Garden doctor: How to salvage a soaker hose

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Putting mulch around plants can help them during drought conditions. Avoid rock and black bark mulch, as well as black plastic as these hold in the heat. Friable, loose mulch made from ground wood, dried grass, even straw is going to work best. Layer in at least two inches, three to four inches would be even better. Stuart Pettygrove/Courtesy photo

Upcoming events
Woodland Community College, 2300 E. Gibson Road
* March 15, 10 to 11 a.m., backyard and worm composting
* April 5, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., plant sale

Davis Central Park Garden, Third and B streets
* March 22, 9:30 to 10 a.m., lawn removal
* 11 a.m. to noon, waterwise irrigation

Grace Garden, 1620 Anderson Road
* March 29, 9 to 11 a.m. plant sale

UC Davis

* Conference: “Your Sustainable Backyard Pollinator Gardening” March 15, 7:30 to 11:30 a.m., Giedt Hall Room 1001, with lunch to follow. $40: register at http://ccuh.ucdavis.edu.
* 1 to 2 p.m. plant sale at UCD Arboretum Teaching Nursery

Is there a way to salvage a soaker hose that has been used multiple seasons with Davis water? I don’t think it is delivering water as well as it used to.
It is a good idea to think about all the parts of your irrigation system, so that water is not wasted. The small holes in your soaker hose are most likely clogged with mineral deposits from the very hard, alkaline water that Davis pumps from the ground. Depending on the age and condition of your hose, it might be helpful to soak the hose in a one-to-one solution of vinegar and water.  If you’ve used the hose for several years, replacing it is probably more practical.

How can I sustain perennial vegetables such as rhubarb, berries and asparagus during a drought?
Listening to the news and the governor’s statements over the past couple of months, it is clear that we are in a drought. Recently planted perennials up to a couple of years old will show the drought stress more readily than more established plants.

Remove weeds, even if you don’t anticipate a good harvest from these perennials. Weeds left unchecked will rob soil moisture from the plants you want to save.

We can’t emphasize enough the importance of mulch around your plants. Avoid rock and black bark mulch, as well as black plastic. These will hold in the heat. Friable, loose mulch made from ground wood, dried grass, even straw is going to work best. Layer in at least two inches, three to four inches would be even better. Keep the mulch away from crowns of vegetables and trunks of bushes and trees as this can cause disease problems.

When watering, you may want to consider watering by hand so the water is placed directly at the roots. Since water is scarce this year, it makes little sense to water the top layer of the mulch. This will require moving the mulch away so the water is hitting directly at the soil and then moving it back after watering. During a drought, you want the water to get to the roots, not the leaves of the plant, which happens with overhead spraying. Early-morning hours are best for watering as this reduces evaporation.

For asparagus, the critical times for water need are during growth of spears and subsequent top growth of the ferny plants. Similarly, rhubarb will need watering until stalks are harvested, and then only if foliage shows water stress.

You may want to invest in some low flow irrigation equipment. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation are flexible and you can encircle the root area, ensuring that the water goes directly to the roots and doesn’t run off. A watering wand is also very effective; you can direct the water from the hose to the roots, pushing the wand down through the mulch. Even a watering can is a practical solution. Use it to catch clean water while you are waiting for the shower to get hot.

Equally important during drought conditions are the things we shouldn’t do. Fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide and fungicide applications and pruning should be deferred if possible. There will be little benefit to your plants when soil moisture is low or when temperatures are high for garden chemicals. The salts from the chemicals will accumulate in the soil and can burn the plants. Pruning should only be done to remove dead or diseased branches. Pruning stimulates new growth, which should be discouraged if water is scarce.

Send questions, addressed to the “Garden Doctor,” by email to [email protected], voice mail to 530-666-8737, or regular mail to UCCE Master Gardeners, 70 Cottonwood St., Woodland, CA 95695. Be sure to include your contact information because any questions not answered in the Garden Doctor column will be answered with a phone call or email to you.

You can request the Yolo Gardener newsletter, delivered by email, and learn more about the Master Gardener program in Yolo County at http://ucanr.edu/sites/YCMG

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