Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2007
Regional Report

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Citrus, now in full fruit, can be transplanted by the end of the month, when it warms up a bit.

Garden Success Starts With Good Soil and Proper Watering

Long before you put plants in the ground, your soil needs some attention to make sure it will provide the best possible environment for your plants to grow their best. Soil that's largely clay can get waterlogged and drain poorly. Soil that's too sandy won't effectively hold nutrients or water. You can determine where your soil falls on the clay to sand spectrum by checking its texture with a simple test.

Checking Texture
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 45 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.

Organic matter is the almost magic ingredient that will improve both clay and sandy soil. To loosen clay soil and provide slow-release nutrition, add up to 50 percent organic matter -- leafy material, straw, grass clippings, and non-greasy kitchen vegetable scraps. Sand will not do the job; remember that contractors mix sand and clay and water to make cement. Continue applying organic matter as mulch throughout the year, and turn it all under in the fall for a rich and friable soil in the spring.

Similarly, if you have sandy soil, add organic matter to improve its water-holding capacity and add nutrients that will be released slowly.

Watering With Your Soil in Mind
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, so if you have clay soil you need to make sure the water reaches the depth of the roots. Since clay soil is slow to absorb water and slow to release it, you can water it a little each day for two or three days to allow deep absorption, rather than risking a lot of runoff by watering once for a long time.

To help your plants withstand summer's heat without constant watering, teach them to grow deeply for moisture. In spring, water loamy soil deeply only every two to three weeks. By the time summer's heat arrives, plant feeder roots will be growing deeply for moisture, and the plants won't need watering more frequently than once a week during very hot spells. Applying mulch will help keep moisture in the soil instead of evaporating into the air.

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