Water-Wise Garden Planning

This past weekend I went to a lecture given by Golden Gate Gardening author Pam Pierce. The event was part of a promotional tour for the launch of her third edition and focused on sustainable food gardening, specifically, creating a water-wise vegetable garden. Here are just a few of the tips she provided:

  • Group plants by water use: This allows you to spend valuable water (and the money it costs) only on the plants that really need it and helps prevent over-watering
  • Amend the soil with compost: The more organic matter in the soil, the better it retains water.
  • Mulch: Mulching helps prevent evaporation and keeps the soil cooler in hot weather.
  • Choose your plants wisely: Don’t waste money and water on edibles that end up rotting on the vine. Plant only what you will harvest and eat or share. My tip: Consider choosing smaller, less heavy producers or fewer plants if you can’t keep up with the harvest on something you really love.
  • And the last one for my fellow temperate climate gardeners: Take advantage of the rainy season by planting, for example, California spring veggies or bareroot trees in February so nature will do the watering for you for several months allowing your plants grow strong roots and first leaves.

In the addition to the great ideas she provides, she also brought a basket full of fruits, veggies, edible flowers and herbs she’d just collected or taken from storage including chard, salad greens, nasturtiums, oca, apples and Bolivian sun root (she even shared the last two). It’s amazing how much food even the smallest garden can provide year-round with the right choices, a little planning and some good storage. And if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, pick up an updated copy of her amazing book. She has made significant revisions including new zone planting guides for San Jose/Santa Clara and Walnut Creek/Contra Costa and a ton more information on sustainable gardening practices.

In case you’re interested, the event was sponsored by the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA — a gorgeous dry garden planted on 4.5 acres of a former walnut farm. Planted mostly with succulents, cacti and South American and Australian natives, the garden is stunningly architectural and features a number of endangered and seriously endangered plants including a bristlecone pine. The garden is now protected by a conservancy and serves as an educational institution as well. If you’re ever in the area, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Help Your Plants Beat the Heat

Summer heat is already beating down across much of the nation, spelling disaster for many young seedlings. So what can you do to protect your future food investment? Try these tips for how to help your plants beat the heat.


Check moisture levels daily, maybe even more often for container plants. When the mercury starts cruising up over 85… 95… 105 water evaporates in a flash. And when your plants are young, their tender root systems can be irreparably damaged before you know it.

Water first thing in the morning before the sun gets too high and the day gets too hot. This helps in two ways. First, plants draw up water through the roots as the temperature rises. If the soil is dry they will draw up only air. Secondly, any water dripped on the leaves can turn into tiny magnifying glasses burning the leaves with the sun’s heat.


When it’s hot out, you’ll need to do more than water regularly, you’ll need to preserve as much of that water as you can. Adding a good, thick layer of mulch around your plants can help keep the moisture in the soil. As an added bonus it will also¬†help keep your plants’ roots cool.


Sometimes, the only way to keep your plants from whithering under the sun, is to move them to the shade until the worst of the heat passes. If you plant in containers, all you need to do is pull them to a shadier spot. If you plant in the ground however, you can still protect them by putting up a temporary shade cloth. A few bamboo poles and an old sheet is an inexpensive and simple solution.

Keep a close eye out for the signs your plants might be suffering from the heat including wilting, brown edges and scorch marks. If you notice any of these signs, act quickly and your precious plants can live to fruit another day.