Moisture retention

Kris and Family

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Feb 7, 2020
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In our hot dry summer, the struggle to keep plants hydrated can be very real. Between the dry air and the 115f midday heat, even the hardiest of plants wilts. Last summer, even with a 30% shade cloth I had to water 2-3× a day from June to September... except on monsoon days, which were not often enough.

How do you best propose to retain water in the upcoming summer?

What types of mulch do you have access to and utilize?

Are drip systems all they are cracked up to be?

Even our Armenian cucumbers struggled.
 
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Shannon Robinson

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Feb 7, 2020
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I think that the most important things in arid climates are moisture retention and shade. We add about 6 inches of slightly aged stable manure into our beds annually, in addition to all the compost we can produce ourselves. People don’t realize how fast an irrigated garden uses organic matter in hot climates. By the end of summer, you can barely tell we used organic matter at all.
Further our garden is shaded in the late afternoon. they are shaded by large trees and a large shed on the west side. The shade starts on the west side of the garden by 4:30 pm, then moves across the garden and is mostly shaded by 7 pm. I think that this really helps. Gardens really only need 8 hours of sunlight to be “full sun.” We water and harvest in the mornings, so that the plants don’t suffer water stress all day. There is still some afternoon wilt, especially in the pumpkins, but it rights itself by dusk. We also mulch all the beds, using spent manure/ bedding materials after making manure tea, or use straw, rice hulls, or whatever we can get free to cheap. We use the manure tea to feed the crops through the season. We use all clippings as mulch on our citrus trees to shade their roots and retain water.
As to drip, yes it does work. We have used it in the past and are in the process of designing a new layout to use drip again. It needs to be shaded in hot climates, or the water inside gets hot enough to cook the roots. We put our mulch over top of the drip lines. Our garden is sets of raised beds so we are trying to design it where it is personalized to us, so it’s not done yet. We are still try out new ideas and still enlarging the garden. It will probably go on drip next year in the late winter. I hope that this helps.
 

Kris and Family

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Feb 7, 2020
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I am stuck with full sun pretty much 12 hours a day in my situation. So last year we put up a 30% shade cloth. I definitely want to mulch this year, just not sure what the best ones would be. We have a composter bin, but no access to horses for the manure. *I would loooove that, but not sure how to transport if I found someone willing to supply*
 
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Shannon Robinson

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If you can’t get stable manure, try sourcing rice hulls. Any larger feed store should have them. Or straw. Try to find the stuff that cut into shorter lengths as it’s easier to place around plants. Both of these are great at improving the soil if you dig it in at the end of the season. Worms love them.
You say that your watering 2-3 times a day? Our temps are same as yours and we are arid. How often do you water before it gets hot? You want to encourage the root system to develop as deeply as possible. During spring, only water if the plants need it. Feel down an inch or so. If it’s not dry, they don’t need water. If you water constantly when the plants are young they will form their root system right under the soil, leaving them vulnerable when the weather heats up.
 
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Sam Jones

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May 29, 2020
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Your soil type plays a very important role too.

If you have clay soil like I do then you’re in big trouble because clay becomes like concrete when it gets dry. Watering clay during hot weather won’t work. Probably the best way to solve it is mix a HUGE amount of decomposed organic matter into the clay soil and then mulch very heavily, keep the ground shaded as much as possible, and hope it won’t dry out. This is actually the same solution for fixing sandy soils too.

Adding so much organic matter means you’ll end up raising the soil level by about a foot. If you don’t want a raised bed then you’ll be shovelling that excess soil somewhere else. That’s a difficult task if like me you you live in suburbia and don’t have room anywhere to place it, but easy enough if you’re on an acreage because you can use the soil for different features like making a clay pond and dirt mounds for older kids to ride their bikes over etc.
 

ClissAT

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Sep 27, 2015
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Hi Kris and Family.

I read with interest that you still didn't have huge success using the shade cloth over your gardens.
That you still had to water during the day.
I wonder is it actually water the plants need or is it humidity?

I think you could save your self some water but installing a micro spray system.
Of course, it depends on where your water supply comes from.
If from artesian then the micro-sprays might get clogged with minerals.

But it is also a way to add the fertilizer. When soils are prone to drying out so fast they often suffer big apparent deficiencies. Turning your micro-sprays into fertigation outlets and foliar feed your plants.
But what it really is, is a lack of soil moisture since all minerals require moisture to move them to and through the plants.
I firmly agree with heavily mulching to keep the soil shaded and as dark as possible.
In your case, you might even get away with a two-part mulch. First next to the soil could be bark fines, wood chip or even crusher dust (cracker dust or crushed granite) then on top of that any sort of dry hay mulch.
 

Vicky

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Mar 27, 2020
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In our hot dry summer, the struggle to keep plants hydrated can be very real. Between the dry air and the 115f midday heat, even the hardiest of plants wilts. Last summer, even with a 30% shade cloth I had to water 2-3× a day from June to September... except on monsoon days, which were not often enough.

How do you best propose to retain water in the upcoming summer?

What types of mulch do you have access to and utilize?

Are drip systems all they are cracked up to be?

Even our Armenian cucumbers struggled.
We've used 50% shade cloth with good success but I'm considering not keeping a garden through the hottest time of year, just cramming all our growing/production stuff in the more mild seasons and then concentrating on keeping the big things like fruit trees etc alive over summer! It seems to be getting drier and drier (the air seems to suck the moisture out of plants over summer) and we've been in drought for so many years there is no ground water, pots and containers are where I'm starting to experiment with. Apart from our trees and vines, NOTHING goes in full sun theses days :eek: I always shade it manually at some time or make sure it gets shade from another building/plant/structure in the afternoons.
I'd be interested to see what solutions you come up with