Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
April, 2008
Regional Report

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Buried 5-gallon nursery containers enable deep watering without your attention.

Water Deeply So Plant Roots Grow Deeply

Early spring is the time to teach plant roots to grow deeply for their life-sustaining water. By consistently providing moist soil deep in their root zones (2 to 12 inches deep), you'll save on time and the amount of water you must give them during hot weather. In spring, for average soils, water deeply but not frequently -- only once every two to three weeks.

During periods of long, hot weather, plants need more frequent and longer irrigation than during periods with more moderate temperatures. In addition to the weather, the texture of your soil determines the amount and frequency of irrigation to apply to your garden. 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. 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 and prevent runoff caused by watering for a long time. Clay soil will retain this moisture for a much longer period than sandy soil, which is very porous. But don't overdo it because if clay soil is overwatered, root rot can be a problem.

Soil with a lot of organic matter is the best because it holds lots of water but still allows room for air, which also is important for good root growth.

Handy Tips
One of my favorite techniques is to bury 5-gallon nursery containers that have several drainage holes in them. Dig a hole deep and wide enough to fit the container so its lip just shows above the soil level. Pull the soil back up to the container so it's a snug fit. Form a moat around the container about 5 or more inches away. Into this moat, you can plant seedlings and seeds, then fill the moat with water to get them settled in. Also fill the container with water that will slowly trickle into the surrounding soil through the bottom holes. The resulting 12 to 18 inches of constantly moist soil will sustain plants through long summer heat.

When I water, I place the hose end into the container and move on to other tasks like weeding or harvesting. After the container fills up, the water overflows into the moat, soaking in and filling it up. By that time about 15 minutes has gone by and I move the hose to another bucket. This way, I can accomplish other activities in the garden while watering.

An additional trick is to add a shovelful of manure or compost to the bottom of the nursery container. This turns the water into manure tea or compost tea with every watering. Of course, I will have amended the entire bed with manure and compost prior to burying the containers.

Remember to mulch your soil -- especially with organic matter such as leaves or grass clippings -- to temper the drying and heating effects of the sun. If you use soaker hoses or drip irrigation lines, place them under mulch so the water will go to the root zones instead of evaporating on the soil surface.

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