October in the Contra Costa Garden
October Garden To Dos
Drought Tips & Practices: Dry is the New Normal
All eyes are on the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. Current El Niño conditions have a 95% chance of continuing through the coming 2015/16 winter and spring. This phenomenon has often (although not always) produced above-average rainfall. See the Climate Prediction Center at http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov for regularly updated long-range forecasting.
While the thought of more rain is welcome on many levels, it is not likely that it will be enough to end the drought. Dry is still likely to be the new normal beyond this potentially wet year.
El Niño Preparations
Strong storms can bring too much water at once and high winds can potentially bring down trees that have been stressed during the drought. Good preparation now can make all the difference. Trim dead branches from trees, clear leaves and debris from gutters, consider rainwater capture systems, and improve drainage in your landscape. Such measures will help both during and after the storms.
The Southern Sonoma County Resource Conservation District, in cooperation with numerous other Bay Area agencies and organizations, has published a reference guide for steps you can take to help manage stormwater. You can find the guide – Slow it. Spread it. Sink it! A Homeowner's and Landowner's Guide to Beneficial Stormwater Management – at http://www.sscrcd.org/rainwater.php.
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch…
It’s a year round necessity! It helps keep water-competing weeds under control once the rains start.
- Maintain approximately 3" of mulch on all planting beds.
Resist the temptation to mulch over 4”...it's possible to have too much! Very thick mulch decreases the flow of oxygen into the soil.
- Apply coarse-textured mulches up to 4" deep.
- Fine-textured mulch packs more closely, so apply no more than 2" deep.
- When applying mulch near trees and woody shrubs, keep mulch at least 3” to 6" away from each trunk.
For more info, see the Sonoma County Master Gardener Program article: Mulch—a Gardener’s Best Friend at http://ucanr.edu/sites/scmg/Sonoma_Gardener_Articles/Mulch--a_Gardeners_Best_Friend/
Prioritize Your Mature Trees During the Drought
- Avoid pruning, which can stimulate excessive growth, leading to higher water demands. Instead, wait until the winter dormant season. Consult a qualified arborist on what to prune when.
- Prioritize your trees. Water two times per month, several weeks apart, to a depth of 12” inches below the soil surface. Distribute water evenly to soil within the drip line. Water conifers up to 3'-5' beyond the drip line. Following is a calculator to determine how much water your tree needs each month http://www.waterwonk.us/how-much/.
- Another helpful article on drought care for trees. http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/files/219422.pdf
More Drought Tips
- Sheet mulch your drought-stressed lawn. See http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/files/172352.pdf.
- Keep pollinators in mind whenever planting. They still need our help. Check out UC ANR’s Pollen Nation website at http://ucanr.edu/sites/PollenNation/ for great tips on gardening with pollinators.
- Considering using native plants? Visit the California Native Plant Society website at http://calscape.cnps.org/ to see native and native pollinator plants suitable for your area. Just click your location on the map to search.
General Garden Care
- Adjust your irrigation. In spite of continuing warm days, the evapotranspiration (ET) rate has plummeted, so watering time can be reduced by 25% from a month ago. As soon as the rains start, turn off the irrigation system.
- Continue fall cleanup in garden beds in preparation for the winter. Cut back anything that has finished blooming or is diseased. Remove all dropped and diseased leaves from roses, camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas. Consider replacing thirsty rhodies and azaleas with less water-demanding shrubs.
- Think fire safety! Prune low-lying branches of shrubs. Check eaves for leaf build-up and clear flammable plants away from your home.
- Pick pears, late season apples, late peaches. Irrigate if rains have not started. Pick up all fallen fruit; compost if possible.
- Harvest persimmons when they turn deep orange. Bringing them inside to ripen.
- Start pruning berry vines.
- Plant winter vegetable seedlings: broccoli, lettuce, peas, beets, carrots, mustards, kale, radishes, snap peas.
- Plant garlic. Plant onions (seeds or seedlings).
- Plant cover crops in garden beds. UC Davis has great info for choosing a garden cover crop at: http://asi.ucdavis.edu/programs/sarep/research-initiatives/are/nutrient-mgmt/cover-crops.
Flowers & Landscaping
- Consider planting a drought tolerant tree to replace birches or other common water-loving landscape trees. Drought-tolerant trees include native oaks, Arbutus unedo (Strawberry Tree), Cercis occidentalis (Redbud), and Olea europaea (Olive). For more tree information, check out www.canopy.org/index.html. For great tree selection help, visit Cal Poly’s SelecTree application at https://selectree.calpoly.edu/.
- Sow seeds of California poppies over bare patches and cover them with a thin layer of topsoil. Keep moist until they germinate (7-14days) and continue to keep moist until the rains kick in.
- Purchase bulbs for fall planting: Allium, Anemone coronaria, Babiana stricta, Crocus, daffodil, Freesia, Homeria, hyacinth, Ixia, Leucojum, Lycoris, Muscari, ornamental Oxalis, Ranunculus, Scilla, Sparaxis, Tritonia, tulips, species tulips such as Tulipa clusiana or Tulipa saxatilis, Watsonia.
- Establish a walkable low-water lawn with substitutes such as California meadow sedge (Carex pansa), Dymondia margaretae, or woolly thyme.
- If you have deciduous trees, stay ahead of the leaves. If you compost, shred the leaves before composting, or run a lawn mower over them. If not shredded, they can mat and take forever to decompose, making a slippery, gooey mass in your compost pile or beds.
- If powdery mildew has been problem on your roses in prior months, spray now with a preventive mixture of 2 tsp. baking soda + 2-4 tsp. lightweight summer oil + 1 gallon of water, repeating every 7-10 days. For more info, visit the UC IPM page on powdery mildew at http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7493.html.
- Ants are annoying when they get in your house! But they can be beneficial out in the garden. Focusing your efforts on keeping them from entering in the first place. Caulk cracks and crevices; keep any food sources sealed tight. Insecticidal sprays shouldn’t be necessary. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7411.html.
- Check yellowjacket bait stations; replenish as needed. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/QT/yellowjacketscard.html
Local Weather Information
Linked data is from the California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) weather stations. Visit CIMIS web site.
Contra Costa County Stations
USDA zones range from 8-9B
Sunset zones range from 7-17
West County: Sunset 15/16/17
Average min. temp 54.2°F (*)
Average max. temp 73.8°F
Average rainfall 0.93 inches (*)
Central County: Sunset 14/15
Average min. temp 45.0°F (*)
Average max. temp 79.8°F (*)
Average rainfall 0.63 inches (*)
East County: Sunset 14
Average min. temp 52.3 °F (*)
Average max. temp 81.6 °F (*)
Average rainfall 0.31 inches (*)
(Weather averages: October 2014 data from California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS). (*) indicates flagged, possibly inaccurate and/or missing data.)
- October is the tenth month in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. It is one of seven months with 31 days. The name comes from the Latin “octo” for eight, since this was the eighth month of the old Roman calendar. The Julian and Gregorian calendar later added January and February.
- The October flower is calendula. (Marigold). And, October is Apple month, Cookie month, Dessert month and Cookbook month…what a combination!