Gardeners can conserve water, keep plants alive

July 11, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

High temperatures stress area crops and livestock

Record temperatures and long periods without rain could compromise backyard gardens across the region, experts say.

Extreme heat and lack of rain put extra stress on vegetables and small fruits, said Steve Bogash, regional horticulture educator with Penn State University Cooperative Extension.

Unlike vegetable fields on farms, few home gardens are irrigated, said Bogash, who offered some advice on watering.

When possible, watering should be done early in the day before the temperature climbs, and it should be done for a long time and deep, Bogash said.

But sometimes, the "when" is less important than just getting water into the garden.

"In this weather, watering is better than not watering," Bogash said.

Be careful when watering, he advised, because although it is difficult to overwater in hot, dry weather, it is possible.

Using a soaker hose can help home gardeners figure out how much moisture is getting into the garden.


It takes about 60 gallons of water to soak a 10-by-10-foot plot with 1 inch of water, said Craig Yohn, West Virginia University Extension agent.

To test how much water is flowing out of a soaker hose and to know how long to keep the water flowing, Bogash suggested placing a pie pan underneath the hose and measuring the depth of water that flows out over time.

Vegetables should be picked early in the day to avoid overripening due to heat, he said. Harvesting vegetables and fruit while they're hot makes them more likely to spoil, Bogash said.

"It will just keep ripening," he said.

Water-conservation program

While water is needed to keep gardens growing, the Maryland Department of Agriculture encouraged garden owners last week to conserve water.

Maryland farmers have begun an education campaign titled "Take it from Maryland Farmers: Backyard Actions for a Cleaner Chesapeake Bay" to help home gardeners reduce their impact on the environment.

The campaign highlights conservation measures, also known as best management practices, that farmers use to produce healthy crops and protect the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, according to an e-mailed release from the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Additional topics in the campaign include the wise use of fertilizers, trying pesticide alternatives and composting, controlling soil erosion and rainwater runoff, and winter garden planning.

More information about the program can be found at

"Take it from Maryland Farmers: Backyard Actions for a Cleaner Chesapeake Bay" was developed by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center and the Maryland Sea Grant, along with Maryland farmers through an agricultural awareness group.

For more information

More information about the "Take it from Maryland Farmers: Backyard Actions for a Cleaner Chesapeake Bay" program can be found at

The University of Maryland Home and Garden Information Center has a certified professional horticulturist available to answer questions at 800-342-2507 (outside Maryland, 410-531-5573), from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Farmers offer water conservation tips

Following are water-conservation tips provided to backyard gardeners through "Take it From Maryland Farmers: Backyard Actions for a Cleaner Chesapeake Bay":

o Avoid frequent, light watering. It promotes shallow root growth and encourages weeds.

o Purchase and install a rain barrel equipped with mosquito netting to store rainwater for future use, and to reduce stormwater runoff and harmful soil erosion.

o Use a rain gauge to monitor rainfall and apply additional water to plants only if needed.

o Avoid wasting water by repairing leaks, including those at hose connections.

o Consider xeriscaping, a method of gardening that uses drought-tolerant plants and a combination of practices to reduce water usage.

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