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More ways to make your garden as water efficient as possible.

A fifth dry year looms in many areas of the West. Even if spring rains are normal, water supplies are seriously depleted and water departments throughout the state of California expect to face cutbacks of 15 to more than 50 percent.

This month the start of a new gardening season-is time again for gardeners to take a close look at ways to make the garden more water efficient. Hold off on major planting until you know how much water you'll have in the coming months. Following are some tips to help you save more water.

For additional strategies and landscaping ideas, consult the book Waterwise Gardening (Sunset Publishing Corporation, Menlo Park, Calif., 1989; $6.95). Check sprinklers for malfunctions Broken sprinkler heads can waste lots of water. Go over your system to make sure sprinklers are working properly. If streams of water or puddles form while the system is on, you may have broken heads or risers; replace them if necessary. Avoid getting dirt into the system during repairs.

Puddling or erratic spraying can also be caused by pop-up sprinklers that aren't sealing correctly or that have clogged nozzles. If water is bubbling from around the stem, tap the nozzle while the system is on to clear out debris. Replace the head if tapping doesn't clear it. (Heads also won't seal if water pressure is too low or if the line has too many heads.)

To clean the nozzle, carefully run a knife blade through the slit. Most modern plastic sprinkler heads have filters. Unscrew the nozzle and clean the filter if it's dirty. Next, look for spray that's blocked by tall grass or plants. Clip grass back around heads. If shrubs are blocking sprays and causing uneven water distribution, add risers to elevate them above the plants. Adjust sprinklers that are spraying onto driveways and sidewalks by gently turning the heads. To control overshooting sprinklers, adjust the flow by turning the screw on top of the nozzle; or change to a nozzle with a smaller radius.

Soil polymers can help save water When mixed into soil, these tiny, nontoxic crystals turn into gel-like particles capable of absorbing hundreds of times their weight in water. In this way, they retain water that would otherwise drain away. Manufacturers claim that plants can use this extra moisture when the soil dries out.

Some also claim that plants need less fertilizer, since the gel absorbs nutrients that are normally lost to leaching, then releases them to plants. Although there has been some controversy about polymers' effectiveness, the California Department of Food and Agriculture has recently substantiated the claims of one manufacturer (Broadleaf P4) and allowed them to be printed on bags of soil mix that contain the polymers (other manufacturers have not supplied the necessary research).

To be effective, polymers need to be mixed into the soil; never apply them to the surface. Use with container plants, shrubs and trees, and lawns.

Irrigate normally for the first two weeks; existing roots take at least that long to grow through the polymers. Afterward, you can reduce watering by at least 30 percent and fertilization by 25 percent (either use a more dilute solution of fertilizer or fertilize less often).

Give plants an extra soaking

Extended drought is causing many plants that normally receive supplemental water from winter rainfall to look stressed and dull now. If rainfall has been limited in your area and you have some water to spare, now is a good time to give your most valuable landscape plants a deep soaking before warm weather arrives. For details on which plants in your garden may need extra water and how to apply it, turn to page 156. Don't forget the water's on Forgetting to turn off a running hose or sprinklers can waste a lot of water. You can avoid this problem by using a timer. For a running hose or hose-end sprinkler, install a hand-operated dial-type timer or a battery-operated automatic timer between the hose bibb and hose. Both will turn water off after a specific number of minutes, hours, or gallons. Costs range from $15 to $70.

Some hose-end sprinklers come with automatic shutoffs ($20 to $27). Kitchen timers are also useful reminders that it's time to turn off the water. 1-1 Checklist for a water-efficient garden Aerate lawns. To increase water penetration and reduce runoff, rent an aerating machine (look in the yellow pages under Rental Yards) and run it across the lawn.

Build watering basins. If hand-watering shrubs and trees, build up a rim around the plants' drip lines. For plants in ground covers or lawn where you can't build basins, use a deep-root waterer, or water slowly with drip.

Check for leaks. Repair leaky faucets or hose connections. Check drip tubing for breaks (look for puddles or overly wet areas).

Control weeds. They compete for moisture with desirable landscape plants. Pull, hoe, or spot-treat them with glyphosate.

Mulch around plants. To help keep soil cooler, reduce evaporation, and discourage weed growth, spread 1 to 3 inches of ground bark, wood shavings, or other organic material in containers and under flowers, ground covers, shrubs, and trees.

Protect plants from winds. Construct temporary windbreaks around valuable plants using posts and fine-mesh screen or netting that allows some air passage.

Pulse irrigate. With traditional sprinkler systems, water for short periods so soil can absorb the moisture without runoff; repeat until the root zone is moist.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sunset Water Watch 1991; includes related article on tips for water conservation
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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