By Susanne von Rosenberg, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
As a gardener, you are doubtlessly painfully aware of how little rainfall we had during our last rainy season. According to the United States Drought Monitor, Napa (along with more than 50% of the entire state) is currently in an exceptional (category D3) drought.
Some counties have already imposed water conservation requirements. We can count on Napa County and its cities having to do so as well.
During an exceptional drought, fire season lasts year-round. Water is inadequate for agriculture, wildlife and urban needs, and reservoirs are extremely low. In addition, our soils are already pretty dry and cannot serve as a reservoir for our plants in the late spring and early summer, as they normally do.
So, knowing that water conservation requirements are coming, your plants need irrigation sooner than they would during a normal rain year. As a good steward of the planet, what can you do to better prepare your garden to use less water?
In addition to continuing to make your garden more water-wise in general, you can take specific steps now to reduce the water needs of your garden. Make yourself a checklist and make May your drought-preparedness month.
Two of the easiest things you can do to use less water are to mulch your garden and to move to drip irrigation wherever possible. Before you mulch any part of your garden that isn't currently mulched, make sure that you water well so that the soil is moist below the mulch. Then install drip irrigation, and mulch over the drip irrigation, if possible. If you install irrigation over the mulch, water will have to moisten the mulch first before it can penetrate to the soil.
If you are currently hand watering or using sprinklers, installing drip irrigation will help ensure that the only the plants that need water are getting it. You can easily install a drip system yourself. Drip irrigation waters slowly, which means the water has time to penetrate the soil. You save water by preventing run-off and evaporation, and you get fewer weeds.
Then make sure you only water when necessary. For annuals and shallow-rooted perennials, it's time to water when the soil is dry two inches down. For trees, you can wait until the soil is dry at least six inches down. Get to know your plants and understand what signs of water stress look like.
Given that we are in an exceptional drought, the more you do to conserve water in your garden, the better. Another important tool in water conservation during a drought is to prune your trees hard. Preserve leaf canopy that provides shade to your house and other plants but reduce the size of ornamental and fruit trees that don't provide a direct shade benefit.
The smaller the tree, the less water it will need. You can safely prune back fruit trees by one-third. If you expose any limbs that have previously been shaded by leaves, paint them with white interior latex paint (diluted with an equal amount of water) to protect them against sunburn. You should also thin fruit on fruit trees to reduce water demand and get better fruit.
You can reduce the water needs of delicate plants by creating afternoon shade for them. Install shade cloth or other materials to block the afternoon sun.
Think about what parts of your garden are most important to you. You may have to decide not to water certain plants. What are your priorities? You'll probably want to focus on saving perennial plants, especially trees. Although I have a vegetable garden, I would definitely let that go in favor of watering my fruit trees.
You can also rethink your garden. Are there parts that are particularly thirsty? Maybe this is the year to remove those plants, and plan to replant in the fall with more drought-adapted plants.
If you have any unneeded lawn, consider replacing it. Stop watering it and work on a replacement plan to implement in the fall.
Delay any new plantings until we get adequate rain unless the new plantings will require considerably less water than what they are replacing.
Finally, know that your perennials can survive on less-than-optimal amounts of water. When plants lack water, they conserve by closing the stomata (openings) in their leaves that allow water to evaporate. Photosynthesis stops because the plant is no longer getting any carbon dioxide from the air. The result is that the plant won't grow as much as it would with optimal water. Let it catch up in a wetter year.
I encourage you to start now to conserve water, doing your share to help make sure we have enough water to go around.
Food Growing Forum: On Sunday, May 9, UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a discussion on “Beans and Summer Pruning of Fruit Trees” from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Register to get the Zoom link.
