|Salvia 'Bee's Bliss' never gets water. Planted at chaparral edge.|
I titled this post carefully - I'm not an expert. This is just what I do, and I'd love to hear from other native gardeners. How are you dealing with this winter drought?
This post is based on a question by frequent commenter Ed Morrow of Carmel Valley, which a beautiful area south of us and inland from the town of Carmel. Its climate is somewhat similar to my ridge-top climate, which tends to be warmer and dryer than in the valleys around me. Ed said:
It's time to start pulling the hoses and doing some hand watering. But how much and how often? Is there some good way to judge how much water to apply, is there some best way to apply it? Should I invest in a soil probe to see how deep the moisture goes? Any ideas? How much and in what way to water during our winter drought?Maybe Town Mouse will add her thoughts to this post. She's more aware of watering, and does use soil probes. She also has a city watering bill, whereas I have a quarterly well-water bill that is not based on consumption! I'm not lavish, but I'm not niggardly either.
It's been dry since our one good winter storm in very early December. We are all hoping for the next promised drenching, supposed to hit north of here in a few days. The last promised storm stayed north of us, so we are fingers and toes crossed!
For a while after the last rain we had some good fog drip, but in the past six weeks or so, with temperatures into the seventies and even eighties, I've been hand watering. Here's how I've been coping.
Where I have seedlings, I water fairly lightly and often. Once a week, maybe more if the sun is beating on them all day. Their roots are not that deep, and they dry out quickly, especially in fluffy garden soil.
|Planted from local wild seed, Clarkia rubicunda (ruby chalice clarkia), reseeds freely in my garden.|
I also water recent plantings, maybe once a week, once every other week - depending how recently they went in. I give them a bit more of a focused soak. I move from plant to plant to plant, and back again to give the water a chance to sink in. It's a pleasant and relaxing task - if you have the time to do it. Probably each plant gets around 20-30 seconds of hose time.
I water chaparral plants either not at all (I have a large wild chaparral area), or way less than riparian/shady plants. I don't have that much time - or water.
|Salvia mellifera, black sage, local wild native at garden edge, never gets water|
I also know the soil: where the water sinks in easily and stays wet longer; where the bedrock is not far below the surface, and more frequent watering keeps things going.
I check the turgidity of tender plants - but sclerotic (stiff-leaved) plants like manzanita don't droop, so it's harder to tell with them. Then again, they are sclerotic to withstand dry periods, so I don't worry too too much. Just a little. How much drought can they take?
|Our local wild manzanita, Arctostaphylos crustacea var. crinita is starting to bloom!|
I mimic the season. I don't think you can give too much water in winter because nature dumps - or used to anyway - tons of water at a time in winter. We also typically get some coastal fog and foggy-drizzle - not as much as lower places, but we do get our share. Fog just dampens things down, so I do some of that kind of light watering too.
|Wild local native madrone, Arbutus menziesii, with exceptional blossoms this year. I've been watering new plantings on the slope it grows on. I think it benefitted!|
The old finger in the soil is another test, for potted plants: If you feel dampness, no need to water. I'm sure probes and all that are better than the finger test.
I have salvias that look happy with no water, and a potted coreopsis that droops if I miss a couple days.
Deep watering is good, of course for deep-rooted plants. But even plants with deep roots generally have shallow roots too. True, if they never get a deep watering (from man or nature) maybe they won't put their deep roots down so far. But I guess I don't worry so much about deep watering to get them over dry spells. Also, I just have too much garden to do deep watering!
|Pink flowering current (Ribes sanguineum glutinosum var. glutinosum) is a joy in the winter garden! This one is in the shade and gets a bit of extra water because of nearby new plantings. It is a plant that benefits from a bit of watering.|
Coast redwoods, for all they are so tall, have very shallow roots. (They interlock to keep the trees upright in high winds.) In extremely warm winter drought periods, I would probably water planted ones like Ed's (he didn't plant them!) maybe every month, for say 20 mins of sprinkler time. Just a guesstimate. My natively-here trees are looking OK still and I never water those. But I worry about them all the same. How many dry winter years can they take? Coastal redwoods only grow where there is fog drip along the California coast.
I also like to give foliage a bit of a spritz because I think the plants would enjoy (yes, enjoy) that, and it gets the dust off.
I think how much to compensate for lack of rain depends on how deep the plant roots go, and what type of plants you're watering, and how recently they were planted. And also how much time you've got to fuss over them — as well as your water bill!
How are others living with winter drought coping? I'd love to know…