January Garden Updates with Ellyn Shea

Our Secret Weapon for a Dry Winter in the Garden


Jan photo 1


Winter rains should allow our California natives and drought-tolerant plants to refresh and recharge. Unfortunately, this winter has been drier and warmer than usual, and it takes its toll especially on new trees and shrubs.


The flowering perennials can get by on some additional hose watering, but young street trees should receive 10-30 gallons of water per week for the first 1-3 years, depending on soil type. This water should be applied slowly over time, via a slow trickle or drip, which is impractical to do with a hose.

Jan photo 2

We supplement the Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) trees – and our lemon – with DriWATER, a form of time-release water. DriWATER is 98% water and 2% food-grade ingredients in the form of a gel that feels like toy “slime.” According to the product website:


DRiWATER begins to liquefy when it comes in direct contact with soil. The enzymes naturally found in soil gradually break down the food grade ingredients and convert [the gel] back into liquid water. The capillary activity in the soil then carries and maintains the moisture throughout the root zone for up to 90 days.


You do need to water the garden to activate the process – but much less often than usual. The gel breaks down more slowly if it rains, and more quickly when it is dry. Because the water is slowly released underground, the roots can use it more efficiently. No run-off or evaporation – no waste.

Jan photo 3

Each FUF tree has two porous tubes buried vertically at the edge of the rootball. The lemon tree has one. One DriWATER gel-pac goes in each tube.  Gel-pacs are replaced every 30 days in hot, sunny weather, and 45-60 days in cooler, wet weather.


Replacement is simple – remove the cap, unwrap the gel-pac and squish it into in the tube. If the previous gel-pac is not all the way used up, the replacement gel can be cut into pieces to fit. Excess gel can go in another tube or directly on the ground.

Jan photo 4


Even though there’s been no rain for a while, there is new growth on all the street trees, (even the one near the corner that we thought was a goner) and the lemon is bearing flowers and fruit. The hose alone wouldn’t have been enough water.

Jan photo 5 — 

DriWATER can be a great water-saving device for your garden. Try it for plants in containers in hard to water spots, while you’re on vacation, or to supplement in hot weather.


Ellyn Shea is a Bay-Friendly Qualified gardener, arborist and garden consultant in San Francisco.

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