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Five ways to save water this summer

With dry days ahead, here are suggestions to reduce use by 10% — or more

Frog-shaped moisture meter in pot
A moisture meter or just a screwdriver or trowel can be used to determine the moisture level of your
soil. Make small changes in irrigation to save water now. (Photo courtesy Regional Water Authority)

Can you save 10%? That’s the question the Sacramento area’s water leaders are asking local residential consumers during what looks like a very dry year.

On Thursday, the Regional Water Authority – the umbrella organization over the region’s 20 water providers – asked customers to voluntarily conserve water by 10%, especially outdoors where most water is used during the warm summer months. That followed reports that almost all of California is now under drought conditions.

According to the RWA, Folsom Lake – the major reservoir serving Sacramento’s 2 million residents – is lower than it was during historic drought conditions in 2014 and 2015. Fortunately, the Sacramento region is “in a strong position to meet the water supply needs of people,” says the RWA. But the dry conditions are expected to stress the Lower American River, vital to Chinook salmon and steelhead trout.

A dry summer also has potential to stress our landscapes – and plant-loving gardeners.

Don’t panic. Some small adjustments quickly can add up to that 10% savings – and more.

First, look at your baseline and determine your target. The average Sacramento-area household uses about 304 gallons a day, says the RWA. (Of that, 167 gallons goes toward outdoor use.) So, a 10% savings equals about 30 gallons a day.

Here are five suggested ways to reach that goal, courtesy of the RWA:

1. Mulch. A layer of 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch around trees and shrubs can save 30 gallons per 1,000 square feet every time you water.

2. Adjust your sprinkler heads to reduce runoff: Make sure they’re hitting the lawn and not the sidewalk or driveway. That tune-up can save 40 gallons every time you turn on the sprinklers.

3. Check your soil moisture. Before you turn on the sprinklers, use a moisture meter, long-handled screwdriver or other probe. If you can easily push the screwdriver 6 inches into the soil, wait on watering. Potential savings: 80 gallons a day.

4. Water in the early morning. There’s less evaporation and more water gets to plant roots. That can save 50 gallons every time you water.

5. Upgrade to a Water Sense-labeled weather-based sprinkler timer or controller. This one change can save 100 to 150 gallons a day. Several water providers are offering rebates on these smart controllers, too.

For more ideas and links to rebates: .


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Garden Checklist for week of June 23

Get to work in the mornings while it’s still cool.

* Irrigate early in the day; your plants will appreciate it.

* Generally, tomatoes need deep watering two to three times a week, but don't let them dry out completely. That can encourage blossom-end rot.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the early hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Avoid pot “hot feet.” Place a 1-inch-thick board under container plants sitting on pavement. This little cushion helps insulate them from radiated heat.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants. Mulch to conserve moisture and reduce heat stress.

* Cut back Shasta daisies after flowering to encourage a second bloom in the fall.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes. 

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

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