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Around the Yard

May 18, 2000

Things to do this week:

* Water with wisdom. Irrigate too often in summer and you may kill plants because too much moisture rots the roots. The trick is to water long enough but not too frequently so the soil surface can dry out between irrigations. Watering for five minutes at a time is not long enough, and watering every day or every other day is too often.

Most plant roots are in the top 18 inches of soil, so you need to let the sprinklers or hose run long enough for water to soak at least a foot deep, or even the full 18 inches. Once water is that deep in the soil, it will not readily evaporate so there is no need to irrigate again for several days.

When in doubt--don't judge by how dry the soil surface is--probe with a trowel to see if the soil or individual plants are too wet or too dry. Remember that plants wilt when roots rot from being too wet, just like they do when they get too dry!

The exceptions are those things that have been recently planted and don't yet have roots out in the native soil. These are best hand watered separately from the other established plants until they become well rooted. Another exception are some kinds of drip irrigation, which daily replenish water sparingly.

* Plant pumpkins. This is the week to have your kids get ready for Halloween by planting seeds of big pumpkins, like 'Prizewinner' or 'Big Moon.' To grow truly big pumpkins, start with the right seed (remember some varieties are naturally small or medium size). After they sprout, thin the plants so only one remains, then keep only one or two pumpkins on the vine, so they get all the plant's nutrients.

If you're not after size, try a medium-size pumpkin of another color this year, such as the ghostly white 'Lumina,' or the glossy golden-orange 'Autumn Gold.'

--ROBERT SMAUS

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