If you are one of the unfortunate to be living in an area that is already restricting water use, be sure to water those plants and crops that are critical to you and skip watering the lawn. An established lawn should be able to go without water, even with our hot winds, for two, three or more months. Watering your trees, shrubs, vegetable and flower gardens is more critical than watering your lawn. If you have peaches or other fruit crops, they should take priority over the lawn. When you lose a tree or shrub it may be years before a replacement will replace the loss. Even if you lose part of your lawn, it can be repaired in just a few weeks after water restrictions are lifted.
While trees and shrubs extend their roots well beyond the reach of their branches, focus your watering efforts under the canopy. This will reach many of the roots and keep the trees and shrubs in survival mode. They might lose some roots and associated branches but they will most likely survive. If your trees and shrubs are watered along with the lawn, cap off the sprinkler heads that do not reach the area under the trees and shrubs. Let those lawn areas dry out.
Don't hog all the water either. Just because you have water for three days every week does not mean you should allow every sprinkler zone to run all day long for three days. Avoid the tendency to water for longer than you need to. Maintain the same watering schedule as you have in the past. If your trees and shrubs did great when watered for an hour every three or four days in past years, you will do more damage to these trees and shrubs if you now decide to up the time and frequency of watering just because you don't have access to water every day as in the past. Supplementing the sprinkler or micro-spray system with a hose laid under your trees is also discouraged. The soil can only take in water so fast and applying water faster than it can percolate into the soil can create root rot problems.
Small plants, especially those planted in the recent months, will benefit from shade. If you have brush around your area, it can be cut and the stems pushed into the soil on the south or west side of these new plants to provide shade. Young small trees and shrubs can be protected from the wind and sun by driving T-posts into the soil a couple feet away from them and draping an old bed sheet or similar sheeting between the posts to cast a shadow on the plants. While this might look tacky in your neighborhood, why should you care if you can prevent your new trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables from frying in the sun?
Some of you are already having problems with tomatoes dropping their blossoms and not setting fruit. High temperatures and the dehydrating winds will do that. Draping cheese cloth or another fine cloth over the plants will help correct this problem by reducing the amount of direct sun that strikes the blossoms causing them to overheat. Mulching the soil with a layer of wood chips, buffalo chips, or other organic matter, and keeping the soil moist also helps increase blossom set and harvest. Apply the mulch in the morning when the soil is at its coolest.
One gardener recently mentioned the technique of withholding water to encourage ripening. That does work but when water is applied the next time, the result will be major cracking of the fruit. I feel it is best to maintain uniform soil moisture content and let the tomatoes ripen when they are ready instead of forcing them. Using red plastic mulch to speed up ripening is a better technique than withholding water.
Due to the winds and hot weather you might have to water more frequently than last year. Check the soil moisture with your finger(s) to determine if they have adequate soil moisture. Keep in mind that young plants have shallow roots so checking the moisture content down three or four inches misses the root zone of these small plants. Check the soil moisture in the top two inches of the soil. Check deeper as the plants grow and develop deeper roots.
Dr. Curtis E. Swift is the area horticulture agent with the CSU Extension. Reach him at Curt.Swift@mesacounty.us, visit WesternSlopeGardening.org, or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com.