DEAR JOAN: Do raccoons have seasons?

They usually run their route through our yard and to our cat bowl on a nightly basis. Sometimes we forget to bring the cat food in or, these days, fall asleep before we do. When that happens, we find the bowl licked clean in the morning. But that hasn't been the case these past couple months.

I figured it was because it has been so cold at night, but unfortunately I still see an occasional dead one here and there on the roads, so I assume they are still out and about in the evening hours. Do you have an explanation for this?

While it sure has been nice knowing they are not coming into our yard, I know it's a matter of time before they return.

The young raccoon and his siblings were creating havoc in a San Jose neighborhood.
The young raccoon and his siblings were creating havoc in a San Jose neighborhood. (Courtesy of Diana Mack)

Gina

Pleasanton

DEAR GINA: If you're wondering if raccoons hibernate, they don't. They are around all year, but this time of year the raccoons are focused primarily on courtship. They may be so intent on it that they are skipping your accidental food offerings.

It's also quite possible your former visitors have died or moved on. Raccoons tend to stay in a fairly small area -- a few acres -- and if they find better housing or a more regular supply of food, or if a predator moves in, the raccoons find other haunts.

Raccoons don't live long in the wild -- about three years. The biggest threat to them is humans and their automobiles.

DEAR JOAN: I know that you are involved with gardening as well as animals. I have a question I thought perhaps you could answer or give me the name and number of a person I could contact.

I have a timed sprinkler system. Grid No. 1 is for the front border plants, grid No. 2 is for a very small front yard, grid No. 3 is for border plants alongside the house and grid No. 4 is for hillside plants.

My husband insists that he set the timer for every three days. Grids one through three water for 10 minutes and grid four for 15 minutes. I say no, that is too often and too much wasted water.

I am thinking in the summer we should water 10 minutes every four days for the first three grids, and 15 minutes every six days for the fourth grid, and leave the "rain" setting on during the winter unless we have a very dry spell. We would turn them on manually only when needed.

Any help you can give me with this I would greatly appreciate. I am a "nut" about saving our natural resources.

Lee Perrins

Cyberspace

DEAR LEE: Unfortunately, you can't just set the timer and be done with it. A garden is a growing, living thing and it needs to be observed and tended as the need requires.

You have to take into consideration the kind of plants, soil type, slope, shade, time of year, location and the water requirements of each of the plants.

The short answer is that you need to observe how it's doing under the present watering schedule and follow some general rules. Trees do better if they receive infrequent, deep watering -- the roots will chase the water downward, building a strong support for the tree. Lawns do best with a series of short watering cycles, early in the morning. Water for 10 minutes, then wait a half-hour or so and water a second time. This allows the first water to seep down slowly, permitting the water from the second cycle to penetrate more easily and avoids runoff.

Contact your area water department. Most offer a free evaluation of your irrigation system and can help you set up a schedule. Then keep in mind that you will need to adjust that through the year.

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.