Library Talk: On Thursday, May 6, from 7 pm to 8 pm, UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will hold a virtual talk on “Right Tree, Right Place: Making Smart Tree Choices for Your Landscape.” Register to get the Zoom link: http://ucanr.edu/2021MayRtTreeRtPlace
Tree Walk: On Tuesday, May 11, from 10 am to noon, UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a docent-guided tree walk in Fuller Park in Napa. Group size is limited to seven. To register: https://bit.ly/2Qg3tib
Got Garden Questions? Contact our Help Desk. The team is working remotely so please submit your questions through our diagnosis form, sending any photos to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a detailed message at 707- 253-4143. A Master Gardener will get back to you by phone or email.
By Susanne von Rosenberg, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
When I first moved to Napa 14 years ago, autumn rains arrived fairly reliably around the middle of October. As we are all painfully aware now, autumn rains have been starting later and later…and sometimes not at all.
There is no rain in the near-term forecast, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Predictions Center foresees a 33 percent chance of below-normal rainfall through November coupled with a 60 percent chance of above-normal temperatures. The longer-term prediction for our area is for slightly below-normal rainfall.
The change in rainfall pattern we've been experiencing, with rains coming later than they used to, is consistent with what climate-change models predict. While we can expect roughly the same amount of rain, we will wait longer for it and it will come in fewer, more intense events.
So we need to get used to longer dry seasons. On the other hand, we need to be prepared for heavy rains. How should we adjust our gardening practices to address this change?
Let's talk about an extended dry season first. It's definitely a good idea to continue all the water- conservation practices that we instituted during the last drought. Choose drought-tolerant plants, including natives that are adapted to summer-dry climates. Install proper irrigation systems, such as drip irrigation, to water only those plants that truly need it and in the amount they truly need.
Adjust your watering according to the season. With cooler, shorter autumn days, plants require less water, even if it isn't raining. Mulch your plants to keep the soil cool and reduce evaporation.
We also need to reconsider our fall watering habits. It used to be possible to stop watering trees by late August and many other plants by mid-September. With the change in climate, you now need to continue to water until the rains finally arrive. Also consider our fall heat and low-humidity periods. Look for signs that your plants need water. Drooping leaves and/or dull leaves are two primary indicators. Get to know how your plants show they are thirsty.
How much and how often should you water with this new climate? For annual plants, simply test the soil with your finger. If the soil feels moist one to two inches down, you do not need to water yet. Keep checking and you'll soon have a sense how much water your plants need in this cooler season and how quickly they dry out when we get Diablo winds.
For trees, you can either dig down six inches to see if the soil is dry (this is the best way to check), or simply extend the time between watering. If you were watering your trees once a month in the summer, you might wait five to six weeks for the next round, and then six to seven weeks (mid- to late November) for the next round. Still no rain by New Year's? It might be time to water again! Even our native and other drought-tolerant plants may need supplemental water when rains are delayed.
More frequent heavy rains are another outcome of climate change. We will need to be able manage more rainfall on our properties. Heavy rain can damage soil structure, wash away topsoil and produce standing water in low or poor-drainage areas. You can protect your soil structure by mulching. (Yet another benefit of mulching.) Observe how water flows on your property during a heavy rain. Your goal is to slow down the flow, which you can do by spreading it out, and also by including areas where you intentionally allow the water to pool and infiltrate. Overall, the better your soil, the more rainfall it can absorb and the more water it can hold. Organic mulches do wonders to improve your soil – so, yes, keep mulching.
After a heavy rain, you may see water pooling in areas where you don't want it. In that case, you need to improve the drainage in that area. The best approach is to divert water from that area and to create additional opportunities for water to drain away. You can raise the soil level, dig small swales or create shallow berms. Small changes can make a big difference. You may also find, as I have, that as you improve the soil, your standing-water problem will diminish and eventually disappear.
Gardeners are a resilient and persistent bunch. With preparation, we can manage some of these climate-change challenges.
The UC Master Gardeners of Napa County are volunteers who provide UC research-based information on home gardening and answer your questions. To find out more about upcoming programs or to ask a garden question, visit the Master Gardener website (http://napamg.ucanr.edu) or call (707) 253-4221 between 9 a.m. and noon on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.
