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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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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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