Teague: Valley gardens have late summer look

June 20, 2014 

Gardeners who have been making efforts to conserve water during this extreme drought year are already seeing the effects of using less water.

Increased pest insect infestations, stunted growth with reduced flower and leaf production, slower recovery from heat stress and twig and branch dieback on even well-established large landscape plants are clearly evident.

In years with normal rainfall amounts these problems can appear in late July and early August after several months of high daytime and nighttime temperatures, but this year already the effects of the drought as well as some unusually hot days are taking their toll.

Attempting to conserve water even before a drought year was declared, I turned off the automatic irrigation system in December and did not turn it on until April at a reduced schedule.

Camellias and azaleas that are at least 20 years old have produced no new leaves or buds this spring and twig dieback is severe. Well-established and well-mulched camellias and azaleas are somewhat drought tolerant. Two plants will need to be pulled out; we'll see how many others will survive the summer.

The large xylosma hedge has never received supplemental irrigation and it often suffers from an infestation of whiteflies in late summer. This year, the whitefly infestation is early and severe.

Smaller infestations of soft-bodied sucking insects like whiteflies can be controlled with applications of horticultural oil, neem oil or insecticidal soap. Whiteflies also can be vacuumed up or washed off leaf surfaces.

In this case, because the hedge is so large making treatment applications impractical, the damage will have to be tolerated. If it gets really bad, deep soaking the hedge roots may alleviate the infestation somewhat.

Citrus trees commonly set many more fruit than the tree can bear and the excess fruit drops in June. This year, the June drop also included many dead leaves, a sign that the trees are drought-stressed.

A weekly deep slow soaking will help the trees retain the crop, but next winter's crop might have to be sacrificed if it's necessary to give the citrus trees just enough water to stay fairly healthy.

Snails and slugs go into hibernation as temperatures rise in summer. You'll find them stuck to the shady side of fences and under old boards and pots. This year, they are continuing to feed on what tender new growth they can find. Handpicking them in their hiding places and applications of an iron phosphate-based bait should reduce the population.

As you monitor your garden this summer, plan on increasing irrigation for plants that show the effects of drought stress.

If you're trying to conserve water, find sources for clean water that otherwise might be wasted.

 

Elinor Teague is a Fresno County master gardener. Send her plant questions at etgrow@comcast.net or features@fresnobee.com ("plants" in the subject line).

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