Homegrown: Shasta daisies

Two years ago, I put out 97 Shasta daisies along my drive. The first year I lost about 30, replaced them and last winter lost all of the replacements, including some of the established plants. The bed is bordered on the south by a three-rail split-cedar fence. The bed is about 30 inches wide and bordered on the north against the concrete drive with old railroad ties. I have a drip system irrigation setup. Would you have an idea of my problem?

— Thanks, Don

Boy, I don’t have any obvious answers for you. Problems like you’re describing are usually because of watering and/or soil issues. I guess one place to start is to get a soil test. This would tell us if there’s something wrong with the soil. The three things I like to know about are pH, soluble salts, and organic matter content.

Don’t bother with a little soil test kit you can buy from the garden center — they’re just not accurate enough to do you any good and they don’t measure the last two things I want to know about. Give the Extension Office a call. They can give you information on how to take a proper soil sample and suggest a testing lab to send the sample to.

The other common issue revolves around water. Either extreme can lead to problems — too wet or too dry. Now I’m afraid I can’t give you a specific watering schedule. There’s a lot that goes into how often a plant needs water. Certainly temperature has a lot to do with it but also the humidity, the wind, what type of soil the plant is growing in, the exposure, if it’s on a slope, mulch layers, etc.

The best thing to do is to determine your own watering schedule. You want to water your plants deeply but infrequently. The first thing to do is to make sure that the plant is soaked well when you do water. I like to see the water penetrate to a depth of at least a foot into the soil when you do water. Dig down and check to see how deeply the water went the day after you watered.

Next, make sure that the soil has a chance to dry out slightly before soaking it again. If the soil stays too soggy (easy to do in heavy clays), the roots suffocate and die off.

Dig down a couple inches in the soil and feel it. There should be some moisture there (if there isn’t, it’s too dry and you should water more frequently), but some significant dryness there as well. You want to let the soil get to the consistency of unbaked pie dough. Do some digging around in the soil to see for yourself what’s going on down there.

It’s possible that your plants are drying out during the winter. I’d be a bit surprised if that was the case, but it is a possibility. I don’t think you have to get out there in January with a hose in your hand, but if you haven’t, put a     2 1/2-inch to 3-inch deep mulch layer on the ground around your plants. This will cut down on evaporative loss of water from the soil winter or summer so you don’t have to water as often. It also has the benefit of moderating soil temperatures which your plants will like. Finally, it will help keep the weeds down some.

Finally, how do (or did) the plants look during the growing season? Were there problems going on then or did they look good and grow well? It’s possible that there’s something else going on, but soil and water are usually where the problem lies.

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Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliff gardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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