Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Warm temperatures, bright sun, lots of strong wind and no rain. Yikes! This dry weather is not doing our gardens any favors. Sunday night was forecasted to be our best chance of some significant rain. I watched the sky that evening; there was thunder and lightning and only light sprinkles. Hopefully, it rained more on your yard and garden, I only got a few sprinkles. I checked the rainfall statistics and we are about three inches below normal for May, so it is easy to see how things have gotten so dry.
I wish I knew of some ingenious way for us all to keep things green and growing without rain. I don't. We are all going to need to water. Watering seems a little wasteful to me, so I try to get by with the minimum.
The best time to water is early in the morning. Cooler temperatures and calmer winds allow more of the water to soak into the soil. I used to think that it wasn't good to water the garden during the heat of the day. I got this idea from my mother who used to say that you could "cook" the tomatoes by watering them when it is hot. In fact, it helps cool heat-stressed plants. The problem is, much more water is lost to evaporation when you water in hot sunlight; less of it actually reaches the plants' roots. Unfortunately, evening watering increases the risk of fungal diseases because foliage dries more slowly, if at all, at night. But the benefits of watering - when plants really need the moisture - outweigh any risks involved. The dry weather is particularly harmful to the development of young trees and shrubs. Don't forget to soak them, too.
Mulching is a great way to reduce the need for watering your trees or gardens. But many of our plants (think tomatoes, peppers, melons) need warm soils. Mulch insulates the soil and keeps it from warming up. Not good in early June when the soil is still cool. In July it is good to have about three inches of mulch in flower and vegetable gardens to reduce surface evaporation of water and eliminate the need for hoeing, which can damage plant roots and limit their ability to take in moisture. Grass clippings, straw, chipped leaves and shredded newspapers work well, and can be turned into the soil at the end of the growing season, along with some inexpensive lawn fertilizer (no "weed and feed" please) to help them break down.
Woodchips, shredded bark and cocoa bean hulls will accomplish the same thing, but are better suited for use around woody plants and perennials, where they needn't be disturbed for years. Make sure there's a generous circle of mulch around young trees, starting just beyond their trunks. (You don't want to keep the trunks wet or bark can rot.) Not only will it conserve moisture, it will eliminate damage from weed whips (because there should be no need to use them by the trunks). Mulch will also substantially reduce competition from surrounding grass for needed moisture and nutrients. In fact, Mr. Potato Head needs to get busy and do this to his trees!
Next week: the farmer's market comes to Kimball. Whopeeee!
If you have gardening questions or suggestions for Mr. Potato Head please e-mail him at
Mr. Potato Head is Stearns County Master Gardener and Kimball resident Rick Ellis.