Self-watering plant containers are an excellent way to conserve water while keeping your plants healthy.
Container gardening makes it possible to garden in small spaces or in those areas with poor soil quality. One of the biggest problems with container gardening is the need for frequent watering. This is especially true for unglazed ceramic pots, which allow a large amount of water to evaporate, and for gardeners in areas with a lot of hot, dry weather.
Self-watering plant containers feature a water reservoir below the plant medium (soil), separated by a perforated platform. The platform keeps the soil out of the water, but it allows roots access to the water supply. Being relatively sealed under the soil, water evaporation is significantly reduced, while providing your plants with all the water they need.
I found a great set of instructions for making your own self-watering plant container out of discarded 5-gallon buckets from the Maryland Extension.
Give it a try and let us know how well it works for you!
CA's drought is wrecking havoc on farms and mature trees, but grey water can be used to reduce the impact on your yard. According to UCDavis, "Greywater is untreated waste water which has not come into contact with toilet waste." This includes water collected from the shower, bath, washing machine, or sink.
You should check with your local authorities to learn about specific restrictions on the use of grey water in your area. Grey water should never be considered potable (safe to drink). Personally, I avoid using it on food crops, but it does wonders on ornamentals, lawn, and flowers without wasting fresh drinking water.
I discovered a new bug while pulling weeds under one of my apricot trees this morning.
It is 1/4" long, somewhat flattened, and it has a distinct light green triangle on its back. After a little research, I learned that it is called a Lygus bug.
It took plants 50 million years to develop roots as we know them today. Everyone knows that roots provide anchorage and access to water and minerals in the soil. But they do far more than that!
The first structure to emerge from a sprouting seed is called the radicle. The radicle becomes the primary root. If the primary root continues to grow and develop, it will have a taproot system. Carrots are a common example. If several smaller roots develop, the plant will have a fibrous root system. There are also aerial roots, buttress roots, and stilt roots! Whatever type of root system your plants have, good soil health and soil structure are critical to plant health.
Root hairs are not actually roots, as we think of them. Root hairs are actually cells used by plants to increase surface area. These threadlike cells push their way through macropores and micropores in the soil, in search of water and nutrients. As actual roots move through the soil, in search of new resources, these root hairs are sheared off.
Root hairs can live for two weeks to two years, depending on the species. Usually, they only live for 2 or 3 weeks, but this is where the majority of water and nutrient absorption takes place. In legumes, this is also where root nodules used in nitrogen fixation develop. The root hairs curl themselves around the bacteria responsible for nitrogen fixation and allow themselves to be ‘infected’ with these beneficial bacteria. New root hairs are constantly being formed at the root tip, behind the root cap.
Tree roots can damage sidewalks, patios, and your home’s foundation, so plan ahead before installing trees and large shrubs. Poor health or branch die off on one side of a tree or large shrub can often be directly linked to damage to the root system from construction, digging, or heat islands. Transplanting and repotting plants often shears off a large number of these root hairs. This is what causes the initial wilting.
We used to think of tree roots as going down, down, down, into the Earth. In some cases, that is accurate. One tree in the Kalahari desert has a root system believed to be over 220 feet deep, but, in most cases, tree roots don’t look anything like that. Tree roots are most easily pictured as a goblet set on top of a dinner plate. The goblet represents the aboveground portion of the tree while the shallow, far-reaching dinner plate represents the root system. Very often, a tree’s root system is 4 to 7 times the diameter of the aboveground portion. Trees are often classified using a ‘root-to-shoot’ ratio. This ratio refers to the weight of the aboveground portion of the tree to its below ground growth. Normally, this ratio is 1:5 to 1:6. This means that the tree you see has a root system that weighs nearly 5 or 6 times what is visible.
The majority of a tree’s root system is found in the top 18 inches of soil. This is why trees fail over when the soil gets waterlogged. Trees growing in heavy clay soil, such as we have here, in the Bay Area, tend to have smaller root systems. This is because clay soil holds far more water and nutrients than other soil types.
Many root crops are edible. These include beets, carrots, radishes, rutabagas, turnips, ginger, turmeric, horseradish, licorice, sassafras, and sweet potatoes. You may think that regular potatoes are a root crop, but they are not. Potatoes are tubers, which means they are the starch storage structures for rhizomes, or underground stems.
Most garden plant root systems are relatively shallow. Rooting depth of garden vegetables can generally be classified as:
What does all this mean?
This means that it can get crowded down there, if you are not careful. If you have deep raised beds, save them for the medium-sized root systems. Most deep-rooted perennials are best planted directly in the ground. The most shallow-rooted plants can often be grown in containers. Root depth also plays a big role in how drought tolerant a plant can be, and how deeply they need to be watered.
