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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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