July heat in Southern California can add stress to a growing garden. By creating a regular watering schedule and maintaining the garden for maximum water absorption, plants can remain hydrated while not costing homeowners a bundle in water bills, say experts at Agromin, an Oxnard-based manufacturer of earth-friendly compost products made from organic material collected from more than 50 California cities including those in Santa Barbara County.
» Watering your garden: When using automatic watering programs, set watering times between 4 and 7 a.m. to cut down on evaporation. Use trickle irrigation, soaker hoses or other water-conserving methods. Apply enough water to soak 6 to 8 inches into the soil, which should take 10 to 15 minutes. With a mulched landscape, you can usually reduce watering schedules to two or three times a week.
» Deep water your lawn: A lawn can thrive even when it is only watered every three days for 20 minutes each day. Watering for only five minutes at a time accomplishes little and may do harm.
Quick watering keeps roots near the surface instead of reaching deeper into the ground where there is more moisture. This makes the lawn less able to find moisture during dry periods so will brown quickly. While every climate, lawn and soil is different, almost no established lawn needs daily watering — even in very dry areas.
» Reduce your grass area: Even with a managed watering schedule, lawns use the most water than any part of your garden.
Replace a portion of your grass around the edges with drought tolerant ground cover. Remove the grass, till the soil and amend with compost. Then plant perennial ground covers that do not need much water, including ornamental grasses such as Sheep Fescue and Deergrass as well as flowering plants including Bigleaf Lupine, California Fuschia and Douglas Iris.
» Still time for a vegetable garden: You still can grow a variety of vegetables in July and enjoy the harvest by late summer and early fall. Many vegetables are still available at your local nursery for immediate planting. These include beans, beets, carrots, corn, cantaloupe, okra squash and spinach. For plants already producing, don’t let vegetables remain on the plant past picking time.
Picking vegetables when ready will encourage new growth. Check plants once day for ripened vegetables. This is especially true for beans, cucumbers, eggplants, squashes and tomatoes, which grow and ripen quickly.
» Stop watering your garlic and onion bulb: When the foliage begins to dry on garlic and onion plants, stop watering so the outer layers of the garlic and onion can dry. This is necessary for long storage to avoid mildew. Once harvested, cure them in single layers on slats or screens in a dry, shady, well-ventilated location. Make sure the necks of the bulbs are completely dry (crisp and papery) before storing.
— Diane Rumbaugh is a publicist representing Agromin.