Too Much Water Is A Serious Problem.

Well, . . . this is an exaggeration.

The most common problem with landscapes that are maintained by maintenance gardeners is excessive irrigation. In fact, with very few exceptions, the only lawns that are maintained by gardeners that are not also irrigated excessively are too dry because the irrigation systems are not operational. Excessive irrigation is not only unhealthy for the landscapes, but costly.

Wasted water is obviously expensive, but also causes all sorts of expensive damage. Saturation of soil inhibits deep dispersion of roots, causing shallow roots to displace pavement. Shallowly rooted trees that are easily destabilized by wind can cause expensive damage, and are expensive to remove. Smaller plants that do not cause damage as they succumb to saturation and rot are still expensive to replace. The gardeners who get paid to maintain the landscapes should assume liability for the damages they cause, but instead charge to repair it! If they can not repair the damage, they typically happen to know someone who can.

Fortunately, those of us who maintain our gardens, or are at least involved with the maintenance, are not so generous with water. Although lawns need quite a bit of water, they also need adequate drainage. Besides, we tend to be more aware of the expense of water than gardeners are.

Now that it is autumn, irrigation needs to be decreased for various reasons. Rain will be providing more moisture as the seasons progress. While the weather gets cooler and more humid, and the days get shorter (less sunlight) not so much moisture evaporates. Most plants are either dormant or at least less active, so consume less moisture.

There are unfortunately no accurate formulas for decreasing frequency and duration of irrigation as the weather changes. It must be done by trial and error, by providing enough irrigation during dry spells without keeping conditions too wet. Of course, no irrigation is necessary during rainy weather, except only for plants that are sheltered by eaves. Hanging pots should be monitored because they are both sheltered from rain (if hanging from eaves), but also exposed to drying wind.

Also during autumn and winter, dormant plants need no fertilizer. That can wait until they wake up early in spring. Raking falling leaves from lawns, ground cover and low shrubbery is important though, since such debris shades the plants below while sunlight is already less abundant, and can also promote rot.


Mulch Is Lowly But Practical

Mulch is less interesting than useful.

Gardening is unnatural. Most popular plant species are not naturally native. Cultivars are products of unnatural selection and breeding. Most plants like unnatural watering. Some enjoy unnatural fertilizers. Removal of their detritus is unnatural. So is the replacement of their detritus with mulch. Actually, most of what happens in the garden is quite unnatural. 

Ironically, gardening is how many of us incorporate more nature into our lifestyles. Much of our effort compensates for what plants naturally crave but unnaturally lack. Watering is necessary for plants that get rain through summer within their natural ecosystems. Mulch might be nice for plants that naturally benefit from the decomposition of their own debris.

In nature, most plants benefit from their own debris. They enjoy the nutritiously decaying organic matter and enhanced moisture retention. Their shallow roots enjoy the insulating effect on the surface of the soil. Debris of some plants excludes other competitive plants. Mulch is not a perfect substitute for such detritus, but partly compensates for its removal.

Although it would likely be an asset to the plants that produce it, the detritus produced by most plants can not stay in the garden. Much of it is too abundant. Some is too shabby or too coarsely textured. Some might become combustible as it accumulates. Diseases can overwinter in some types of debris. Mulch is more sanitary, neater and less combustible.

Most mulches are organic matter of one sort or another. Compost does not last long as a mulch, but is appreciated by most plants. Uncomposted chips from a tree service occupy nitrogen as they decompose, but are more effective for inhibiting weed growth. Products that are available as mulch at garden centers are more refined, but also more expensive. 

Some dense ground cover plants perform something like mulches. Many consume more moisture than they retain though. Also, they can retain bits of potentially infectious debris that falls from diseased plants above. Nonetheless, they insulate the surface of their soil, and inhibit or exclude weeds. Gravel over ground cloth is inert, but requires no watering.

This Parade Needs Some Rain

Now, this is something you don’t see every day in a chaparral climate.

The lack or rain has really gotten serious! This winter so far has been the driest ever recorded. The past two winters had already been unusually dry. Even when the rain starts, it will be considerably behind schedule. Some seriously torrential rain will be needed to catch up.

As much as we like to think of gardening as something that brings us closer to nature, it demands unnatural volumes of water. Only established native plants or plants that are native to similar climates can survive with the limited moisture that they get from rain. This is why gardens get watered as much as they do.

Lawns of course require the most water because their shallow root systems require such frequent watering, and also because their vast foliar surface area loses so much moisture to evapotranspiration (evaporation from foliar surfaces). Lawns are the first and most prominent of landscape features to succumb to water restriction. Flowering annuals are the next to succumb, because they too want regular watering, especially while they are not getting any from rain.

Fortunately, lawns, annuals and other plants that want an abundance of moisture need less now because they are dormant or considerably less active through winter. Besides, evapotranspiration is inhibited by cooler temperatures, shorter day length, and most of the time, by higher humidity. It is nothing like the warm and arid (minimal humidity) weather during longer days of summer.

Many large and established shrubs and trees can survive quite easily with very minimal watering or even none at all. Established oleander, bottlebrush and juniper may not be as vibrant without watering, but should survive. If they notice a lack of water at all, it would not be until they start to grow again in spring. Mature trees take even longer to notice a problem.

Deciduous plants that are now bare really do not consume much moisture at all and really only need enough moisture in the ground to keep their roots from desiccating. This will only be a problem if the soil is very sandy and drains too efficiently to retain adequate moisture, or if freshly installed plants have not had enough time to adequately disperse their roots into the surrounding soil.

Automated irrigation systems should still be operated only minimally or not at all through winter. However, because of the unusually dry weather, they may need to be used a bit more than usual for this time of year to keep some things from getting too dry.

The Molting Of The Chrysler

P80108+The old Chrysler looks different this time of year. Like dogs, cats, horses and deciduous plants, it adapted to the weather.

That tan canvas structure above the cab is known as a ‘roof’. It was there all along, but folded up behind the back seat. It was merely unfolded over the top of the cab. The ‘roof’ comes in handy this time of year, not only for keeping warmth within the cab, but also for keeping things out of the cab. Allow me to elaborate.

You may nave noticed that the Chrysler is wet. This is a direct result of mysterious droplets of moisture that fall from the sky. We discussed them earlier. They are known ‘rain’, and are falling from the sky presently. The ‘roof’ keeps the ‘rain’ out of the cab. Otherwise, the cab and everything in it would be as wet as the ‘roof’ is now.

The yellow, orange and reddish brown things strewn about are sweetgum leaves. You may not recognize them now because they are not green. They change color when the weather gets cool this time of year, and then get dislodged by meteorological events such as wind and the presently observed ‘rain’. The ‘roof’ excludes them from within the cab of the car.

The two devices at the bottom of the windshield are another adaptation to ‘rain’ known simply as ‘windshield wipers’. When in operation, they pivot from where they are affixed just below the windshield to literally wipe the the wet ‘rain’ away. They are a rather ingenious invention, since ‘rain’ on the windshield tends to inhibit visibility.

Just as a thick coat on a dog or horse can predict an unusually cool winter, the molting of the Chrysler is directly related to the weather. Although it can not predict ‘rain’ as early as dogs and horses can predict cold weather, it quite reliably happens immediately prior to ‘rain’. It is a good sign for the garden.

The ‘rain’ that falls immediately after the molting is composed of water, which is very important and useful to gardens and forests after such a long dry summer. As we discussed earlier, some of the water gets into the aquifer where it is stored for later use in and around our homes. We are very fortunate to have a Chrysler who is so proficient at predicting the delivery of the water that we need so much of.