by Charlene Burgi
Is it really January? The skies are crystal clear and the breezes are warm and gentle. This beautiful weather is drawing me away from what I should be doing in the garden right now. I should be checking the nurseries stocked with large bare root assortments of roses, fruit trees, perennial vegetables and ornamentals. I should be perusing seed catalogs and planning for the spring vegetable gardens, but the balmy weather is causing me to fawn after plants that would perish in cold wet weather. This false spring is a temptress!
The unusual weather has led several people to wonder if water rationing is on the horizon. In fact, just thinking about “rationing” brought me back to the ‘70s in Marin when we took extreme measures to save our landscaping. I still have unpleasant memories of hauling buckets of laundry water out to my plants. I wonder now if we had worked harder at conserving our water before that drought, could we have saved more plants from their demise?
The good news is that, thanks to last year’s heavy rains, our reservoirs are only a little below their average capacity for this time of year, and there’s still plenty of time for more rain. But the long dry spell is a reminder of how unpredictable our rainfall can be from year to year and hence why conservation is always important. The more we save now, the less chance of needing to ration water in the future. The question is, why wait? Here are some things we can do right now:
First, attend the Laundry to Landscape class this Saturday, January 14, to learn how to divert laundry water to the garden. Every load of wash could mean several gallons of water rerouted to plants, and every gallon diverted is water saved in our reservoirs and for the salmon. My earlier vision of sore biceps in the ‘70s fades as I consider the ease of minor plumbing changes today.
Next, call to schedule a free Green House Call with California Youth Energy Services. They will check for both electrical and water efficiency and even give your home a mini retrofit with water-efficient showerheads, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and more.
While the weather is so wonderful, check the thickness of mulch around plants to slow the evaporation of moisture from the soil. For new plants, choose water-wise varieties that can provide lots of color without guzzling the liquid gold to survive. When planting them, add a healthy amount of organic matter to the native soil for better moisture retention. Do use the precious resource for edible crops and work the soil with lots of composted materials before planting the vegetable garden this spring.
Irrigation systems are another source of waste if not kept in prime condition. Consider if some spray systems could be converted into drip systems now. A good QWEL irrigation landscape contractor could help here. You might consider turning the irrigation system on—especially if your plants are in need of a drink anyway—to note what needs fixing before irrigation season. Walk around each station while it is watering to make sure emitters aren’t plugged or popped off the tubing. Check spray heads to make certain they are directed toward the area you want watered. Invest in a smart controller to take the guess work out of how long the system should run to keep your plants healthy. We didn’t have smart controllers in the ’70s. This is yet another tool to ease the thought of rationing.
How many water saving ideas can you think of? Please share those ideas with everyone who reads the blog. I will post your tips weekly. The beauty of saving now is we still have several months left for potential rain, and meanwhile we are developing some great habits. I am willing to bet those of us who lived through the ‘70s drought are still implementing many water-saving practices we learned back then!
Frost Damage and Pruning
Since I discussed pruning techniques in the past two weeks, it would be prudent for me to warn that this is not the time to prune frost-tender plants such as bougainvillea and citrus. Despite the temperate days, a hard frost could present itself at any time and do some serious damage. Those tender plants would be left unprotected with their top growth missing. This type of plant must wait until late March or April to see a set of pruning shears. More pruning detail for these plants to follow at that time.
Have a great weekend.