Landscape Care During Drought

photo by Anne

photo by Anne

If you live in an area newly effected by drought, you may have some questions about the water situation such as:

  • What IS a drought?
  • How should I irrigate/water during drought?
  • Do I need to pull out my lawn? I’ve heard it’s “bad.”
  • Should I turn off my water and let my plants die?
  • What about the trees in my landscape? What should I do for them?

A drought is defined as an extended period of time without water. Water below ground is usually at all-time lows. A drought can last for several months to several years.

Many plants can survive a drought surprisingly well. Think of old roses planted in cemeteries hundreds of years ago that are still alive. They aren’t thriving…but they aren’t dead either.

Since we’ve had so little rainfall and hardly any snow pack, some counties are asking residents to limit watering days or asking them not to water at all. Other county residents haven’t been asked to do anything at all yet, but they may be in the future. Strict fines may also be enacted for those who break the watering rules.

photo HHow Should I Water?
The best way to water during a drought (or any other time) is “deeply.” Deep watering is when you use a hose, soaker hose or drip irrigation system to thoroughly water the root zone of your plants.

The key to deep watering is to water slowly. Watering slowly allows water to penetrate the soil and eliminates the chance that water will run off into the storm gutter. It also ensures water goes deeper than just the top few inches of soil.

But how do you know if you are really deep watering? The answer is: you’ve got to dig/check to find out. Use a shovel or a screwdriver to see what’s going on underneath the surface of the soil. Don’t assume you are watering effectively until you investigate. More about this later.

Should I Pull Out my Lawn?
Before you do anything drastic like pull out your lawn, you may want to do an “audit” of your landscape. Ask yourself:

  • When do my sprinklers come on?
  • How long do they run?
  • Am I watering plants or pavement?
  • Could I water less and still have a nice lawn?
  • Is there a geyser in my yard when I’m not home?

If you don’t change how you water, it’s possible you may replant your yard with natives and/or Mediterranean plants and still use the same amount of water. Remember, installing a new landscape may take more water than maintaining an established one. Find out how much water you use now and see what you can do to use less. Watering three times per week? Try two and see what happens. Watering the pavement? Try breaking up your watering into shorter shifts, i.e. twice per day for the same total amount of watering time. Also, you may need to rotate your sprinkler heads and point them in the right direction.

photo by Anne

photo by Anne

Should I Let Everything Die?
When people moved to the west coast from the east coast, they brought a lot of their plants with them. Some do well here, but others need a lot of extra care, extra water and extra fertilizer. If you cut back on your watering and some plants don’t make it, they may have been east coast stragglers. Replace them with plants that require less water. Just remember, they’ll need regular water in the beginning to get established. Also, remember that not all native plants are low-water users. Some live in riparian (river) areas and need regular water.

What about the Trees in my Landscape?
You may have heard the saying, The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now. The saying is really true. Trees take time to establish and since you can’t go back in time, preserve the trees you have now. Trees add value to your property and community. They are aesthetically pleasing and provide shade, protection from wind and can even lower your home energy costs. As Joyce Kilmer said, I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.

If you live in a county where you are asked not to water, chances are the powers that be haven’t taken into account the value of an established tree. I suggest attending a county meeting and asking them to reconsider and allow residents to preserve their established shade trees.

photo by Anne

photo by Anne

When watering plants and especially trees, you’ll want to use a principle called “deep watering.” All trees (even those planted in lawn) need deep watering at least once per month during the dry season.

To deep water, use a hose or soaker hose placed away from the base of the tree in its “drip line.” The drip line is an imaginary area underneath a tree where its canopy casts a shadow. Picture a tree on a sunny day and the area of shade beneath it-observe your tree and find this area of shade. Then encircle the tree with a soaker hose or use a regular hose and move it around the drip line. When you water, allow the water to slowly percolate for several hours.

If you use a soaker hose, the packaging should indicate how long it takes the hose to emit 1″ of water. You may need several soaker hoses for a large tree. If you use a regular hose, you’ll need to set a timer and move it every 30 minutes or so.

