Watering is simple, right? Turn on the hose, splash some water around and you’re done, Right? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.
One of the most challenging parts of growing plants is knowing how much water they do – or don’t – need.
The advantage to planting native is that if you match the right plant to the right place, your watering chores will be greatly reduced. Most established native plant gardens do not need supplemental watering except during the most extreme hot dry spells. Appropriately sited native plants may even survive without water during unusually long parched stretches, but giving them a little refreshment will improve their appearance or bloom.
(All plants, including natives, need an appropriate amount of water until established. For a perennial, that means supplemental watering for the first year, and for a tree, up to three years.)
Here’s a great visual that explains why -- in general -- native plants need less water: http://www.marc.org/environment/water/native_plants_list.htm. You can see that many native plants have deep roots, enabling them to draw moisture from deeper within the soil.
If you are caring for a plant with average moisture needs, the best way to determine if it needs water is to brush away the mulch and wiggle your finger 6 to 8 inches down into the soil. If the soil is cool and moist, it has enough water. Some soils aren’t loose enough to let you get your finger down in and that’s when the challenge begins.
You can’t tell by just looking at the plant, because the symptoms of over-watering are identical to the symptoms of under-watering -- wilting. We’ve seen more plants killed by over-watering than by under-watering. It’s critical to feel the soil to decide if it is dry or not.
Here are some tips to help you this summer:
- Know the plant, whether it requires high moisture or tolerates drought.
- Match the right plant to the right place. If it likes moisture, put it in a wet area. If it likes it dry, choose a dry location.
- Note how much rain has fallen each week. If there’s been an inch or more of rain, it’s doubtful that your plant will need supplemental watering that week. Check the soil to see if it’s dry before watering.
- When you water, take your time. Too much water too quickly will run off the surface. A soaker hose is ideal. Think of sending the water deep down underground and picture the roots going down after it. You want to encourage the roots to go down. If only the top inch of soil is moist, the roots will move upward to get that moisture. Once on the surface, the roots will dry out as soon as the top inch of soil dries out.
- One long slow watering once a week is better than daily sprinkles
- Water the soil, not the plant. Some plants react poorly to water on their leaves.
- Do not water during the heat of the day.
- Good quality organic mulch will preserve moisture between waterings. Keep mulch two inches away from the trunk of the tree.
A little time spent on plant selection on the front end of your garden planning will go a long way towards reducing your watering chores each summer. Observe the moisture levels in your garden through the season and choose plants that are adapted to the site. Once you're garden is established, you'll be able to sit on your porch on those long hot summer days, enjoying a cool refreshing drink while your garden thrives on its own.