By Susanne von Rosenberg, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
Many of us set goals at the start of a new year, and most of us give up on them fairly quickly. How about focusing on your garden this year instead? That will probably be a lot more fun than any resolution you were going to make.
Your garden intention can be an enjoyable way to improve your health and well-being and help the planet, too. Win-win-win! Set an intention rather than a goal. An intention creates a path you follow and avoids the stress of having to meet a specific expectation. After all, gardening should be enjoyable.
So what will your win-win-win garden intention be this year? Here are some ideas:
Consider making your garden more environmentally friendly:
Reduce your water use. Install drip irrigation (it's really not that hard) or focus on rainwater harvesting. Alternatively, replace some particular thirsty plants with drought-tolerant choices.
Improve your soil. Keep mulching and use organic fertilizers. Your plants and the planet will thank you.
Plant more native plants. They're beautiful and,once established, need little care.
Choose plants that support native pollinators. We need to support diversity in the pollinator population.
How about planting some plants that will help reduce your energy consumption by shading your home or its south- and west-facing windows?
Learn more about climate-friendly gardening. For example, did you know that you can help trap carbon in the soil through the right kinds of gardening practices? And these practices improve your soil, too.
Create habitat for wildlife. In addition to planting native plants and other plants to provide food for wildlife, provide water and shelter. Leave your garden a little messy; it's better for wildlife.
Replace your lawn with drought-tolerant plantings. All of the cities in Napa County have cash-for-grass programs that pay you to remove your lawn and replace it with a drought-tolerant garden.
Learn to make compost. It's the best way to recycle your yard waste and some food scraps. And if you can't make enough compos to mulch your garden, buy it from the municipal waste company.It's inexpensive and certified as a soil amendment for organic agriculture.
Learn more about your garden:
Spend more time observing it. How does the light and shade change throughout the year? Where does the rainwater flow? How does the wind affect your garden? Which critters call it home?
Track the daily high and low temperature and the rainfall in your location. You can find inexpensive gauges in most garden centers and nurseries and online. Keep a notebook or other journal to record what you observe.
Experiment with something new: new plants, new tools or new ways of taking care of your garden. Did you know that no-till gardens are the wave of the future?
Make your garden work better for you:
What are the big challenges in your garden, and what one action could you take to make the biggest dent in dealing with that challenge?
What can you do to make your garden more enjoyable? Do you need more seating? Or perhaps more shade or sun? Do you want to create a peaceful nook for meditation?
Simply spend a bit more time gardening. Fifteen minutes a day can have a big effect and will make for a relaxing break, no matter what time of day you go out.
Consider contributing fresh produce to the local Food Bank (check first to find out what is needed). This is a wonderful activity to share with kids.
Do you have grandkids or nieces and nephews? How about introducing them to the joys of gardening?
Knowledge makes you a better and more confident gardener. Check out the Master Gardener website (http://napamg.ucanr.edu/) for useful information as well as upcoming workshops and events.
Or you could simply decide to spend more time in the garden. Fresh air and being in nature are wonderful for your heart and soul. Being more at peace is a wonderful intention for the new year.
Workshop: The U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will present a workshop on “Growing Spring and Summer Vegetables” on Saturday, March 9, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at the University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Do you want nutritious, easy-to grow and utterly fresh food from your garden this spring and summer? Learn what the garden needs to successfully produce spring and summer vegetables from seeds and plant starts. In addition to growing basics and hands-on activities, this program includes watering, fertilizing and harvesting tips, with a dash of Integrated Pest Management for pest and disease control. The delight of growing your own groceries is matched only by savoring them at harvest. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in/Walk-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).
