All Things Gardening forum: Drought and Deep Soil Issues

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Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
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RoseBlush1
Jul 31, 2014 11:11 AM CST
I've posted something similar to what I am going to write here on the Rose Forum and am hoping for some feedback on my theory about what is happening in my garden during the third year of extreme drought.

My soil consists of lots and lots of small rocks and clay. It drains really well, but also holds moisture very well ... at least it has in the past.

We haven't gotten our usual heavy rains during the winter months for the last three years and I think the soil deep down is much, much dryer than usual. Normal rainfall for my part of California in the mountains is 35 to 45 inches of rain within the the months of November through April with no rain during the summer months. A dry year is considered to be 25 inches of rain in the same period.

The rains are heavy and consistent.

This year, I have found that even when I deep water my roses, they are dried out within a day because all of the water I am putting down is getting wicked down to the lower levels of soil. No matter how much mulch I put on top, nothing is going to stop that dynamic.

I am having to water plants that I have never had to water in prior years.

Another strange thing is that I am not seeing any worms. I think they have fried because I've improved the soil in the rose beds sufficiently over time so that there have always been lots and lots of worms.

The roses are going into heat dormancy because they know how to survive in drought conditons ... at least most of them. I don't think I am going to lose any this year. It's my trees that I am worried about. I think I've lost two liquid ambers. My white fir is looking pretty stressed, but it is the dogwood and the 60 year old red maple that is causing me the most worry. Both are showing signs of severe water stress. There is no way, even if I could afford it, that I can supply the water that they need.

Not only is the thirsty earth wicking away the water, but the trees and the junipers up on the slope have extended their root systems in search of water and are grabbing any water I put down for the roses.

I have taken out shrubs near the trees to reduce water competition, but I can't think of anything else I can do for them.

I am using soaker hoses under the canopies of the trees, but I really don't think I am doing enough.

I haven't researched this issue, so the loss of moisture in the deeper due to the drought soil impacting my garden is only a personal theory. I really don't know if I am correct and would love some feedback from those who know more about this kind of thing than I do.

I am really praying for rain this winter.

Smiles,
Lyn

I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Lititz, PA (Zone 6b)
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Sequoiadendron4
Jul 31, 2014 12:28 PM CST
Man o man, you've got a tough situation! I think your theory about water wicking is correct. The same thing happens if you install a plant with a moist root ball and the rest of the ground is dry. That plant will need water soon because the soil around it will pull it out of the moist root ball. I think you're doing everything you can. It's tough where you are because the drought is so bad. I would just make sure there is plenty of mulch over your roses so that they're not losing moisture due to evaporation.
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Jul 31, 2014 1:34 PM CST
Thank you so much for the confirmation. I am just figuring out how to manage my watering so that I can keep things alive this year. I don't care if the plants bloom or not.

I am re-mulching all of the rose beds with a different mulch material than I usually use because I think it will prevent evaporation more effectively.

You have also confirmed that a new watering practice I've implemented this year is the right thing to do for the roses. After deep watering them, I deep water, as much as possible, the whole bed so that soil near the surface beyond the canopy of the roses doesn't wick water away from the plant, too. It's tricky because the temps are staying in the high 90s to low 100s from noon until 9pm. I've been going out to move the sprinklers using a flashlight because I am watering after dark. Thank you.

I've lived through droughts before, but never one like the one we are experiencing now, so I am kind of making it up as I go along in order to get through the intense heat of the summer months.

The soaker hoses under the large trees are helping, but not enough. I am almost certain much of the water I am putting out is going down to the deeper levels of the soil lower than the tree roots that take up water for the tree. Even when we get really heavy rains in a normal season, I mean the kind where the gutters over flow, I never have any puddles in my garden because the rain water just goes down to the deeper levels of soil to the underground streams that run under my property and feed the Trinity River. I think those streams have dried up and that's why the trees are not getting water.

Thanks, again.

