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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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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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