Workshop: The U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will present a workshop on “Summer Vegetables” on Sunday, March 10, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., at Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington Street, Yountville. Get tips for growing your own summer vegetables. Learn some basics, get keys to success, and do hands-on activities to learn about new varieties and review old favorites. Enjoy healthy vegetables taken straight from your garden to your table. The delight of growing your own vegetables is matched by savoring them at harvest. Online registration or telephone the Parks & Recreation Department at 707-944-8712.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County (http:/napamg.ucanr.edu) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
By Barb Whitmill, U. C. Master Gardener of Napa County
Spring and fall are opportune seasons to plan and create a new garden. On Saturday, February 25, U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a public workshop on drip irrigation and garden design (details below). Please plan to attend if you are plotting a new landscape or revamping an existing one.
Landscape design involves organizing outdoor spaces using both hardscape (such as walkways and walls) and plants to create a functional, attractive environment. Well-designed gardens serve their intended purpose, while minimizing the use of water, fertilizer, pesticides and labor.
Before creating your garden plan, do a site assessment. This analysis is important whether you are reworking an old garden space or starting fresh.
Evaluate the natural topography of the site: its hills, slopes and drainage. Study the sun and wind exposure in different areas. Map out existing structures such as a home, garage, pool, fences and walkways and how they are oriented to the sun.
Determine the water source for the irrigation. Locate mature trees and large shrubs that you intend to keep, and note the sun and shade patterns they create. Look beyond the property to consider views you may want to enhance or screen out.
What is your objective for the landscape and how will you use it? Perhaps you want to create an inviting entry to your home or a play space for young children. Maybe your wish list includes an ornamental or edible garden, an area for entertaining, a cooking space, a water garden, a potting shed or storage area. Consider traffic flow, how people will move from space to space. Note any concerns about loud neighbors or road noise.
Now comes the fun part, using design principles to create your landscape. Professional designers think about scale, balance, perspective and unity.
A tree planted next to a large house needs to be big when mature to fit the scale of the house.
Balance can be symmetrical—a house with identical plantings on each side of the front walk—or asymmetrical. You create asymmetrical balance if you plant a large tree on one side of the walk and several smaller shrubs on the other side.
Perspective tricks can help you visually enlarge your garden. Strong foliage colors and textures, tapering walkways, flowerbeds that draw the eye outward or “borrowing” a view beyond the property line all make a space appear larger.
Unity can come from repeating geometric shapes or design elements. For example, designing a curved lawn border for front, side and back yards will create unity.
Simplicity provides impact. Better to use a few plants in groupings rather than a lot of plants in singles. Defining the transition between plantings will create harmony.
Drip irrigation is suitable for all kinds of plantings: vegetable gardens, flower gardens, shrubs and both fruit trees and ornamental trees. Drip irrigation is efficient with little water lost to evaporation or runoff. It can be applied only when needed, and it limits weed growth as the water is supplied only to the plant. And drip lines and emitters can be easily repositioned when you move plants.
However, drip systems are not problem-free; they require monitoring and maintenance. Emitters may clog and you may not be aware that a plant is dry until it's too late. Also, drip systems can be damaged by animals, insects and humans.
Choose plants that are adapted to our climate and group them in “hydrozones” according to water needs. Each hydrozone should have its own valve that you can control individually to meet the needs of the plants in that zone. Many gardens have four hydrozones: routine irrigation, reduced irrigation, limited irrigation and no irrigation other than rain.
Most likely, your drip system will have a control center with multiple valves, a pressure regulator, a filter and a timer. Transmission to the planting area is usually constructed with PVC pipe or PE (polyethylene) hose. Emitters can be attached directly to the PE hose, or narrow tubing can be used to reach plants with emitters or sprayers. Drip tape, pierced with small holes, can be used for plants grown in tight rows, as in many vegetable gardens.
Drip emitters deliver water at a specific rate, usually one to three gallons per hour. Knowing the water needs of each plant will enable you to choose the proper emitters. Once the system is in place, each valve timer can be programmed to deliver the necessary amount of water to each hydrozone.