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
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tarev
Jul 31, 2014 1:51 PM CST
I think as long as you deep water them the trees will just eventually adjust. I have been observing the city trees that shades my garden. I know it gets deep watered at night by the sprinkler system provided by the city. But with this intense drought, it is just not enough, so the trees are doing a pre-emptive dropping of leaves. Looks like early Fall in my garden now, especially when the higher 90's to triple digits are back. My garden becomes a catch basin for the dried leaves.

Same goes with my other succulents, though some should not go dormant, it seems to go on dormant mode when it is triple digit hot outside, though there are some like the Aeoniums which really naturally go dormant this time of the year. And I also observe them dropping leaves, as the plants try to conserve whatever water/moisture they can get.

Just continue to deep water within the limits permitted. We all have the watering restrictions now statewide..I am just glad majority of my plants are drought tolerant and I have no grass either.

I am just imagining rain right now...have not seen it since mid-March this year. Rolling my eyes. Rolling my eyes.
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Jul 31, 2014 2:29 PM CST
Hi tarev ...

I was hoping you would weigh in because I know your climate is somewhat similar to mine. I live in the mountains above Redding so I get the Valley influence up here and experience similar temps that you have down in the Valley.

My trees have not started dropping leaves, yet, but they look like they are about to shut down in order to survive.

I just planted out some Hens and Chicks into larger containers that have been sitting in a 4" pot since I purchased them at the beginning of June. These are the first succulents I've tried to grow, so I really don't know what I am doing. I've placed the larger containers under the dogwood tree because that is the only shade I have on the house pad level of my property. It's too hot to put them where they are going to get any sun.

>>>>Just continue to deep water within the limits permitted. We all have the watering restrictions now statewide..I am just glad majority of my plants are drought tolerant and I have no grass either.

We don't have any water restrictions up here because I live in a county-of-origin for water. My only restriction is my budget, so I am trying to water wisely. I do water my lawn, all 400 sq ft deeply because that is where the maple tree roots are located ... lol.

I have prepared my roses to be drought tolerant this summer and they are doing fine as far as staying alive. No, they don't look good, but I am almost sure I won't lose any of them.

>>>>I am just imagining rain right now...have not seen it since mid-March this year.

Yeah, that's about the last time we saw rain up here, too. I am so glad I decided to water in January even when there was a foot of snow on the ground because the plants came into the dry season less stressed.

It's just that I kind of needed confirmation about my theory about the soil being so dry deep down that it was wicking away the water from the plants. My soil usually holds water in the root zone of the plants a lot longer than I have seen this year. It just seemed strange to me.

The only change I've made in my watering practices so far is to water the beds at night and to use the soaker hoses on the trees.

I just hope we have rain this winter.

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Linda
Medina Co., TX (Zone 8a)
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LindaTX8
Jul 31, 2014 2:48 PM CST
We've lived with severe droughts for many years now. Mulch is good, because it shades the soil (reducing effect of the blazing sun), but one thing I've noticed...sometimes very thick mulch will actually prevent moisture getting down to the soil if it's not enough watering in a single instance. That can mean that a 1/4 inch rain shower or watering won't help the plants very much. When the soil and subsoil are completely utterly dry, it is also difficult for the soil to wick water downward, instead there can be runoff early on during rainstorms. Watering techniques that get the water down directly to the soil in areas with thick mulch help. Drip irrigation during hours the sun isn't out is best. Xeriscape plants do much better, but must be established before they're able to endure the drought conditions. As for trees...the trees with higher water requirements will have severe damage or die first...that's logical. The local native trees should normally do well, but after years of severe drought, we even lost many of those. The worst of the effects on your trees will be most obvious the year AFTER the worst part of the drought. The year after our hottest and driest year, dead and dying trees were falling all over...some onto houses or cars...thank God we were spared that, because the trees closest to the house survived somehow. If a tree near a house is obviously dead, cut it down and start over. Any kind of shading for plants helps. I've used sunblock materials over some kind of framework. Then for smaller plants, I use things like plastic crates (plastic milk crate type thingies). Those very large patio type umbrellas help to shade plants temporarily. A really cloudy, shady day is a great blessing here during the summer (May through September I consider to be our summer). A rainy day is even better!
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Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Jul 31, 2014 3:55 PM CST
Thank you, Linda ...