After watering for several hours, take a screwdriver and push it into the ground. You should be able to easily push it into the ground to a depth of 6-8 inches in the places where you’ve watered. If you can’t, you need to add more water



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Growing Food During a Drought


photo by Holly Guenther

In order to produce food, plants need a regular supply of deep water. The amount and frequency of water depends upon which types of plants you have and whether they are new or already established.

During a drought, your county may enact laws that dictate how often you can water or if you can water at all. Strict fines may be in place for home owners who fail to follow these rules. You’ll need to plan for how you can best take care of your food plants.

No matter which situation you find yourself in, the best way to protect your plants is to use mulch. Be sure to read this section at the bottom of this article and check out my article called, “Mulch Mulch Mulch!”

How to Water

Irrigate your food plants with a hose, soaker hose or drip system. Apply water slowly and in the morning! This allows water to percolate slowly through the soil. Avoid using sprinklers as they don’t water plants deeply. After watering, the root zone around the plant should be thoroughly soaked but not wet.

No Water

The residents of your county may be asked not to water their landscapes at all. If this is the case, it’s possible that some of your well-established perennial fruit, vegetable and nut plants may survive the drought. Unfortunately, these plants will not thrive or produce a crop. They will also become stressed and susceptible to pests and diseases.

photo 11

photo by Holly Guenther

Planting an annual vegetable garden is out of the question if you are asked not to water. However, that shouldn’t prevent you from growing a few tomatoes or peppers in 5 gallon containers. Keep a bucket in your shower to save the water that’s normally wasted while the water warms up. Use this water to water your container plants.

Water Allowed Two Times Per Week

Well-established perennial food plants should thrive under this watering condition. Examples of perennial food plants include citrus, grape vines, berries, fruit and nut trees, asparagus, artichoke and rhubarb. These plants need deep watering about once per week during hot summer months in most soils and less water in spring. Crops in sandy soils that dry out quickly may need to be watered twice per week. Before you decide how often to water, read this article.

It may not be possible to plant an annual vegetable garden or establish new perennial plants with only twice per week watering. Seeds and transplants need regular water and the soil must not dry out.

Water Allowed One Time Per Week

Established perennial plants may do well with just one watering per week. Read this article on how to deep water to make sure your plants do well. You won’t be able to start a new vegetable garden or add perennial plants to your garden as the soil must be kept moist for them to survive.

 Add Mulch!

To keep your garden soil moist longer, apply a 3-4 inch layer of mulch over the top. Keep the mulch away from the base of your plants. Learn more about this fantastic resource in an article I wrote entitled, “Mulch Mulch Mulch!” 

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Meet Holly Guenther aka Kimchi Kawaii!

photo by Lisa-Marie Pohl

photo by Lisa-Marie Pohl

You may have noticed the captions underneath almost all of my photos have the same note: photo by Holly Guenther. I wanted you to get a chance to get to know her. Aside from being a fabulous photographer, Holly has many other artistic pursuits. I sat down with her to do a mini interview.

Holly, you have your own business, tell Anne’s readers how you got started? I have a day job, but I needed a creative outlet which is why I started Kimchi Kawaii. My business is influenced by the Japanese ‘kawaii’ (cute) style of art. In my Kimchi Kawaii shop you can find all sorts of designs on things like clothing, electronic accessories (like camera phone cases and mouse pads), and kitchen ware. There’s a section in my store inspired by Anne of Green Gardens that I call ‘Going Green’ where gardening and plant related designs reside.

