turning brown during the current drought. The conversation reminded Jack and me of misfortunes we witnessed in the '70s, such as 75-year-old camellias suffering without water and 50-foot yews turning brown along with the lawn when irrigation was shut off. Such experiences in the '70s taught gardeners better ways to stretch their water in order to keep the plants alive that are most important to them.
One of the best ways to stretch your water is to use it more than once. You would be amazed how much water can be captured by placing buckets in sinks and showers and then using the water outdoors. Rinse water from the washing machine can also be diverted to irrigate shrubs (MMWD is even offering rebates up to $50
for laundry-to-landscape system components). Note that graywater cannot be used in vegetable gardens, but it is perfect for your prize roses!
| Heavily mulched bleeding heart
Jack and I also stressed the need for mulch. And sheet mulch is even better. Add thick layers of newspaper or cardboard and cover with straw, soil conditioner, compost, or bark. Those layers of paper material will act as a sponge and hold on to water for long periods of time. The rains we experienced in Lassen this past week saturated the ground. The sheet-mulched area retained the fallen moisture longer than the other mulched areas, thanks to the sponge-like conditions we had created.
Another way to save is to dial back irrigation times. On average, most people overwater their plants by about 40%. Your plants can be trained to accept less water, but do this gradually. As you cut back, watch for wilting and then provide adequate irrigation for sustenance. Better yet, invest in a smart controller to give plants just what they need. As a reminder, for MMWD customers irrigation of ornamental landscape and turf areas is limited to no more than three days per week, between the hours of 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. Following those requirements will help ensure you're using irrigation water more efficiently.
We are at the time of year when the evapotranspiration rate is at its peak. (Remember: we perspire, plants transpire
.) How are you prioritizing in your garden? These drought experiences and lessons learned will someday make for great conversations beginning with "Back in the day …"