Think you know how to keep your parched plants adequately hydrated? Think again.
You think you've been hot this summer?
Think how your plants must feel.
At least we have air conditioners. Plants have only shade and your watering habits to save them.
With temperatures rising and groundwater levels dropping, even the most drought-tolerant plants have been stressed this summer. Resilient purple coneflowers are withering before my eyes. And Mother Nature has been of little help: This summer's showers have lasted barely long enough to soak the ground.
Taking care of plants in these hot, dry conditions requires vigilance.
Here are some watering strategies to keep your gardens healthy and happy.
Learn To Water
After years of assuming I knew how best to water, I finally learned the 'correct' way while working for a grower in Baldwin, Md.
My assignment was to water a large grouping of newly planted gallon containers. I thought I was doing a good job, but was told that I had not given the plants enough. I could see water coming out of the bottom of the containers – wasn't that the way to measure?
Apparently not. The problem: much of the water was flowing off the surface of the soil, not penetrating deeply into the roots.
Think of a very dry sponge. Water poured over it will race off the sides until you pour enough so that the fibers expand and absorb the liquid. Exactly the same is true for soil.
If soil is dry and hard, water does not easily penetrate its crusty top layer.
The trick is to water longer than you may think necessary so that the soil can absorb the moisture.
So, place the hose close to the soil. For small containers 18 inches or smaller, count to 30 as you spray. For larger containers, give it 60 to 90 seconds. In the garden, spend no less than 3 to 5 minutes soaking each section.
Nozzle Setting Know-How
The right nozzle setting makes a huge difference.
The "jet" or "stream" settings are meant for blasting your patios and driveways clean.
Such settings will damage your plants, or, worse, destroy them.
The best setting is "shower," which, as the name implies, gives a more gentle multi-stream delivery.
Like people, plants are best prepared for the stress of a long day with a nice morning shower.
Plants that are dry all day will struggle to survive intense sunlight and will become more susceptible to insect damage. I wake up 20 to 30 minutes early and make the watering rounds of my gardens and containers before I start my day at 6:30 a.m.
At the end of these hot days I may need to give everything another drink, but I do know they made it through the day without suffering. If mornings don't work for you, water in the evening.
Please – never water in the midday scorching sun. The leaves will burn.
Remember to let the water reach the roots. I like to soak all the areas of my garden and then reverse for a second soaking. It is worth the extra minutes and your plants will thank you for it.
Leigh Barnes operates her own business, Companion Plantings, and specializes in container and small space gardens. She is past president of the Horticultural Society of Maryland and currently serves on the Landscape Committee at Cylburn Arboretum.