Observation, Watering and Mulching
Observation and Integrated Problem Management
Observation helps the gardener to head off problems from pests, pathogens or weeds. Are insects present and are they friend or foe? Are plants under siege; is it a full-scale attack or just a few bites here and there? Observation is the first step in an integrated pest (or problem) management program (IPM). Frequent visual inspection of your plants and landscape is the most important step in integrated problem management. It is much easier to manage a problem in the early stages, whether it is a weed seedling or beginning of a disease or pest infestation.
The subject of integrated pest management is covered in its own section. IPM is a four-step system of managing landscape problems by using the methods that are the least harmful to the environment. A gardener effectively manages the problem by observation, recognition and assessment of the problem, monitoring its effects and evaluating the amount of damage. The fourth step, the actual management of landscape problems, employs cultural, mechanical, biological and chemical techniques and strategies.
The season and years roll by; sun and shade patterns change as trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials reach their mature growth. Or old growth dies, felled by lightening or high winds. Maybe it is not even shade from your garden that changes, but that of your neighbor's shade. Whether subtle or sudden, change occurs. Take note and act on it as early as possible.
The proper amount of water to supplement varies from plant to plant, week to week. Most watering practices fall under the extremes of over watering and under watering. Understanding any particular plant's need of water is important, but it hinges on numerous factors, including the all important role of matching the soil type to the plant and amending the soil when our desires outmatch the soil. This topic is covered in depth in the Efficient Use of Water, Water Conservation Tips section of my website and Appropriate Plants, definition of water-use.
In addition to the plant itself (its age, health and general water requirement), factors to consider for frequency and amount of irrigation are:
- Soil type: sand, clay, caliche
- Drainage capacity (texture) of soil
- Water holding capacity of soil
- Organic and inorganic amendments in the soil
- Temperature, both daytime and night time temperatures
- Cloud cover
- Mulch cover
- Precipitation received
Throughout my website, when I refer to water requirements of plants, my general definition refers to clay soil, rather than sandy soil, based on my own experience or the experience of other area gardeners. Group plants of similar water needs together in the same beds. All beds do not have to contain plants of the same water needs, unless this best fits your Gardening Management Statement.
General watering guidelines I refer to throughout this website, and in my own practice are:
- Low water-use plants require 1 inch of supplemental irrigation per month during the growing season under our average climate conditions.
- Medium water-use plants require 1 inch of supplemental irrigation every two weeks during the growing season under our average climate conditions.
- High water-use plants require 1 inch of supplemental irrigation per week during the growing season under our average climate conditions.
As climate conditions change, adjustments to the irrigation schedule should be made for more or less frequency. Water for the needs of the plant; try not to over-water. If the plants appear to need more frequent irrigation than what is suggested, review the above mentioned factors to determine where improvement in water use can be made. Plants will readily die of over watering in water-logged soil while presenting the same symptoms as parched plants. Just adding more water is not always the solution to a thriving landscape. If adequate plant nutrients and necessary soil microbes are not present, plants will not perform to their potential.
Mulching the landscape is so important, not just to water conservation, but in the health and appearance of plants, an entire principle is devoted to it. Mulch is material placed over the soil – beds, borders, vegetable gardens, even lawns -- that help preserve moisture, improve soil structure and quality, deter weeds, and moderates temperature. Mulching is covered in depth in this website under the page Mulch.