Friday, February 29, 2008

Care for Crispy Gardens: How to diagnose and treat a too-hot garden or lawn

This time of year, gardens and yards are just this side of crispy if you aren't ardent with the watering or blessed with slow, steady rain. But there is hope in warding off fried, dried effects that the heat and sun can cause. First, learn the warning signs, next, brush up on the basics and last, know how your watering gear works.

Warning Signs of Too-hot Plants
Some of the telltale signs to look for are leaves that curl or crinkle up or old leaves that are dry and turn brown and begin to drop off. Another indication that the plant is stressed and needs water is when new growth begins to wilt.

As for grass, it's too dry when you can see footprints on it. Another way to check is to use your small hand trowel to dig down below the sod and see if the root area is moist. If it's crusty or hard the grass needs water. But remember not all areas of lawn require the same amount of water. Sun-drenched expanses of lawn or those affected by drying winds will need more water than those areas tucked away in the shade.

Watering Know-how
How well your soil holds water determines how often watering is required. In general, sandy soils require more frequent watering than clay soils because sand is porous and lets water flow through it while soils with clay retains moisture.

The frequency of your rainfall is the next big factor. A nice long gentle soaking rainfall is a gardener's delight because there's a steady supply of rainwater and time for it to seep deep down into the roots. The same is true for watering techniques. A sporadic short burst from the garden hose encourages shallow root growth. Proper watering encourages deep root growth that helps anchor a plant into the soil and keep it healthy and strong. As a rule of thumb, you can figure that your lawn or garden needs at least one inch of water a week.

If you can't count on rainfall, know that the best time to water is early or late in the day when the temperatures and wind tend to be the lowest. Cooler temperatures and calm winds reduce the amount of water that will evaporate into the air during watering. And remember, if you live in an area where water is restricted follow local regulations, which you can learn by contacting your water department.

Watering Systems
Getting water to your plants and lawn on a regular basis can be accomplished in several ways. You can use a garden hose and oscillating sprinkler, a soaker hose or install a drip irrigation system. Of course, you can drag your hose around to individual plant beds and areas of the lawn and use a spray attachment to sprinkle spot areas. But that's not necessarily the most effective method. Instead, know how much water your garden or lawns requires, and then follow a schedule that provides just the right amount.

How Much Water Is Your Lawn Getting?
In general, lawns and gardens need 1 inch of water at each application. To find out how much time that requires using a sprinkler, take three plastic gallon milk bottles and cut off the top necks. Draw a line on each bottle one inch up from the bottom with a waterproof marker. Place the jugs in the path of the sprinkler and turn the sprinkler on, noting the time. When the water level reaches the 1-inch mark, look at your watch to see how long it took to get there. Use that time to set your watering schedule.

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