I also have designs on acrylic pins, necklaces and hair ornaments in another shop through Storenvy, and original fabric prints I’ve created and sell through Spoonflower. As you can see, my creative outlets keeps me very busy! Anne wants me to start another shop with my photographs but we’ll see! She’s trying to convince me to sell prints at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, as well as some of my jewelry designs.  In addition to Kimchi, there is Frosted Fleur de Lis which carries some of my finer art based on art nouveau and fantasy designs.

photo by Lisa-Marie Pohl

photo by Lisa-Marie Pohl

How did you get started with photography?  I sell a lot of my work at anime cons and have been doing that for a few years now. Recently, I was able to use business profits to upgrade my camera to a Canon Rebel. My goal is to start selling some of my nature photography as prints.   I like to experiment with all types of creative media and since Anne and I live in the same town we have fun walking around while I take what I call ‘artsy fartsy’ photos.  Usually Anne asks me to take plant photos for her website and after seeing one of my photos will say in exasperation, “Holly!! People are supposed to be able to identify this plant. You took a super close up photo of a raindrop on one leaf!!” I guess sometimes, they photos are too ‘artsy fartsy’ for Anne, lol! I’m really into small details which probably makes it difficult for Anne to create “Monday Mystery Plant” photos for her Facebook.

Where do you get all of your energy?  Coffee or tea? Depends on how much stuff you want me to get done! I’m a caffeine lightweight. Even decaf puts me into orbit. Tea for normal days, coffee for tight deadlines :)

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How to Harvest and Store Citrus

photo by Holly Guenther

Anne and a pomelo tree. Photo by Holly Guenther

If you are lucky enough to live in USDA zones 8 and up, you may just have a citrus tree in your landscape.  USDA zone 7 gardeners can also grow citrus but need to take more precautions during winter to protect their trees. Citrus trees do best with protection from cold air and wind and are best planted near structures like buildings and fences.

As you know, citrus fruits are delicious fresh off the tree and are great for use in cooking and adding to drinks. But did you know that citrus are a great source of citric acid? And that citric acid is Vitamin ‘C?’ One of my favorite parts about citrus fruit is the rind. I have a “zester” given to me by a friend that I use whenever I’m given citrus fruits. I zest the rind into ice cube trays and then freeze it and store the rind for later use for cooking, baking, and flavoring teas and curds.

When to Harvest Citrus

If you have a citrus tree you may be wondering how to know when to harvest. Unfortunately, rind color is not an indicator of ripeness. The only way to tell if fruit is ripe is to taste it. Once you decide the fruit is ready, pick as needed. Citrus fruit ripens on the tree and won’t get any sweeter once you pick it, unlike other fruits such as peaches which continue to ripen after they are picked.


Unknown orange variety. Photo by Holly Guenther.

How to Harvest Citrus

Harvest citrus when the fruit is dry. Use a pair of pruning shears to cut the stem near the rind. Although citrus rinds appear durable, they are easily damaged by fingernails during handling. Once the rind is damaged, disease organisms can enter and cause the fruit to decay. Take care when harvesting any variety of citrus, especially if you plan to store it. Harvest wearing soft gloves and place the fruit gently into a basket or box. Never pull fruit off the tree as this can damage the tree branches.

Citrus Storage Times

The best way to store citrus is to leave it on the tree until you are ready to pick. However, the longer fruit is left on the tree, the less time it can be stored after harvest. If picked and kept indoors at warm temperatures (78F or higher) citrus fruit will keep for about a week.

Can I Save my Citrus Fruit if a Freeze is Predicted?

If a freeze is predicted and your citrus fruit is mature, you can pick and store the fruit. Handle carefully as instructed in the above paragraph as otherwise the fruit won’t last very long in storage. Citrus can be kept for 6-8 weeks at temperatures of 38°F, 4-6 weeks at 40°F and 3-4 weeks at 48°F. To store fruit for less time, it can be kept at 50-60°F. If you store citrus in the refrigerator, keep it away from other fruits which give off ripening gasses that will case the fruit to decay sooner.

Keep citrus in a clean container that allows air flow or store them on a counter. Keep in mind that one bad fruit can spoil the rest of the batch, so check on fruit often and discard decayed fruit.

Why is my citrus fruit dry instead of juicy?

Citrus fruits can be damaged by a freeze while they are still green.  Later the rind changes color and the fruit appear to be ripe, but are actually dry and damaged inside. During a frost, ice crystals form inside the fruit. Once the weather begins to warm, the ice begins to melt and the cells burst. When this happens water is lost from the fruit causing it to dry out.

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