Watering Tips of Scorching Hot Days
Watering Tips of Scorching Hot Days
By Rebecca Winn - Whimsical Gardens
These are especially important for those of you who have newly installed gardens this year!
1. Water your big trees. We don't normally need to water our big trees, because they get their water from deep sources and good soaking rains, but if they don't get anything more than your sprinklers pittance, they aren't getting enough. Water them deeply at least once a month. Deeply means at about an hour with a hose on very low, but not just dripping. Use the system below to insure the water actually sinks in and doesn't run off. Remember, things show up very slowly with big trees. If they are dying of thirst, by the time they begin to show signs of it, it could be too late. It is tragic to see how many big trees are dying around Dallas right now.
2. Do not rely on your sprinkler system. Most sprinklers have a misty spray that loses as much as 80% (that's right eighty percent) to evaporation and float in this weather. Even the systems that have the heavier flow output can still lose almost half the water to evaporation before it ever hits the ground. This is not only wasteful during a water shortage, but an expensive waste.
3. Supplement your sprinkler. I know this isn't what most people want to do, but landscaping is expensive, and things will die without sufficient water. Relying completely on a sprinkler system forces the roots of plants to the surface because that is the level of the small amount of water they are receiving. This might get you through the summer, but with shallow root systems, you will then have to worry about roots being more susceptible to freezes and future droughts. Water deeply at least once every two weeks.
4. Consider changing your sprinkler settings. Because of the relentless, high, dry, heat, your plants are not getting the water you think they are getting if the settings are the same as years past. When we have rain, everything gets a periodic deep soak, but without that, plants and trees never get enough water to really reach their deep roots. In this weather, most sprinklers barely put out enough water for plants to survive, let alone thrive.
5. Check your sprinkler heads to be sure they are hitting everything. Walk through the garden periodically and see if anything looks dry. Sprinkler heads sometimes need adjustments, both directional and in elevation, as plants grow. Also be sure no water is being wasted by just spraying onto concrete and into gutters.
6. Set your sprinkler to go off in the early morning (not late at night). Around 4-5 a.m. is good. The more it can cool off during the course of the night, the greater percentage of water will actually get to the plants and have a chance to absorb into the soil. Since it is sometimes still 100 degrees at 10p.m., you need to wait for it to cool off as much as possible.
7. Replenish your mulch if you haven't already done it. This will help keep soil temperatures cooler and help the soil retain moisture.
8. If you have trees or large shrubs that are not established, try using gator bags. These perforated bags are placed at the base of plants then filled with water, which in turn slowly releases to the plant. They are available from landscape professionals and at some garden stores. They are a bit pricey, but not compared to losing a tree or large shrub.
9. Plants in containers may need to be watered twice a day, and plants which have been fine in full sun in the past may need some afternoon shade.
10. For container plants, or even bed use, you can incorporate water crystals. These crazy little dudes look like chunks of rock salt, but they are actually a super absorbent polymer which absorbs hundreds of times its weight in water, then slowly releases it. Plant roots are attracted to the water source and penetrate the membrane of the crystal then draw out the water. One teaspoon absorbs 1-2 cups of water, so if you add to much to the soil, it will swell up and may pop your plants out. Follow package directions for mixing with your soil.
11. The best watering wisdom is to water is deeply and infrequently. However, unless you have been doing that all along, now is not the time to water infrequently. But now IS the time to begin watering deeply. The best way to do that within the limitations of a sprinkler system is to follow these steps:
A. Run sprinkler for 10-15 mins for a full cycle if you have full sun, 5-10 mins if you have shade.
B. Then immediately set the system to go another round for 20-25 mins for sun, 10-12 mins for shade.
To be clear, you are running 2 consecutive full cycles of watering back to back. The first round softens the ground and allows some water to penetrate about an inch or so. If you try to just run the sprinkler longer once, it will just run off because the ground has not had time to absorb it and soften. The second round allows the water to go deeper as the moist soil acts as a conduit for the water to get deep into the ground. The goal is to train the roots to go deep to find water. Frequent watering with shorter durations train roots to stay shallow which causes all kinds of problems. Do this once every two weeks while we are having this weather. Leave the rest of your watering days the same.
This is not a good year to train your landscaping to be drought tolerant. Everything is already drought stressed enough. But in the fall, and next spring, and next summer, if it isn't so bad, if you will water like this only twice a week, then you will be able to train your plants to deepen their roots and be much safer against all the slings and arrows that Texas weather might throw at them.
Mostly pay close attention to your garden right now. If everything looks fine, then great, you don't need to modify, which is possible if you have a ton of shade. Just check, check, check, so you don't have to replace a lot of plants later.
You want to be sure not to over compensate by over watering. You can't compensate for heat with water, only drought. The plant roots still need air, so if your soil is soggy, you see signs of fungus, you may be watering too much. If things look abundantly, tropically lush, you probably don't need to increase your watering, and may also be using more water than you need to.
Rebecca Winn is award winning designer and the owner of Whimsical Gardens, an artistic landscape design firm. Rebecca has been a recognized expert, speaker and nationally published magazine writer on design, horticulture and environmental issues for over 25 years, including being the garden writer for D Home magazine. She has been the featured speaker at venues as diverse as The Dallas Arboretum, Neiman Marcus, the Dallas Independent School District's program for visually impaired children and numerous garden and environmental organizations across Texas. Rebecca served on the Landscape Design & Implementation Oversight Committee for the Katy Trail, the largest city park/bike trail in the Dallas.She has owned Whimsical Gardens www.WhimsicalGardens.com for 14 years. She can be reached at WhimsicalGardenDesigns@gmail.com