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The Art of Late Summer Watering


In general, it is time to start slowly decreasing water to woody shrubs and ornamentals as their growth is beginning to slow as they prepare for fall and winter. There is an exception to every rule in this instance it is fruit trees. Keep fruit trees well watered until the harvest is complete, then cut back on irrigation. Remove fallen apples off the ground as this will help reduce the numbers of codling moths for next year. There is no reason to spray for pests at this point of the season.

In vegetable gardens, start to decrease irrigation water on tomatoes, winter squash, potatoes, peppers and onions to encourage ripening and drying for winter storage. Tomatoes and eggplant should have flowers pinched off at this point, or a couple of weeks ago. Also, cut off the top 6” of Brussels Sprouts to encourage formation of sprouts.

What to water? Plants that are in the process of providing a daily harvest should continue to be watered:

green beans, zucchini, and cucumbers. Rather like in spring, I spend time with my watering cans selectively watering plants. Another exception: strawberries. In September, water your strawberry bed, weed well and fertilize the crop with 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, once the plants have stopped producing. This fall applied nutrition will help the formation of next year’s fruit buds. Keep the soil damp until the first fall frost, thereafter withhold water to help harden off the plants for winter. A final watering in November helps prevent winter die off caused by dry root zones. Protect strawberries over the winter, applying mulch about December 1st. Straw mulch is conventional but I use pine needles with great success (on my garlic bed as well).

One success story in our garden is the interplanting of a new strawberry bed with fava beans. In May, we seeded fava beans down the center of a bed with two outer rows of strawberries. The thought was that the nitrogen fixing of the legume would benefit the strawberries next season. The accidental success was that the fava beans had been harvested and the plant has regenerated from the roots. The plants have begun to and may produce pods for an autumn harvest (remember, fava are more like peas than beans in their season preference). The good fortune is that both the strawberries and favas are going to continue with the same watering requirements for the next couple of months.

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