At the garden center, the most common questions have been about watering, so in order to help your plants survive until the summer monsoons hit, it’s time to take a minute to talk about the art and science of watering.
Water is the essential factor in keeping things alive, and most plant problems are caused by either over-watering or under-watering. Does that sound complicated? Well, there are some general rules of thumb for watering I want to share. However, these are just general guidelines and things such as temperature and humidity can great affect these rules of thumb. If the day is excessively hot and the humidity is very low as is often the case here, you will need to adjust accordingly and water more often or for a longer period of time. You can’t always trust our afternoon monsoons to provide adequate moisture, so check your plants daily.
First, if possible, water early in the day in order to give plants a chance to absorb the moisture and gives them a good supply of water with which to face the heat of the day. Usually there is very little or no wind early in the morning so water won’t be carried off from the area which you are trying to irrigate. Watering in the late afternoon will also work, as long as you give the plants a chance to dry off before nightfall which helps to prevent diseases from starting.
Annuals need to be watered fairly heavily, especially in the extreme heat that we’ve been having. Water when dry, which for some plants can mean 2-3 times a day. Your plants may give you an indicator by showing signs of wilting. Newly planted annuals need the most attention as they are trying to draw from small, newly established root systems. Pay attention to the wind as well because it can dry out plants as quickly. Water until the soil is thoroughly soaked.
Containerized plants or baskets need special attention. Plants in a hanging basket, for instance, will tend to dry out more quickly because of the air circulation around them than those planted in a flower bed. Again, they may require water as much as three times a day. The addition of Soil Moist, a water holding polymer, with your plantings in the spring will help hold moisture and reduce the need for such frequent waterings. If you did not add an agent like this, then pay close attention to these containerized plants because wind, heat and dry conditions will work quickly to dry these plants out. Since they have a limited soil volume to draw from, you must be sure to keep it sufficiently moist throughout the season. Water them until it runs through the bottom.
Perennials have needs similar to annuals. If they are young and have not yet established a large root system, then water frequently and deeply. By watering deeply, you encourage the roots of the plant to reach out and “dig in” so to speak. This will help protect the plant in future times of drought. Young perennials have small root systems and they must be taken care of and protected. Watch to be sure the plant isn’t wilting because if it wilts on a regular basis, then it probably isn’t getting enough water so increase the frequency until the wilting stops. Older perennials need less water, as their roots have taken hold, but under extremely hot, dry conditions, all perennials will do well with a good drink.
Lawns need to be watered deeply for several hours at a time in order for them to establish good root systems that reach down through the soil. You want your roots to reach deeply for water, not stay on the surface where the soil is shallow and thus will dry out quickly. Water lawns deeply and for long periods of time two to three times a week and use a timer to help you remember.
Trees and shrubs are a little trickier. Begin by asking your local nursery for information when you purchase your plants. If the plant is water loving such as a birch, poplar or willow, the water requirements will be much greater than if it is more drought tolerant. Again, newly planted trees and shrubs need more attention than established ones as they are more sensitive to drying out. Generally water newly planted trees daily at the beginning, then cut back to several times a week over the next few weeks and a general rule of thumb is to apply 10 gallons of water for each inch of the tree’s diameter each week. Larger, established trees will need less water. Be sure to water the root ball thoroughly as well as the surrounding area. When watering, dig down into the soil for several inches and make certain that the water is reaching the root ball. The soil should be evenly moist, but not soggy. Plants, like people, don’t like soggy, wet feet! Stressed trees are more vulnerable to disease and pests so keeping your trees and shrubs healthy is important.
Watering is an art because you need to develop skill in order to do it well. It’s a science because you’ll need to learn about the needs of the plants you are caring for to know exactly how and when to water. The monsoonal rains of summer should be just around the corner, but in the meantime, squeak through the (hopefully) last dry spell of the summer by paying extra attention to your plants and giving them the extra care and water needed to survive. They will reward you many times over in the coming months with a riot of blooms throughout the summer.
Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.