We have a lot of plants to water at Lakeside Garden Nursery, so you could say that we know a thing or two about irrigation. Summer is always tough because of drought and water restrictions. Quick summer showers do not usually soak far enough into the ground to do a good enough watering job. For newly installed plants, it's particularly crucial to not only water them enough but to water them correctly.
So - are you watering your plants the right way? Here are the key principles of proper watering:
Water Deeply. Train your plants to grow strong, healthy root systems that delve deep into the soil by giving them a regular deep soaking. This will help them become more resilient to periods of drought in the long run. The best way to water most plants is by applying enough to moisten the plant's entire root system, and then letting the soil dry out slightly before watering again. Apply water slowly so it's absorbed by the soil, rather than running off - a soaker hose or drip irrigation is ideal for this. Avoid daily light sprinklings which encourage roots to grow near the soil surface where they're vulnerable to drying out.
When hand-watering established perennials, ground covers or very small shrubs, be sure to water deeply right in the area around the roots and outward. Stand there and count to thirty, then repeat this 2-3 times. Even better is to use a soaker hose or drip irrigation with a timer to save yourself time and conserve water - this is a really great solution if you plan on leaving for vacation. It's really smart to use a soaker hose for new tree and shrub plantings, annuals, vegetables, perennials, and plants that need some extra TLC.
Water Frequently. There are lots of methods to figure out when you really need to water, but the general rule of thumb is to make sure your plants are getting at least 1 inch of water per week. If you're feeling really technical, you can use a moisture meter, but nothing beats sticking your finger in the soil to check for moisture -- cool and damp is ok, but warm and crumbly means it's time to crank the water.
... But don't water too frequently! Just like you and me, the soil needs to breathe. Let the soil dry out between waterings so that the roots have a chance to shed carbon dioxide.
Drought-tolerant plants need water too. Many "drought-tolerant" plans don't get sufficient water at a planting time and during their first season of growth. When you set out a new container-grown plant, the roots are confined to the shape of the pot. The plants need a consistent supply of water during their first growing season until their roots grow out into the surrounding soil. Water them as you would your annual flowers in their first season. During their second and subsequent growing seasons, drought-tolerant plants may need supplemental water only during extended dry spells. However, just because a plant is drought-tolerant, doesn't mean it doesn't fare better with a regular supply of moisture.
Water the roots -- Not the Leaves. Plants can only effectively use water through their roots, taking water from the surrounding soil or compost. For water to get where it's needed the fastest, it's a good idea to use the soaker setting on your watering wand to water the base of the plant, not the foliate. Wet or humid foliage encourages fungal problems and evaporation - neither of which are good.
Well, you now know a few different pointers to water your garden in a way everything should stay well moisturized without being too wet or too dry. How do you water your garden? Do you have a method that produces healthy plants every year? We'd love to hear it! Let us in on your secret by posting your comment below.