Let’s Grow!
When, where, how, and why to water

Steve Boehme
The lack of rainfall this season makes it a challenge to garden. Newly planted shrubs, perennials and trees have struggled to get established, with temperatures in the 90’s and drying winds. Vegetable plants are struggling and garden productivity is down.

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. Lasting damage can occur when leaves and stems wilt.

Proper watering is the most important part of gardening. 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. 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. When you plant new plants always 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. 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.

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. You can deep-root water established trees with soaker hoses, “Tree-Gator” water bags or simple buckets with small holes punched in the bottom. 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 lawns, shrubs and perennial beds, and we sell it in our store.

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 this time 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 is the owner of GoodSeed Farm Country Nursery & Landscape, located on Old State Route 32 three miles west of Peebles. To e-mail your landscaping questions or subscribe to this column online click “Contact Us” from their website at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021.