>>>but one thing I've noticed...sometimes very thick mulch will actually prevent moisture getting down to the soil if it's not enough watering in a single instance.

That's true. It's why I used a different mulch material under the canopy of the roses. I am putting down a layer of wood chips between the plants because my regular leaf/compost mulch dried up so quickly it no longer holds any moisture in the soil.

The only plants I am concerned about saving are the plants that are doing work for me like the junipers that hold the slope in the back of my property in place ... I've never had to water them in the past ..., the roses because the rose industry is turned upside down and they cannot be replaced and three of my trees. The only one that could possibly damage my house is the white fir up on the slope. The maple and dogwood are sited so that even if they did fall down, they won't fall in the direction of the house. I've limbed them so that I don't have to worry about a limb falling on the roof.

I am somewhat concerned about some of the oaks at the top of the slope on my neighbor's property, but he has thinned all of the trees to reduce water competition. A few of them are tall enough that if they fell towards my house, there could be damage, but it's not my property. These are native oaks and have probably been there long before my house was built.

As for shading plants, other than the roses, I am not growing anything that can't be easily replaced and most of those plants are Xeriscape types of plants.

>>>When the soil and subsoil are completely utterly dry, it is also difficult for the soil to wick water downward, instead there can be runoff early on during rainstorms

In this garden, there is never any runoff. My home is located in a watershed for the Trinity River and excess water does go straight down. That's one of the reasons I am making sure that I don't put down a very thick layer of mulch. Just enough to slow evaporation.

I yearn for a cloudy day ... truly. I'd be able to work outside longer. That would be bliss.

Thank you for sharing what you have learned. It really does help.

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Lititz, PA (Zone 6b)
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Sequoiadendron4
Jul 31, 2014 7:57 PM CST
That is definitely true about the mulch Rose. I just figured that out this year but I think that the next time I mulch anything it will be with pine bark mini nuggets. They look nicer, IMO, and they let the rain penetrate rather than forming a dense mat.

I really feel for you all out there in CA and AZ. My parents live in Phoenix and they haven't seen much in the way of rain. They said that they've only gotten 1" this whole year so far and they broke their old rainless record of 122 days by two days. I really hope rain comes to you this winter.
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Jul 31, 2014 8:10 PM CST
Seq ....

Right now I am still mulching under the roses with shredded leaves that do not matt, but am using wood chips between the plants. I don't think they will degrade as quickly in the heat. I still have one to two months of high temps to get through.

Like I said before, it's the trees that are my biggest concern right now.

>>>pine bark mini nuggets.

One caution ... do not let them be in contact with the crown of your plants. I went out on a rose consultation this spring and the lady had used too thick of a layer of the mini pine bark nuggets and had mulched right over the crown of the rose. She also watered too much so the bark was always wet. All of her roses had severe canker at the base of the plants and, of course, root rot. I couldn't save any of them.

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Lititz, PA (Zone 6b)
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Sequoiadendron4
Aug 1, 2014 5:48 AM CST
Good to know, thanks! I probably would do a thin layer of 1" or so.
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Aug 1, 2014 9:00 AM CST
That's fine. Water will get through and won't evaporate quickly. It's just that the nuggets do swell some and if next to the crown of a plant will keep it too moist. You can go up to 2" but more than that will not give you extra benefit. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but think about how nature works. She puts down a little bit at a time. By the time the next season's leaf drop comes around, what was put there the previous season has already decomposed a lot, so the next thin layer doesn't block moisture from getting through. Nature is a great teacher.

Mulching is really a great tool, but you have to make it work with your plants. You can move "pretty" away from the crown of the plants. Their roots spread out from the crown so they will still be protected.

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
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tarev
Aug 5, 2014 10:07 AM CST
I am now no longer too worried about the trees even during this drought...just found out over the weekend how tenacious their roots are. I guess as long as they are as matured and as big as the ones along our fence line..it will send out its roots as far as it can get to find its much needed moisture.

