Although we’ve enjoyed a good amount of rain this spring, warmer, drier weather is here, and it will get hotter before it cools off again. Here at Evergreen Nursery we often get asked about the most basic of gardening tasks: how should I water my plants? Now’s a good time for a refresher on how to get your garden the water it needs while conserving our most valuable resource.
For starters, it’s best to have your beds organized with plants that have similar water needs. A desert scape of succulents and drought tolerant plants will not need as frequent watering as a coastal cottage style garden. Especially if you have automatic irrigation, your Hydrangea won’t like the light watering you are giving your succulents and conversely, your Agave or Aloe won’t like the damp environment that a Hydrangea likes. If you have a few plants with water needs that vary significantly from the rest of your garden, grow those in containers and water them individually.
The Root of the Matter
Whether your watering method is a watering can, hose, or an intricate irrigation system, the goal is the same: to get water to the roots of the plant. The amount needed to thoroughly water a plant depends on the depth of its roots. Always give enough water to reach th e plant’s deepest roots over the entire root area.
Larger, established trees such as a Magnolia or Fern Pine (Podocarpus gracilior) require infrequent but deep watering during times of drought, which can be accomplished with a slow but steady drip from a hose or sprinkler at the base of the tree. Provide about 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter. With average well-draining soil, ten gallons is approximately the amount delivered for every five minutes of watering at medium pressure. Fast draining soil will require less time but more frequent watering.
It’s best to also water woody shrubs such as Hibiscus, Abelia or Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) with a drip method, as larger shrubs with deeper roots will require longer watering times than smaller surrounding plants. Smaller plants with shallower roots can be watered with a gentle spray directed at the base of the plants.
When to Water
How often you water will depend on weather conditions as well as the individual needs of the plant. Some plants like Autumn Sage (Salvia) and Butterfly Bush (Buddleja) do best when the soil is allowed to become almost dry before watering. Others like Rush (Juncus) and Dwarf Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) prefer the soil to be kept somewhat moist at all times. Learn the water requirements of your plants and check the soil around plants to determine if they’re getting enough – if you can’t easily insert a trowel or screwdriver 3-4 inches into the soil, it’s likely time to water.
Golden Rules of Watering
- New plants (even drought tolerant plants) require thorough, regular watering until they are well established.
- Water small, delicate plants gently. Adjust hose nozzles and sprinkler heads to deliver a light spray.
- Check plants for signs of stress during periods of drought and increase water as needed.
- Water in the evening when less water will be lost to evaporation. Avoid watering during windy conditions.
- Apply water to the base of plants.
- Never allow container plants to dry out completely.
- Keep leaves dry. Some plants are susceptible to sunburn or disease as a result of damp leaves.
Tips to Conserve Water
- Add organic material (humus) to your soil. Organic material holds water like a sponge to prevent soil from drying out too quickly, especially for those water loving plants.
- Use cactus mix and/or citrus mix for those plants that need good drainage and don’t want to sit in dampness.
- Here at Evergreen Nursery we have many types of planting mixes that include organic matter to improve drainage, provide nutrients and increase water retention.
- Add a layer of mulch to slow down the evaporation of water from soil.
- Water only when the top few inches of soil have become dry.
- Collect rainwater in barrels to use in times of drought.