Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Check Your Soil Before You Water

Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer'
Autumn is weasel weather season here in Northern California. Phrases such as "Slight chance of rain", "A chance of showers", "Chance of morning fog", fill the forecasts this time of year. And occasionally we get really nice weather...perhaps too nice, for this time of year. Such as now. High temperatures this week are approaching 80, with sunny skies forecast for the next few days. 

 But just because you're opening the windows, have switched back to short-sleeve shirts and veering towards the water cooler more often doesn't necessarily mean your lawn and garden are thirsty.

Don't be fooled by short bursts of sunny, warm days now. The angle of the sun, the shorter days, dropping soil temperatures and the reduction of the soil evapotranspiration rate that is happening now means your lawn and garden soil is retaining more moisture than it was a couple of months ago. 

In October and November (and all winter, too), turn your automatic lawn sprinklers off. Turn them on, manually, only when the roots of your lawn need irrigation.  How can you tell? Use these tools:

Before you turn on your irrigation, check the moisture level of your soil, a few inches deep (preferably 8-10 inches down...if you can penetrate the probe that far!). If the meter reads on the high end, keep the sprinklers off.

A good quality moisture meter can cost nearly a $100. But because it is battery operated and has a calibration screw (and a better quality probe), it is more trustworthy and definitely lasts longer than less expensive moisture meters.


A soil auger allows you to do the hand-feel test of your soil. The half-pipe design of an auger allows you to easily grab a handful of that deeper soil.


Roll that soil around the palm of your hand. 

If it breaks up with no effort, or is crumbling to begin with, then that area needs water.

If, when you squeeze that soil sample, water pours out of your hand, the soil is too wet.

The ideal moisture level: soil that easily forms a ball in your hand, crumbles with a bit of effort on your part, but has no excess water.

Don't assume that because your lawn's soil is moist that your containerized plants are fine, too. Because they are above ground, have better drainage and probably a soil that is more porous, potted plants need more frequent waterings

Stick that moisture meter in the plant pot. 


The results may surprise you!

Don't let how you feel determine your lawn and garden's watering needs. You may be thirsty; but there's a good chance that, this time of year, your soil is fine, thank you.

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