By Susan Taylor
Friends—India and Pakistan had devastating heat waves in June. This makes my whine about too much heat in San Diego gardens a bit of a whine. Nonetheless, the heat in my La Mesa garden just about did my veggies and me in. I thought I was watering deeply only to discover that I was not.
San Diego County has many water districts, each of which has warned consumers about percentage of water reduction for their residential customers. Be sure you know how much water reduction is required (read mandatory) in your neighborhood.
We all waste more water inside and outside our homes than we realize and it really must stop. Here’s how to be water wise in the garden in July and probably August.
All of my fruit trees are on a timed drip irrigation system that I monitor. If you are watering any kind of fruit tree, they each need a long, slow drip under the tree, not just around the trunk. Move the hose away from the trunk and water under the branches. Be sure to set a timer because it is easy to forget the dripping water while inside the house. Please do not EVER leave your property with any kind of water running! You might get kidnapped by aliens and be gone awhile.
All the summer veggies I water by hand since they are in raised garden boxes and pots. Going forward, I plan to stick my finger waaay down into the soil to check for moisture, because I wasn’t watering enough. Maybe during the drought we should invest in a soil moisture probe, easily found at most independent nurseries and some big box stores. You just stab this tool into the ground and read how dry or moist the soil is around your plants-it really does help you. You might also pick certain days of the week to water, if that is not already mandatory, and keep dated notes for the rest of summer.
I live 15 miles from the coast. Twice a week watering was not enough for tomatoes, melons, peppers and the like. If you live further inland, i.e., Santee, Poway, Penasquitos, Ramona and so on you may need to water a third day, depending on your water district’s restrictions. Now would be a good time to apply some compost to fertilize and revitalize your production.
If a few plants look spent, rip ’em out and plant something new! Be sure to water early in the day, say with that cup of coffee or tea in hand, take your time and look at the plants. After watering see if things need to be tied up (tomatoes) or lifted off the ground (melons and cukes) harvested (remember, beans can be picked every day), or pruned back a bit.
If your tomato plants are leggy (too much green stems) cut back the water now. All vine and few tomatoes do not a salad make. And speaking of salad, high heat in the summer makes growing most lettuces difficult so if you are lucky enough to have some greens, keep cutting them as tender leaves; otherwise they will be bitter.
Please don’t water the whole vegetable plant but water at the root system, in other words where the plant trunk hits the soil. I have some powdery mildew on my tomatoes because I forgot my own advice!
Harvest when things look ripe or when you decide they are ripe enough. Letting fruit and vegetables linger past ripeness slows down everything on the plant and uses unneeded energy. Don’t be afraid to pinch off some flower buds (like tomatillos, tomatoes, melons) because your plant may WISH to make all this produce but it can also flower beyond its capacity to produce!
In additon, pinch off flowering basil, lemon verbena, basils and other herbs so the plants don’t bolt and go to seed. It is not painful to do this…not for you and not for the plants! Do the same thing with summer squash and cucumbers. Also, if you are growing fruit on trees, keep pinching. I take off at least half of any fruit growing on the tree so that I will have tastier, bigger fruit. Currently I’m knocking off pomegranates from three trees.
Keep in mind that melons, squash, corn, beans and herbs may be re-sowed for further production into early fall. If you’ve had enough then stop and let yourself and the garden area take a rest!
It goes without saying that you should pick up the fruit you take off and not leave it on the ground, right? Nothing like rotten fruit on the ground to attract pests. If you were lucky enough to have figs, now would be a good time to throw some netting over the whole trees. Those big, neon green flying June bugs ( fig beetles) will have their way with your figs just as they get ripe. These insects kind of remind me of a …blimp!….
The San Diego chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers will host three days of plants and fun on August 7-9 at the Jacobs Community Center on Market Street just west of Euclid Street (take the MLK, Jr. freeway, also known as 94). They have an amazing and free list of speakers, vendors, trees of all kinds, and books to offer growers of all levels.
At the same location on Saturday, August 8 from 8-4 p.m., the San Diego Master Gardeners will have their annual plant sale. Get there early for the best selection of native plants, veggie starts and who knows what else? There will also be many other vendors with clever garden art, more plants, books, and who knows what else?
Don’t take my word for it, check out each website for more details. There will be people to answer your questions about anything that grows. Well, pretty much anything. I’ll see you there.
Happy summer gardening with less water — you will love eating what you’ve grown.