Precipitation amounts this winter have been disappointing in the high country, and evidence of last year's beetle activity is everywhere.
Facing another year of continuing drought can be a nightmare for gardeners unless preparations for garden survival start now. The balance between exercising one's right to garden as she pleases, doing what is right for the environment, and remaining mindful of uncertain water supplies and possible water use restrictions is a delicate one, at best.
March is an excellent time to make decisions about what changes, if any can, and should be made.
On most Rim country properties, cultivated areas are intermingled with native shrubs and trees, and many lots have dense thickets of different types of native vegetation. According to the experts, we can help our native trees withstand the rigors of drought by giving them more space.
When trees are too crowded, or the area under them is thick with lower growing vegetation, the trees have to compete for water and nutrients. When water is scarce, that competition stresses the tree, weakening it and making it more susceptible to pest infestation. Pruning dead or damaged branches is also beneficial to tree health.
A new product, Vita Planta 2000, is a castor-oil sulfonate that helps trees retain moisture, so they are better able to fight off beetle attacks. It is an organic substance, and totally non-toxic. Applied as a foliar spray, it also wets the ground around the base of the tree. Available from Rim country applicators who are equipped to spray the professional strength formula, Vita Planta can also be purchased for home use by calling (928) 474-2142.
For additional information log on to www.vitaproducts.com
Other negative effects caused by over-crowded vegetation are greater fire hazard, and stresses on groundwater supplies. In an area where our ground water is being pumped at a greater rate than it is being replenished, the prudent approach is to make a community effort to clear off over-crowded, unnecessary vegetation for a more healthful urban forest area. Less overgrown vegetation to soak up precipitation means more water available for soaking into the ground.
For help in clearing overgrown brush and thinning trees, contact RPAP at (928) 468-8694. Local fire departments also have staff who can make property assessments.
The first step is to assess the water needs of each plant in the garden. Those that require large amounts of water can be moved closer to the house, where reclaimed water from cooking, dishwashing, etc., can easily be used to water them. When selecting new plants or seed from the nursery, select plant types and varieties that are drought tolerant. Improvement of the moisture holding capabilities of the soil and minimizing evaporation are integral to low water use gardening. Working plenty of well rotted compost into the planting hole, and layering 3-4 inches of organic mulch around the base of the plant will protect roots from drying out, and keep the soil cool. As the mulch breaks down, it becomes the compost for next year.
Install drip irrigation systems with emitters for each plant, or laser-drilled drip hose for groundcovers. Micro sprayers and misters are not only prohibited by the Payson water ordnance, but should be avoided due to the high evaporation rate, and their inability to deliver water to the root zone of the plant. Automatic systems can be outfitted with a water miser to prevent turning on during rainfall.
Rethinking the design of vegetable gardening, from square beds with raised rows to a meandering and terraced landscape surrounding the house will allow the home gardener to use rainwater runoff in an efficient way.
Captured rain and snow melt in barrels placed under downspouts can be used at a later date, by hand dipping, or installing a spigot and hose connection at the bottom of the barrel. Design a recycling system now for using clean sink and shower water.
March is the month to plant seeds of cool season vegetables such as beets, carrots and turnips as well as lettuce, onions, and peas and can be sown directly into the ground. Be sure to dig in a few inches of well-rotted manure or compost before planting. Many varieties of drought tolerant wildflowers will germinate in cold wet soil and can be scattered now. Try lupine, annual coreopsis, rudbeckia, mallow, California poppy and native asters.
Prune perennial plants now for a spring flush of growth, and set out bare root perennials. To encourage naturalization, feed spring bulbs with a general all-purpose fertilizer as soon as flower shoots emerge. Once the foliage turns brown, remove it and feed again.