It’s hot this week — really hot. And there isn’t a drop of rain in the forecast. After our long, relatively mild (and moist) spring, it seems summer has arrived with a vengeance. Right now, my garden still looks lush and healthy, but without the right care, it could soon become a dried out, depressing wasteland.
No matter where you live, understanding the ins and out of watering is an important piece in maintaining a gorgeous garden throughout the summer. Over the years (which have been filled with many painful “learning opportunities”), I have finally figured out that there is much more to watering than simply turning on a hose and pointing it at my plants. If you stop and think about it, how much water a plant needs at any given moment depends on multiple factors:
- What type of plant is it?
Lavender wants to be dry, but Cardinal Flower loves lots of consistent moisture.
- How old is it, or more specifically, how long has it been planted in that spot?
Newly planted ones often need more moisture than those that are well established.
- What kind of soil surrounds it?
Sandy soil drains quickly, but clay soil retains water.
- What has the weather been like – wet, dry, hot, cool, windy, still?
Recent rains can mean the soil is holding enough moisture so no additional water is needed.
- What has its exposure been – sun, shade, open, protected?
Protection from the elements can help preserve moisture.
- What time of year is it?.
Plants going into fall need to begin storing for long winters.
Realistically, I doubt that anyone does a six point assessment on each plant in their garden every time they water. Instead, the truly successful gardeners I know rely on these best practices for watering a garden.
CHECK THE SOIL
Look carefully at the soil surface. If it looks wet, it probably is! Wait a day and check again. If the surface soil looks dry, dig down about 2 inches. If the soil further down feels dry to the touch, then water. If it is moist, wait a day and check again.
Dry soil may not absorb water; instead it will either puddle or run off. Begin slowly watering an area, allowing the ground to absorb the water. Once you see water seeping into the ground, then you can begin to increase the flow.
Plants need water at their roots. Watering the leaves but neglecting the root zone does little, if any, good. For an established plant, the underground root systems are usually close to the same width as the plant itself and about half as deep as the plant is tall. Keep this in mind and direct more water to the soil at the outer edges than goes to the main stem.
Water either early in the day or in the later part of the afternoon. This gives foliage plenty of time to dry before evening sets in. Watering during the heat of the day DOES NOT harm the plant. That’s an old wives tale. Much more water is lost to evaporation in the heat of the day, so the plants are not getting enough to drink and you are losing money.
Too much water will kill a plant as fast as too little. Oxygen is stored in air pockets in the soil. Just like humans, plants need oxygen to survive. Too much water in the soil depletes it of the necessary oxygen.
Ironically, too much water can cause a plant to die from drought. The tiny root hairs that absorb water from the soil can die from overwatering. Since they are responsible for taking up the water which is transported to the rest of the plant, if they completely die off, the plant will wither and die.
Too much water can also lead to root rot, especially in clay based soils that hold water.
ADJUST YOUR SCHEDULE
ow much water a plant needs can vary throughout the season. New additions to the garden will need frequent waterings. As plants become established – after a few weeks – then it is time to cut back on the frequency of waterings. Fewer, deeper waterings are much better for plants than frequent, light waterings, which tend to keep root systems close to the soil surface.
With summer bearing down on us, keeping the garden well watered has become a top priority at our house. Fortunately, with a little patience, a lot of perseverance and a myriad of mindfulness, I think I can keep my garden thriving this summer. I hope you can too.