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Check your soil moisture and save

This little frog sits atop a free moisture meter. Get one from the Regional Water Authority. (Photo courtesy RWA)

Free meter is a handy way to know when garden needs water

During hot summer weather, Sacramento gardeners often ponder the same question: Is my garden getting enough water? Next question: How do you tell?

Check the soil.

You can dig down with a trowel and actually look at the soil. Plunge a screwdriver into the dirt to see if it penetrates. Or you can check the soil with a moisture meter.

The Regional Water Authority, the umbrella organization over greater Sacramento’s 21 water districts and agencies, is now offering free moisture meters for area residents.

“They’re a low-tech answer (to efficient irrigation),” said Amy Talbot, RWA’s water efficiency program manager. “They’re tangible, visual reminders every day. They’re easy to use. You can get your kids involved; let them check the moisture. We want people to use them.”

Like an instant-read thermometer, the moisture meters are super easy to use. Just plunge the probe into the soil and it tells you if the ground is too dry, too wet or that just right moist spot in between.

These meters also can be key to a healthier garden.

“In non-drought years, focus on making your plants healthy,” Talbot said. “That means giving them the right amount of water; not too little, but not too much.”

The froggy meters are part of RWA’s “Check the Soil and Save” campaign. To get your free moisture meter, go to


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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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