Newly planted shrubs, perennials and trees struggle to get established when temperatures are in the 90’s and drying winds keep us busy with supplemental watering. Proper watering is an important part of gardening. Lasting damage can occur when leaves and stems wilt. Regular watering helps keep plants and trees growing. Flower and fruit the following spring will be much better with regular watering, and so will fall color.
Many people simply depend on the rain for watering, but even normal rainfall isn’t always enough to sustain newly-installed plants accustomed to daily watering in the nursery, or vegetable plants that are actively growing. Vegetable gardeners know that even short periods of dryness will permanently stunt some plants, limit fruit size, and cause plants to bolt or go dormant too soon. Landscape plants will thrive much better with well-timed watering. Timing is everything, and rainfall can’t be counted on to get the timing right. An inch of rain just wets the surface and still the roots can be bone dry.
Until they grow new roots, newly-installed plants need regular watering as often as once a day. How much should you water? The best advice we can offer is that plants should be thoroughly soaked whenever they get dry, but most plants prefer to dry out between waterings. Plants breathe through their roots, so if they are constantly wet they will drown and the roots will rot.
When you plant new plants, try to shape the soil around the plant into a bowl or “well” to hold water close to the plant. The bigger the plant the larger the well should be. This keeps the water from running off before it has a chance to soak into the roots. Now simply fill the bowl once or twice a week.
Established plants need attention during drought. Even if they can survive without watering, plants and trees will benefit from occasional deep-root soaking. Drought causes stress that invites insect and disease problems, some of which don’t show up until years afterward. Set your hose to a trickle and lay it next to the trunk for a few hours.
Mulch helps keep the soil moist by keeping the sun off the soil but it can soak up gallons of water by itself. Trees with large mulch circles don’t have to compete with lawn grasses for water. Setting a hose to “trickle” water in the root zone overnight works very well for large trees. We use a simple cast-iron sprinkler called the “Pound of Rain” to soak a wide area, watering at night so water won’t evaporate and be wasted. This works very well for trees, shrubs and perennial beds.
If you’ve invested lots of money and hard work in your landscape, don’t begrudge your plants the water they need to get through times of drought. A few dollars spent for water will protect your investment, a small cost compared with replacing established plants. When choosing new plants for your landscape, look for “xeriscape” plants that will tolerate drought.
Steve Boehme and his wife Marjorie own GoodSeed Nursery & Landscape, located near Winchester, Ohio at 9736 Tri-County Highway. More information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021.