San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Preparing the Garden for Dry Season

THE dry season has come early this year, and it looks like a long, hot verano ahead of us. Although the dry season presents many challenges for the tropical gardener, here are a few ideas that can help you make your garden flourish.


First off, think small. Cut your gardening back, so you don’t overstretch yourself or your local water supply. The first part involves careful planning with water conservation in mind. Mulch as much as possible, particularly with the grass clippings and dry leaves collected around the yard. Mulching is one of the best water conserving tricks a gardener can use.


Your soil will stay moist and cool at the surface, permitting better root growth and greater worm activity in the bioactive zone of the soil. Use six or more inches of fresh grass clippings and leaves on any bed. In a short time, this will compact to several inches of protective covering. If possible, water in the late afternoon or evening, which prevents excessive evaporation from the hot midday sun and helps to condense dew in the garden during the night.


Try to focus on watering around the home for ornamental plants and the vegetable garden, which require frequent irrigation.


Fruit trees and other hardy ornamental plants can be watered on a monthly basis, while other areas away from the home with little traffic and visibility can pass the dry season without water. For example, the hardy lawn grass called jenjibrillo may turn brown during the dry season, but never needs watering and greens up as the rains return. Experts say showy lawns use more water and require more maintenance than any other part of the home landscape.


BY following these simple suggestions, you can reduce your water bill by 30-80%. In the long run, you will not only save money on the water bill, but also help make a difference in one of the world’s most pressing problems. Instead of being part of the problem, you’ll become part of the solution to our shortage of drinking water. If every household does its little part, millions can multiply the good effects, and the results can keep the taps running for decades longer.


The dry season is an optimal time for tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, bunching onions, radishes and hardier greens, such as summer leaf lettuce, mustard, kale, collards and Chinese cabbage.


Tomatoes should be carefully watered at the soil, not on the leaves. This helps prevent many of the leaf diseases that plague tomatoes. Insects can also be more of a problem in the dry season, especially sucking insects such as flea beetles and leafhoppers. Garlic and hot chile spray can be very useful in repelling these insects.


Shading can protect your garden plants from the extreme solar radiation during the dry season and help cut down on watering. Dried palm leaves supported by a bamboo frame over the garden work just fine. Some gardeners opt for black plastic shade cloth, referred to as saran. For a vegetable garden, you will need the type of saran that blocks out 50% of sunlight.


Ferns and tropical foliage plants need a shade cloth that blocks out 80% of sunlight.


With a little practice, a dry-season garden can be very productive and a joy to work in.


For more information on tropical gardening, visit www.thenewdawncenter or e-mail



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