Drought conditions are almost upon us. Statistically, our rainfall is ahead of average for June by about an inch, but all of that came in the early part of the month. We have had less than a half-inch of rain in the last part of the month.
As I look at customers’ and potential customers’ plants, I am seeing the start of stress that is caused by drought. Lawns are even starting to brown up.
In the absence of rain, your landscape plants will be looking to you for water. Making sure that your landscape plants have at least an inch of water per week should be your number one gardening task this summer.
I don’t know about you, but watering is not my favorite gardening task. However, it is critical to good plant health. Consequently, we just have to do it.
Apply the inch of water in a single watering, or two applications if one is not possible. Do not just sprinkle a little bit every day. Sprinkled water never sinks deep into the soil. As a result, roots remain shallow and weak. Extended watering encourages deeper, stronger roots.
Trees, shrubs and bedding plants should be watered differently from lawns. While lawns need to be sprayed due to their large area, other plants should be drip irrigated.
The easiest, and most expensive, drip irrigation is an automatic irrigation system with drip heads. These are buried at the base of the plants and set to drip water over a long period of time. If you don’t want to invest in such a system, you can buy soaker hoses at any garden center. These do the same thing as a drip irrigator.
Soaker hoses are porous rubber hoses, manufactured from recycled tires. They connect to any outside faucet, and the water is turned on only a quarter turn. Water then seeps out of the porous rubber. The third option is to just lay a hose, without a nozzle, at the base of a plant and open the faucet only until the water trickles out.
Garden centers have a number of lawn sprayers to choose from. Some rotate back and forth like the windshield wipers on your car. Others spray like a fountain, but the model I like best is an oscillator because hey thoroughly water a wide swath. Commercial versions of these can be seen on golf courses and commercial properties.
Early morning is the best time of day to water plants. Then they will be well hydrated during the heat of the day. If you can’t do it at that time, early evening, just before dusk, is the next best time. Don’t wait until it is dark, or the dampness you create can encourage mildew.
If drought conditions get any worse, you may need to prioritize your watering regimen. You can prioritize by each plant’s sentimental or intrinsic value, its importance in the landscape, or its replacement value.
We usually prioritize by replacement value. Trees are the most expensive to replace, but only young trees just getting established need supplemental watering. Large, well established trees have roots that extend deep enough to find water. Shrubs have the next highest replacement value, followed by perennials. Annuals can be replaced quite inexpensively. Often we change out annuals part way through the season anyway.
Turfgrass has the ability to protect itself by going dormant during a drought. From a strictly economic standpoint, your lawn should be at the bottom of your watering priority. I will cover turfgrass survival during summer heat in another blog soon.