Originally Published: September 4, 2009 10 p.m.
The unusually dry monsoon season has created challenges for gardening in the tri-city area, according to experts who recommend deep watering and mulching to retain moisture.
Gardening experts also recommend drought-tolerant plants such as sage, Apache plumes and cacti. They advise homeowners not to count on a hurricane from Mexico to bring relief to water-starved plants this weekend.
"You should always plan for a drought in Arizona," said Jeff Schalau, county director for the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension-Yavapai County in Prescott. "If it doesn't rain this weekend, the chances of having a good monsoon season are slipping away."
Concurring, Valerie Phipps, nursery manager at Mortimer Nursery in Prescott, commented, "When you are in a drought situation, we recommend that people stay away from planting lawns and do more drought-tolerant plants."
Drought-tolerant plants include native species such as sages, cacti, yuccas and Apache plumes, she said.
Phipps advises customers to compensate for the lack of rain by making sure their irrigation systems are watering adequately.
"Now, we are recommending a good, deep soaking twice a week for trees and shrubs," Phipps said. "Small plants and small pots still need to be watered accordingly."
Phipps defined deep roots as 18 inches to two feet below the surface.
Watering the plants lightly will not suffice, the experts said.
Watering 10 minutes per day on a drip irrigation system is like "spitting on plants," said Ken Lain, owner of Watters Family Garden Center in Prescott.
"The secret to correct watering is to water a long time with each irrigation cycle and to let the plants breathe before it rains again," Lain said.
Under watering can be hazardous and deadly to vegetable gardens, according to Schalau.
"Three or four days of dry conditions could kill vegetable crops such as tomatoes, and beans and squash," Schalau said.
However, Schalau suggests irrigating fruit trees less frequently during dry seasons if homeowners do not want to produce a fruit crop. He has apple, pear and peach trees.
"It depends on where you live," he said. "I have not watered mine for months. You watch the tree."
Schalau also recommends harvesting rainwater from roofs and storing the water in tanks.
"I divert the rainwater from my roof into the garden," he said.
Schalau and Phipps also recommend mulch to prevent evaporation.
Schalau suggests applying an organic mulch to the soil in the garden.
However, Phipps advises gardeners to keep mulch away from the trunks of trees because doing so can cause the bark to rot. She also recommends placing a berm or well around trees or shrubs to hold water better.
Phipps said Mortimer Nursery will conduct its annual autumn outreach fair at 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 12 at the nursery, 3166 Willow Creek Road.
She said nonprofit groups will be present to educate the public about gardening and water conservation.