While standing in my garden, hose in hand on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I noticed there was a small hole beside one of my shrubs where previously there had been none.
My first thought was that perhaps an animal had dug a hole recently, as I knew the last time I watered, it was not there. After some investigation, I realized it was from water running off the roof where the downspout had separated from the gutter. The last rain we had created a hole. I realized then the importance of knowing every inch of my yard.
After many hours crawling on the ground weeding, planting, re-planting and investigating, I have come to know the outside of my home as well as the inside.
When you know where problems commonly occur in your yard or garden it is easier to anticipate your maintenance time. You will know where water may pool and affect you favorite plant that is sitting in too much water or where the wind hits certain areas especially hard and may put too much stress on a tree or shrub. Last year, when we had four days of consistent, hot north wind, I lost a dwarf lemon tree that was in the direct line of the wind that whistles around the corner of my house. I lost the tree that summer, but now I know better than to replant a tree in that area and instead planted a Wax Leaf Privet that is dense enough to handle the harsh wind.
Lately with the frigid temperatures, we have experienced it is important to know where the frost is most likely to land in your yard and what plants will need to be covered before you get into bed. Too many times I have leapt out of bed to spend chilly moments in my back yard with towels in my arms trying to determine which plants will need protection.
Many of my plants in the back of my yard, which gets the hottest of the sun in summer, were also affected most by the frost. My front yard was completely unscathed.
To know where pests may accumulate, where drainage issues happen, what spots get more sun or are especially hot in summer and how the air and wind circulates can make maintenance less of a chore. It can also be the difference between success and failure among your plantings and your garden may flourish and thrive. The microclimates within your yard can make for a more interesting garden as well. Grouping plants that appreciate the same conditions will also make caring for them less like work and more like fun and can make the trips to the garden center feel like a treasure hunt finding just the right plant for that special spot.
Periodically checking how well your irrigation system is working is always a good idea. Check for water that may be pooling anywhere, broken sprinkler heads or areas that are not getting sufficient water. The sprinklers in my yard take quite a beating from bicycles, basketballs and are kicked time after time and must be repositioned often so as not to be constantly watering the sidewalk. Far too much precious water is wasted by faulty irrigation systems.
After checking my own sprinklers recently I learned that a large blackened area on a tree in my yard was getting too much water. I determined that the blackened area was caused by a sprinkler that was hitting the tree daily and it seemed to be rotting the bark. Since I have repositioned it to point down to the grass (where it was meant to be) the tree is much happier.
Many common maintenance problems could be solved by simply observing what is happening (or not happening) in your garden, and it is a good excuse to sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Often my neighbor catches me “talking to my plants” as she says to me when she sees me in my yard alone just watching and looking. I have to laugh now because after living across the street from each other for four years, I catch her doing the same and her garden has never looked better. I think these conversations with my plants is why I have not fixed the drip system in one of my large flower beds, secretly I think it because I like to water with the hose and watch my garden grow.
Amy Creighton is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.