Anyone can learn to install a home drip-irrigation system. If you're planning a new garden or simply want to do a better job of managing your existing drip system, please attend the Master Gardener's upcoming drip-irrigation workshop.
Workshop: U.C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop on “Drip Irrigation and Garden Design” on Saturday, February 25, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., at the University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Learn how to use drip-irrigation components in your home garden in this hands-on workshop. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment)
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
Napa County Master Gardeners are required to spend 12 hours on continuing education each year. One of my favorite continuing-education classes is “Tool Time,” taught by fellow Napa County Master Gardener Matt Jones. The best part of the class is the show and tell, when we introduce others to our favorite tools.
One Master Gardener bought a prune-and-hold pruner that does not have a rope. It is virtually one handed. He picked it up at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show a few years back. It extends to four feet. A boon for the not-so-agile gardener, it eliminates the bending over to pick up pruned limbs. The head also rotates for more precise cuts.
A smaller prune-and-hold pruner, purchased at the Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa last year, is another gardener's tool of choice. A true one-handed pruner, it holds on to the branch until you drop it in the garbage receptacle.
One small handy tool is a pen-size blade sharpener. It fits in a pocket with a clip, just like a regular pen. It has three sides: flat, round and grooved. You can even sharpen your fish hooks. This tool was purchased at Lee Valley Tools online.
One fellow Master Gardener uses her grandfather's sharpening stone. It is still in great shape, and using it reminds her of her grandfather, who taught her the love of gardening.
Another gardener's sentimental tool is an uncle's grafting kit. The knives are very sharp and the tools fit into a handmade case.
One diminutive fellow gardener loves her watering can, perfectly sized for her small stature. She carries it with her as she works.
A Homer's All-Purpose Bucket from Home Depot, fitted with a canvas gardening catch-all from Mid-City Nursery, is lightweight and portable. Mine holds all the necessary equipment for almost every gardening task.
My all-time personal favorite tool is an all-terrain garden cart. It resembles a four-wheel wheelbarrow with high side. Its tires have valve stems and a 90-degree turning radius. It climbs over rough ground and stepping pavers. It even has a dump function.
I can push bags of compost out of my trunk into this cart and pull it wherever I need to dump the compost. Or I can use the cart to haul around an open bag when I'm spreading mulch. The cart is difficult to find. Most garden carts are made of steel mesh, and dirt drops through the holes. I found my cart at Home Depot and have seen them at other big-box stores.
Shovel versus spading fork? The tines of a spading fork sink into the soil instead of slicing through, without much effort. The tines are more soil friendly, ventilating the soil instead of compacting it. To dig deeper or to add amendments, I can stand on the harp and wiggle back and forth without the load of a shovel.
I can't say enough about the new ergonomic tools. The shovels, hoes and spades with circular handles are easy to grip. Some come with an assist bar on the handle to redistribute the load. Many small tools, from pruners to PVC cutters, are being designed with a ratcheting motion instead of requiring brute grip force to power the cuts.
Even drip irrigation is accommodating aging gardeners. The “blue line” half-inch irrigation tubing does not require compression fittings. The easy fittings go over the tubing for about a half inch and then screw on. This is not only easier on the hands, but you can also reposition the fittings.
Raised beds are not a tool, but they are one answer to keeping gophers, moles and voles out of the garden. They are also easier on the gardener's back. Line the bed bottom and a few inches of the sides with hardware cloth, stapling it to the sides of the bed. The lining will foil even small critters. Some garden writers suggest chicken wire but this material breaks down. What's more, small pests can get through the holes, and a strong gopher can bite through the mesh. I enjoy seeing the mounds around my raised beds where gophers have tried to get in. Consult the Napa County Master Gardeners' web site (address below) for more information on constructing raised beds.
Keep your tools clean, sharp and oiled if you want them at their best. I'll be gathering up my tools to attend Matt's “Tool Time” workshop next weekend. Hope to see you there.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners (http://napamg.ucanr.edu) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions?