- Author: Margaret J O'Neill
Summer gardens are just around the corner and I am so here for it!! I can't wait to harvest some fresh home-grown tomatoes! I'm looking forward to some sweet, warmed by the sun, fresh off the tree apricots and peaches. I'm delighted to see my deciduous trees leaf out. (One benefit of the dry winter is less mildew on my crape myrtle tree and roses; I'm trying to look on the bright side!). I'm in the glow of spring and don't want it to end. But, long summer days are right around the corner and I am determined to be more prepared this year. Many people planted big quarantine gardens and now the temptation of vacation and the realities of transitioning away from working at home are on the horizon.
Here are some tips and ideas to help you keep those pandemic gardens healthy and happy as we all reenter the world:
1) Did you plant lots of seedlings this spring, or were you so great at getting them to survive and thrive that you have more than you know what to do with? Share with friends, family and neighbors! I always plan to start my own seeds but time gets away from me, so I always appreciate it when friends share their starts with me. I get to follow up on my dreams of summer veggies, and my friends have someone to give some extra plants to…win, win!
2) Heading back to work, or a more normal work schedule away from home? One mistake I made when I was working away from home every day was going to work in the morning when it was cool, underestimating how hot the afternoon had been and how dry my garden plants and trees had gotten while I was away during the day. I arrived home to stressed plants. I should have been more attentive to my morning watering, and watered them all deeply before I headed out. The general rule is to water during the morning, avoiding watering in the afternoon when evaporation rates are highest. Remember that, due to physiological wilt rather than a true water deficit, many plants wilt during hot afternoons because the roots simply can't take up water as fast as the plants lose water through transpiration. Most will perk up by evening. If they haven't they may need water. I love hand watering my plants, but during the summer it's easy to get behind. You might want to consider an irrigation system that can help you out, especially on those really hot days when you don't feel like venturing outside! Soaker hoses are great choices and can be easily connected to garden hoses.
3) Heading on vacation? I know many of us are eager to get out and see the world and family and friends again! While at home for the last year you may have started an amazing garden that now is going to miss you while you are gone! A few tips for traveling: Do you have a crop that will be ready to harvest while you are gone? Consider asking a friend, relative or neighbor to come over and harvest for you. While they are there, they can check on your irrigation system too, or maybe they can help water in exchange for enjoying you harvest. If you are going to set up an irrigation system to water your plants during your travels, you should set it up a few weeks ahead of time so that you can monitor it and make sure it's delivering the right amount of water, and the water is going where it's needed (in the root zone!). Also check the timing of your irrigation and make sure the water is not running off. If it is you may need to cycle your watering system so that it runs for a shorter period of time before its run again (and maybe even a third time) until your plants get the amount of water they need. When you water cycle, the idea is to water soon enough after the previous cycle that the soil has not completely dried out again.
4) You might want to have some shade cloth to prevent heat injury on sensitive plants on days that get above about 105°F, so you don't need to run out at the last minute. You can also use a light colored, light weight sheet in an emergency. Watch the angles of the sun and plan ahead where you might need to add shade cloth on those hot days. Just make sure you have a structure to support it so that it will not squash your plants. If you'll be traveling, spend some time before you leave with whoever is checking on your garden while you're out of town to go over how shade cloth should be used.
Here's a few other suggestions for success this summer that we could all use:
1) We are going into summer dry, dry, dry!! I have been amazed at just how dry (and in some cases almost hydrophobic) my soil is. We are in a drought and that means our trees are facing severe damage if not kept adequately watered. Be sure to water your trees deeply to get them through spring/summer. Under water restrictions, remember to prioritize your trees sand edibles. Your flowers and lawn are much easier to replace.
2) Water early in the morning when evapotranspiration rates are lowest.
3) Applying mulch to your trees and landscape can help keep soil temperatures down and also help keep moisture in and weeds out. In fire-prone areas, avoid organic mulches. Pebbles or rocks are a better idea. Keep mulch away from the base of your trees 3 to 4 inches deep (organic) and 2 inches deep (inorganic).
4) Some native plants, like sages and salvias, go summer dormant to help conserve moisture, but it doesn't mean they need more water if they are well established. When in doubt reach out to our Master Gardener helpline. Our volunteers can help you figure out if your native plant is going summer dormant or if it needs assistance from you.
5) Drink lots of water! Don't forget about your plants, and don't forget to take care of yourself in the heat too!
As always, Master Gardeners are here to help along the way! We will continue to offer our free classes online and look forward to returning to in-person events as COVID-allows. We provide education in the largest county in the continental USA, and travel distance and climate zones vary greatly across its 20,000+ square miles. We have found that offering classes via Zoom save time, energy, and connect people all over the county (and beyond!) with each other. But we also realize that conversing and being together in person is essential and we do look forward to seeing you soon! Our Master Gardener volunteers look forward to reconnecting in person with our many Farmers Market, community garden, and school partners later this summer. We will continue to ensure that our virtual and in-person classes are customized to the time of year, different climate zones in the valley, desert, and mountains and any unusual weather patterns we might have. This helps ensure that when you attend our classes you know you will learn something that will help you out that day, week or month. Check out our June free classes on our website @ http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/; we look forward to seeing you there!