The lovely trees... our tall shade here...
Thumb of 2014-08-05/tarev/559f6c

and found its roots, under our pavers..I have intentionally not planted anything inground around my house..all plants in containers...but the trees..those roots found its way, this is near my faucet area..so it was helping itself out.
We decided to lift some of the pavers, since some were getting loose and uneven..such a surprise to see an elaborate root system there. For awhile I have been thinking maybe the ants have found a way to dislodge the pavers..sorry ants, my mistake..just the roots seeking moisture.

Thumb of 2014-08-05/tarev/2eeac2 Thumb of 2014-08-05/tarev/0df5f7

Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Aug 5, 2014 2:22 PM CST
Tarev ....

I am amazed at how efficiently the trees are using the water I am now giving them. They have gone from having weeping branches and looking like they were ready to abandon their leaves to where they look like they are puttering along. They still look somewhat stressed, but I think they will make it.

I have only put a hose with a slow drip under each of the three trees I've been concerned about.

I have found maple tree roots down in the rose bed along the front lawn where they were seeking water. The previous owner should have never planted that tree in that location, but it has been there for decades, so I really don't want it to die.

The small lawn does get watered primarily because that's where the root system of the maple tree is located.

I am not worried about any of the roses because I've pushed them into summer dormancy/survival mode and the plants do not require as much water as they normally would need to survive.

It does seem like the sunlight is more intense this year, but that may be because it's been continuously HOT.

However, my initial post is about how the drought is impacting the soil deep down below the surface of the garden. Since my home is located in a watershed and I know there are a lot of underground streams under my property that I am thinking are now dry, it seems like the water I use on top for my plants is being slurped up by the deeper soils because they are so dry.

It's interesting to observe how different plants are responding to the drought. If the situation were not so dire, I'd like to learn more about the dynamics at play.

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Rick Corey
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RickCorey
Aug 5, 2014 4:25 PM CST
The California co-operative site talked a lot about drought, but I didn't stumble onto anything you don't already know. Their "home and garden" links seem heavily preoccupied with grass, and I don't mean California's largest cash crop!

http://ucanr.edu/
http://ciwr.ucanr.edu/California_Drought_Expertise/
http://ciwr.ucanr.edu/California_Drought_Expertise/Drought_i...

Maybe if you use an agricultural co-op extension finder to find a station as close as possible to your part of your county, it will have some useful specifics.

http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/index.html
Name: Cheryl
Kingwood, Texas (Zone 9a)
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ShadyGreenThumb
Aug 5, 2014 4:43 PM CST
Droughts are definitely a challenge for gardeners. I spent $$$$ per month on watering during our droughts. We were blessed with armadillos in the yard hunting for earthworms and tree roots from the forest behind us seeking water uprooting flagstone along the way. So I made sure I watered infrequently but very deep. It paid off. While plants just maintained in my yard, the trees in the forest were saved. Everything is thriving today. The forest to the left and right of us did not fare as well and many large oak trees did not make it. The money for water was well spent as they charge upwards of $1000 PER TREE removal here. I kept my trees, plants, and the forest as well.

I hope the drought ends on in the West soon. it is definitely worrisome.
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Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
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RoseBlush1
Aug 5, 2014 4:56 PM CST
Thanks, Rick. I do appreciate the links.

>>>>Maybe if you use an agricultural co-op extension finder to find a station as close as possible to your part of your county, it will have some useful specifics.

Yup. They are just down the road a bit. The problem is the County budget is squeezed so tight that we borrow the AG guy from the next county over for a few hours a week and really don't have an ag department any more.

Cheryl, I live in a small town in the midst of the the Trinity/Shasta National Forest. I don't have many trees on my property because I live in "town", but my whole garden is on maintenance mode. I am just trying to keep things alive and am praying for rain this winter.

When I was preparing the garden for drought, I forgot about prepping the trees. Duh ! I have never had to water them because they got their water from the underground streams.

>>>I hope the drought ends on in the West soon. it is definitely worrisome

Very much so. The wild fires caused by lightening are simply horrible.

