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Sprinkler time? Check soil first

Add mulch now to help trees later.
(Photo courtesy Sacramento Tree Foundation)
Despite dry weather, hold off on irrigation a little longer

Is it time to turn on the sprinklers? Check the soil before you water.

So say Sacramento irrigation experts. Despite our unusually dry February, the ground retains moisture and plants may not be as thirsty as we think.

“With the weather recently being unseasonably warm, we urge people to actually check soil moisture with a moisture meter, screwdriver or by using a hand shovel to dig down six inches to feel the soil,” says Amy Talbot, water efficiency project manager for the Regional Water Authority. “It might be warmer than usual and the soil might look drier on the surface, but the days are still shorter and the nights very cool with moisture in the air.

“It’s likely your landscape does not need to be watered, but the only way to know for sure is to check. If your landscape does need water, we recommend hand watering so that you deliver water only to the plants that really need it.”

The RWA is the umbrella organization over 24 water providers in the greater Sacramento area. We’re in the midst of a very dry streak with no measurable precipitation in nearly four weeks.

Is this the start of another drought? Too early to tell, say experts. But it’s not too early to get your home and garden water smart.

Now is a good time to prepare for dry and hotter weather to come. Summer will be here before we know it.

“Here are some tips for what customers can do right now to prepare their landscape for hotter days and make the most of every drop,” Talbot says.

1. Tune up sprinklers and drip irrigation by turning them on one zone at a time and looking for broken, clogged or missing sprinkler heads or drip lines.

2. Consider upgrading traditional sprinklers with high-efficiency rotator sprinklers, “which can help you use 30% less water every time you turn on your sprinklers and have healthier plants,” Talbot says. “Rotator sprinklers deliver heavy droplets of water at a slower rate that is more easily absorbed by the soil.”

3. To your soil, add plenty of compost and amendments to increase the nutrients available to your plants. “These act as a soil sponge, absorbing and holding water,” she adds.

4. Layer the mulch, “which is like icing on a cake, because it keeps the soil moist the way icing keeps a cake moist,” Talbot says. “Mulch slows evaporation, allowing water to sink into the soil, moderates soil temperature and breaks down into nutrients for plants. We recommend adding two to three inches of organic mulch around trees and plants.”

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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