Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2005
Regional Report

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Lettuce comes in a bouquet of shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and flavors.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

I never thought I'd say that! But we've had enough for one year. With more than three times our average amount of rain, our soil is wonderfully saturated far down below the root zones of even our largest trees.

When the weather's warm enough for us to think about watering again, don't just sprinkle to wet the top inch or so of soil. Instead, teach your plants to grow deeply for moisture. In spring, for average soils, water deeply only every two to three weeks. This will keep water at least 6 inches to a foot down in the soil, so plant feeder roots will be reaching that deeply for moisture. Consequently, when really hot weather arrives, the plants won't need watering more frequently than once a week.

Water Percolation
One inch of irrigated water will soak down to different depths, depending on how heavy your soil is: 12 inches deep in sandy soil, 9 inches deep in loamy soil, but only 3 inches deep in clay soil. Plant root zones generally reach from 2 to 12 inches down.

Clay soil, because it is so compact, can be watered a little each day for two or three days to allow absorption down that far, rather than watering once for a long time. Clay soil will retain this moisture for a much longer period than sandy soil, which is very porous. Soil with a lot of organic matter holds lots of water but still allows air in for best root growth.

Find the Texture
To easily determine the texture of your soil, fill a jar two-thirds full of water and the rest with soil, shake the jar well, and place it on a windowsill where you can observe the results without moving it. After a few days, the layers will be apparent, and you can make your analysis. The heavy sand particles will settle first to the bottom of the jar, followed by the silt and then the clay. Organic matter will float. Good loam contains about 4 percent sand, 35 percent silt, and 20 percent clay.

If you've been improving your soil and want to see how far you've come, take another sample from some unimproved ground nearby, and test it the same way.

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