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WATERING WISELY IS KEY TO KEEPING GARDENS HEALTHY.

Byline: JANE GATES Gardening

SANTA CLARITA - Watering in the winter can be a bit tricky. Since temperatures are cooler and most plants are dormant or semidormant, the soil needs to be watered less frequently even when there is no rain.

Consider that when it rains, there is a light to medium spattering of water onto the surface of the ground over hours of time - as compared with the heavy deluge of sprinklers splashed out for minutes at a time.

As a result, water has a chance to penetrate more deeply over a longer period with rain. Even when the winds blow and dry the surface, the lower layers remain moist in winter far longer than in warmer, dry months.

To imitate nature's watering, it is best to water several times with small amounts of water. On hillsides, this is especially true as any quantity of water is likely to simply run off rather than sink in.

With lawns, short multiple applications of water in succession are likely to allow the water to penetrate soil layers and encourage plant roots to burrow down in order to follow the moisture.

Although many landscapers suggest watering once in the morning and once in the afternoon, this practice is likely to encourage roots to stay on the surface - leaving them vulnerable to any radical weather change, insect infestation or soil damage.

I recommend watering early in the morning before temperatures rise and when winds are more likely to be low. Watering briefly a few times with a half hour or an hour rest in between - depending on soil and location - is likely to reduce your water bills and keep roots moist and deep.

If we have a good rain, we can often go up to two weeks without additional water in the winter. With an extreme winter dry spell like the one in January, don't overdo the water, though. Try the multiple-watering system but do it only every three to four days.

Normally, most plants are dormant and use little water in the winter. During unseasonably warm weather, many plants bud out too early and extra watering will only encourage abundant, tender new growth. Should the frosts return, this new growth will be severely damaged. So, once again, hold back on that water.

California natives, some drought-tolerant plants, vegetables and winter annuals are the exception. When rain seems to elude our region, watering every few days for vegetables and annuals, and once a week as the general plan for the rest should keep all your garden denizens happy.

Watering wisely is likely to become ever more important as this area continues to grow. Even in a year of good rainfall, water costs likely will increase.

To be prepared for drought years or other water shortages, plant water- wise plants now to establish them for coming years and try out some water- saving programs on the rest of the garden. We can always find somewhere else to spend any money saved.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 15, 2003
Words:496
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