Plants Look Best When Minimally Watered

Just because it’s hotter and drier than usual does not mean you need to worry more than usual about your plants.
During the drought of the 1990s, when you were not allowed to water more than every other day throughout the city of Los Angeles, gardeners were reminded that many plants look better, or at least no worse, when watered sparingly. This is particularly true for plants native to the dry climate of South Africa, Australia or the Mediterranean. Also, with less water in the garden, fewer pests and weeds feel at home. There is less rampant, succulent growth for fungi, insects, snails and rodents to consume.
In a drought, or when the cost of water becomes prohibitive, people will study their plants more carefully before watering them. A subtle change in leaf color, a small change in the angle between leaf and stem, or a slight upturning or downturning of leaf edges are the telltale signs that a plant must have water now.
Although this is not a good time of year to plant, you can do so by taking a few precautions.
Before planting, make sure the soil of the plants is soaking wet. If you bring home annuals in six-packs or 4-inch plastic pots, place them in a bucket or pan of water so that they can soak up water from below, assuring that their soil is saturated throughout.
If you are planting from larger containers, fill the planting holes in the ground with water and watch it drain through before installing your plants. Water thoroughly and monitor your newly planted specimens daily. Mulch can also modulate water loss. It is also wise to plant the largest specimens you can afford because they do not require as frequent watering as smaller plants.
There is a product called Wilt-Pruf ( which, sprayed on foliage, reduces water loss from transpiration. Transpiration, a kind of botanical sweating, describes the movement of water from soil to root, through trunks and stems, into leaves and, finally, out into the atmosphere. By reducing transpiration or water loss from a plant, you can cut back on water application.
When scorching temperatures are forecast, it is advisable to plant in the late afternoon or early evening. That way, plants can settle in overnight before having to face the heat of the day.
Going away for the weekend or taking an even longer summer vacation is especially problematic when it comes to watering container plants. If you have large containers, invest in a dolly or hand truck so that you can move them into the shade before your departure. You can also set up an automated drip irrigation system for keeping your potted plants hydrated in your absence.
Q: January’s freeze killed my calliandra specimens, which I had dutifully trained into beautiful archways. Now I have a lacework of trunks/limbs and I would like your suggestions for a fast-growing evergreen leafy climber or vine that will grow up using these dead trunks/limbs as support. One archway is in all-day sun and the other is in afternoon sun but somewhat shady in the morning.
— Bryce Fujii, Canoga Park
A: You have several vining plants to choose from, including star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), white potato vine (Solanum jasminoides) and pink jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum). Violet trumpet vine (Clytostoma callistegioides) would also be an appropriate selection except that it is slower growing than your other choices.
CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS: Volunteers are needed for the planting and care of the Tarzana Community & Cultural Center garden, located on the southeast corner of Vanalden Avenue and Ventura Boulevard. For more information, call (818) 705-1286, or send an e-mail to

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