With the official start of summer just around the corner, here is a quick review of our watering, soil prep and planting basics from our Watering 101 care sheet.
Watering to Establish
The goal of good watering (deeply and infrequently) is to encourage roots to grow deeper and access a larger, more stable volume of water which isn’t subject to the drying effects found at the surface. Deep soaking puts water down where you want the roots to grow and infrequent watering forces them to go searching. Only new plantings and plants in pots are okay with daily water when needed.
How to Water
How you apply water has a lot to do with where it ends up. Very few soils around here can absorb an hour's worth of water applied all at once; you may have to apply it more slowly or in smaller doses. So how do you deep water?
- When watering by hand: for smaller plants, it’s best to build a basin which extends just beyond the drip line and fill it two or three times. For larger plants, apply a slow trickle of water for 20 to 30 minutes at several spots around the drip line of the plant.
- When watering by sprinkler (in ground or manual): run your sprinkler to the point of run-off; turn off and allow the water to penetrate, repeat once or twice. Most sprinkler systems can and should be programmed to cycle through stations repeatedly. It’s always best to water in the morning so your plants are dry before nightfall when wet foliage will encourage a number of diseases.
- When watering by drip system: run system long enough (usually an hour or two) to apply adequate water; most emit a gallon or two per hour. Water moves down and out through the soil, wetting a cone of soil, so initially, emitters should be placed on top of the root ball a few inches out to the side so the water will miss the roots. Check emitters regularly, as they clog easily.
How Often to Water
Determine watering frequency by periodically measuring how long it takes for a plant to start wilting after it has been watered thoroughly. This gives you the maximum time between waterings under those weather conditions.
“Needs regular watering” is different for every plant, but usually means that plant will never be entirely self-sufficient.
Factors to Consider
- Plant type: Trees root more deeply than shrubs or perennials; leaves that are smaller, more gray, or needle-like are all adapted to require less water. Natives may need water for the first month or two, but then want nothing beyond what mother nature gives them.
- Establishment time: Assuming good watering practices, the longer a plant is in the ground the more established and less frequently it will need supplemental watering. New plantings, on the other hand, can require water more than once a day—check on them frequently.
- Soil conditions: The fine particles of our clay soils accept water more slowly and hold onto it more tightly than sandy or loamy soils which drain more quickly.
- Exposure: The amount of sun and when it’s received affects how quickly a plant will dry, as will reflected heat from walls and wind.
- Weather: Cool and humid weather minimize water usage while warm, dry and windy weather are water demanding. Spring and summer also signal higher water use because plants are actively growing and conditions are more extreme.
Like a parent, take extra care in the beginning to nurture your plants. Meet their needs (without spoiling them) and help establish them so they become as self-sufficient as possible. Whether you have questions on existing plants in your garden or need advice on selecting new ones, we are always here to help!