When removing plants from your yard or garden, it is best, whenever possible, to cut the plant at ground level and leave the roots in the ground. As the roots decompose, they will feed the local soil microorganisms, which will migrate, over time, to help another plant thrive.
Keyhole gardening is a method developed for areas experiencing severe drought and limited resources, specifically Africa. However, the concept is just as useful in other parts of the world and in your backyard. Keyhole gardens conserve water, and they provide plants with easy access to nutrients.
Keyhole gardens are a variation on raised bed gardening. Keyhole gardens are round raised beds that feature a notch in one side that provides access to a composting tower, or basket, in the middle. As compostable materials and water are added to the center of a keyhole garden, the water and nutrients spread out within the keyhole garden to feed and irrigate your plants. The loose, nutrient-rich soil makes it easy to grow edibles in even the worst conditions.
How to build a keyhole garden
Keyhole gardens are easily made with curb-scored old bricks, stones, or cinderblocks. You can also use landscape cloth, wood planks or branches, wine bottles, old fencing panels, corrugated metal sheets - really, you can use anything that isn’t toxic. Use your imagination! Follow these steps to create your very own keyhole garden:
Sources of compostable materials
Most people know that yard and kitchen waste are compostable, but there are many other sources of perfectly acceptable materials for the basket of your keyhole garden or any compost pile. Remember that compostables are designated as “browns” or “greens” and that you should aim for a 50:50 mix of the two. Some interesting source of “green” compostables include coffee grounds and tea bags, often available for free from coffee shops, and fresh manure from local barns. [Manure from veterinary clinics is not recommended.] We throw away a profound amount of compostable “brown” material. Some sources you may not have considered include any paper or wood products (simply avoid the colored, slick, or waxed varieties), dryer lint, vacuum cleaner waste, unwaxed cardboard, and even clothing made from 100% natural fibers. Rather than adding these materials to local landfills, you can transform them into plant or worm food in your compost pile, worm farm, or in the central basket of your keyhole garden.
Invasive plants are those non-native plants that infest an ecosystem. Unlike normal weeds, which have evolved within a specific ecosystem, invasive plants generally do not have any natural enemies, so they grow out of control. They use up water and nutrients, pushing out local flora and fauna. Some, such as Scotch broom, can be poisonous to your pets.
Invasive plants are often introduced to your yard on purpose, by buying and planting something just because it "looks nice”. According to the UC Davis IPM (Integrated Pest Management) page: a 10,000 acre infestation of giant reed (Arundo donax) on the Santa Ana River in Orange County is estimated to use 57,000 acre feet more water per year than native vegetation. One group, PlantRight, has developed a list of invasive plants that should be avoided. Another group, Calflora, offers extensive lists (with photos) of plants that are invasives and plants that are under consideration as invasives.
Taking the time to plant species that are native to your area reduces water waste and prevents the disruption of the natural lifecycle of countless plants and animals.
Imported cabbageworms are an insidious garden pest.
Cabbageworms start out as tiny yellow or white, rocket-shaped eggs that are laid singly on the undersides of leaves. Then, slightly fuzzy green caterpillars emerge and start feeding, and feed they do!
According to the UC IMP (Integrated Pest Management) page: biological controls include natural enemies such as the pupal parasite Pteromalus puparum; the larval parasites Apanteles glomeratus, Microplitis plutella, and several tachinid flies; and egg parasites in the Trichogramma genus. Biological control and sprays of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and the Entrust formulation of spinosad are organically acceptable management tools.
In addition to regularly monitoring plants for the presence of cabbageworms, I have trained my dog to chase cabbage butterflies out of my yard.
Yesterday, I curb-scored 8 very nice tomato cages. While they come in a variety of sizes and shapes, the most common type are concentric circles held at different heights, usually with three legs.
(This one's for you, Sabrina!)
Sheet-mulching is one of the easiest ways to reduce weeds in your yard or to get rid of a water-hungry lawn and replace it with something more drought-tolerant. (Solarization is a more extreme method that can rid an area of many fungal diseases, as well as weeds.)
To sheet-mulch an area, trim any current plant growth to the lowest possible height, water the area (to provide for soil microbes) and then cover the area with cardboard. Be sure you don't used waxed cardboard used to ship produce. Once the cardboard is in place, cover it with tree trimmings, which can be gotten for free from most tree trimming companies. The cardboard blocks the sunlight to the weeds, preventing further growth. To add a drought-tolerant plant to the area, simply push the mulch aside, cut a hole in the cardboard, and plant as you normally would.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!