Rain water harvesting benefits plants and is an effective way to help your garden grow! Rain water is neutral in nature, helping to counter the alkalinity of our soils and groundwater. Our prior post discusses how alkalinity negatively influences the ability of plants to use minerals and organics in the soil. You can refresh your memory here.
This sustainable practice also respects our ground water as a finite resource. Ground water is being used more rapidly by our citizens than it is being replaced, or “recharged”, into the aquifers. It is estimated that 70% of our water use is for landscape use.
How does one harvest rainwater?
- It can be collected from your roof via gutters that direct the water into containers known as cisterns. These can be above or below ground. Above ground cisterns are typically equipped with a connector for a hose for hand watering. Pumps can be connected to underground or above ground tanks to effectively move water into a drip irrigation system.
- Water can be slowed down and directed to specific plants by the creation of raised berms. Using berms helps prevent rapid runoff and allows water to percolate into the soil for uptake by plant roots. Berms allow you to direct water toward planting areas rather than losing it from your property.
- Drainages can be reconfigured to maximize percolation and minimize runoff. Drainage channels should meander across the slope of your property rather than parallel to it. Why? To slow water down!
- Check dams can be used to slow water down in natural or man made drainages. Small boulders can be placed in drainage channels in a semi-circle facing upstream for this purpose.
- Water can be directed toward planting areas by lowered channels or “swales” which meander through your landscape. Used in conjunction with berms, lowered channels encourage water to flow where it is needed.
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Prescott Area Gardens Watering Tips offer ideas for your most efficient use of water in our gardens and landscapes. Without going deeply into the WHY of each of these recommendations, we will suggest ways to maximize the benefit of our most precious resource.
- Water slowly. Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon, so filling large basins with many gallons at a time compacts the soil. This diminishes the air pockets vital to root and microbe growth.
- Use drip irrigation. Typically water soaks slowly into our soils, requiring repeated small applications of water whenever watering by hand in order for the water to penetrate into the plant’s root zone. You may think you have watered sufficiently only to discover that moisture has not gone more than 1/2″ deep! Drip irrigation bypasses this challenge and allow you to know how much you are watering by the number and gallons per minute of emitters.
- Water deeply and less frequently to create and improve drought tolerance. In doing so, you encourage the roots to grow deep and wide in search of water. Frequent watering encourages the roots to stay near the surface waiting for their next dose of moisture. This practice actually makes plants thirstier!
- Water at the drip line of trees and large shrubs. As woody plants mature, the fine root hairs that efficiently absorb water are found further and further from the trunk. It is necessary to move drip emitters away from the trunk to the drip line, the area bordering the leaf canopy. Also, additional emitters must be added to accommodate the increase in root mass.
- Give supplemental water during our dry spring and fall seasons to your favorite native plants and trees not served by irrigation. The use of a soaker hose along the drip line of larger trees will provide the needed water to minimize seasonal drought stress.
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Improving Prescott AZ area soils is critical to the health of your garden unless you are only using well adapted native plants. In our prior post, we talked a bit about soil and how its texture and structure supports plant growth. With this knowledge in hand, you can positively impact how the plants in your garden grow and produce fruits, whether flowers, fruit or vegetables.
If you wish a greater diversity of plants beyond plants native to your area there are distinct actions you can take to improve the health of your soil include:
- Maintain the aeration of soil
- Create pathways in high traffic areas to avoid soil compaction
- Use drip irrigation rather than filling plant basins with gallons of water at a time. Water weight more than 8 pounds per gallon and will compact the soil if too much is added at once.
- Till or work the soil to loosen compacted areas
- Incorporate amendments to improve the soil
- Improve fertility
- Correct for alkalinity so that plants can better use the nutrients already within the soil. The addition of organic matter, elemental sulfur, and liquid acidifier moves the soil pH toward neutral.
- Add organic materials to the soil:
- Well rotted manure: use it sparingly as it is high in salts
- Plant legumes to fix nitrogen in the soil for future annual planting
- Use the right fertilizers at the right time in the right form
- Notice how water percolates into your soil, then:
- Amend with organic material and course sand, small cinders or gravel to improve heavy clay soils
- Add organic matter to help hold moisture in sandy soils which drain too quickly
- Break up caliche or create “chimneys” which penetrate through caliche layers to allow adequate water drainage
- Add soil or use raised beds if the topsoil layer is too shallow for good root growth or drainage is poor
- Feed the diverse microbial communities in the soil. Microorganisms and organic mater help to protect soil structure and keep it in clumps or “aggregates” which allow air and water to move through it more easily.
- For annuals use nitrogen rich amendments and mulches
- For perennials, trees and shrubs use carbon rich amendments and mulches
- Select soils best for your intended use: recognize the difference between potting soil vs planting mix
Contact us learn more about improving Prescott AZ area soils.
Prescott AZ Area Soils can be a challenge to the dedicated gardener who wishes to grow a wide variety of perennial and annual plants. Native plants tend to be well-adapted to our soils, other plants not so.
Soil is the top layer of the earth’s surface where plants grow. It is made up of minerals, varying sizes of rock particle (clay, silt and sand), decaying organic matter, air and water.
Soil is a living organism and, like us humans, needs air, water and food to thrive. It is teaming with microbes. Microscopic organisms such as bacteria and fungi help to break down organic materials and make them available to plant roots.
Think of soil as mother earth’s medium for plant growth! Soil serves to:
- Hold and maintain water and nutrients for plant uptake
- Provide structural support for plant roots
- Provide essential mineral macronutrients to plants such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sodium as well as a host of micronutrients
The composition of soil creates texture and structure which may facilitate plant growth or make it a challenge for area gardeners.
- Frequently our soil layers or “horizons” are shallow, if they exist at all. In many areas there is bedrock quite close to the surface.
- Clay, the smallest of soil particles, is common in many Prescott areas. It clumps so tightly together that it drains poorly and holds little oxygen or organic matter.
- It’s not uncommon to have caliche, an impermeable cement-like layer of soil held together with lime, just beneath our topsoil. It prevents movement of air and water through the soil.
- Our soils are alkaline in nature, making the nutrients and minerals therein unavailable for use by many non-native plants.
- There is little organic matter in our soil which helps to hold water and make it available for use by plants.
An understanding of these challenges will help area gardeners to create a plan of action to remedy them! Look for our next post for suggestions.
Contact us to learn more about Prescott AZ area soils.