Oak trees are particularly thirsty trees. I think oak fire wood is going to be cheap in the next couple of years.

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
Aug 5, 2014 5:41 PM CST
Lyn, a couple of thoughts here and forgive me if I repeat someone else's suggestions, I skimmed through a few of the posts above.

Have you pruned the top growth of your trees at all? The less leaves the tree has to support, the less water it needs.

Also, about that lawn that is under the maple tree, the grass is using water that the tree would get if you could remove the grass. When the rains return (some day, let's hope!) you can easily replace the lawn, but not the tree. Maybe spread a thin layer of mulch or compost over the grass to kill most of it off? Better yet, spread newspaper, cardboard or something to smother the grass plants. Don't forget that the trees have roots out usually as far as the reach of the branches, so maybe burying soaker hoses under thick mulch around the drip line would water the perimeter roots better?

Here in FL we have sand, sand, sand so when the weather's dry and sunny it dries very quickly. UF research has shown that early morning watering when the air and soil temperature is lowest, and breeze is least is the most efficient time of day to water as it minimizes evaporation. Can you put in a timer or two to turn on the water at 5am or so?
Elaine

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Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Aug 5, 2014 7:29 PM CST
Elaine ...

Thank you for the suggestions.

I only have 400 sq ft of lawn. I have been gradually taking it out, but I wouldn't mind losing all of it. No, I haven't mulched the trees simply because I cannot purchase mulch up here. It's a great idea. I have been going to the utility company's chipping pile to get wood chips for the rest of the gardens. I can get some for the trees. Just more hauling, but I think it will be worth the effort.

Mrs. J imported clay soil for the front of the house and it is wonderfully moisture retentive. I had deep watered the maple a couple of days ago and I had to dig around the base of tree today to set a gopher trap. The soil was still almost muddy. The tree is pulling water up and looks a whole lot better than when I first started this thread.

No, I haven't topped it. I think it must be 25' tall. The fir on the slope is even taller. I've branched the dogwood and took out a couple of shrubs Mrs. J had planted near it to reduce water competition. It too, is looking better.

I have placed soaker hoses under all of three of these trees and turn them on just before dark and then turn them off when I get up. There is no run off, so I know all of the water is getting to the trees unless it is getting sucked down by the dry-soil dynamic I've written about above.

I really do appreciate the suggestions. I've been running out of ideas.

If we do have another dry winter, I am definitely going to water the trees, too.

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Kyla
Richmond, VA (Zone 6b)
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kylaluaz
Aug 12, 2014 5:00 PM CST
It occurs to me that this is just the kind of situation experienced permaculturists might have good suggestions for. I know Bill Mollison (who's one of the great lions of the permaculture movement) wrote a lot about various ways to mitigate extremely dry conditions. I myself don't remember enough of that to offer suggestions, as it's been years since I read that material. But I wanted to suggest you look in that direction for the next round of advice.

My heart hurts for the lands in drought, and having lived in California in the past for quite a few years, I find the situation out your way especially sad. I do pray for this pattern to shift! so that CA gets the good rain it needs.
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Aug 12, 2014 5:19 PM CST
Kyla ...

Thank you for the suggestion.

To me, this is such an unusual experience and one that I don't know if it will continue or we will be getting our usual wet years up here.

With some research about how a watershed works, it makes sense that the water applied to the surface will drop to the deeper levels of the soil mass in the watershed.

I've made some changes in how I water in order to keep the water closer to the surface where most of the plants have the root system to collect water and food long enough for the plants to be hydrated as well as possible.

I had already prepared most of the garden for drought conditions, but I just forgot about the impact on the trees. In what we normally call a dry year up here, we get 25" of rain and that has been sufficient to avoid water stress to any of my trees. It is a learning process.

Right now, the white fir looks fully hydrated with the maple tree close behind. The dogwood is the slowest to recover, but is already in better shape than it was.

I followed Elaine's suggestion to add more mulch under them and that has helped, too.

If we get rain this winter, my garden is in better shape than most of my neighbors'. I am glad I had a place where I could ask questions.

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.

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