Here in the Pacific Northwest, we can hardly complain about the heat. In fact, it’s a taboo subject in my household where Adam is a bit of a lizard when it comes to the sun, and I would be one of those nocturnal animals with the huge eyes (OK, at least that is what he told me today when I was moaning about the heat). Truth be told, my people were not meant to be in the sun and if it’s hot, I am somewhat house or shade bound from 11am – 2pm. No, I am not a vampire, but I am a red head with very fair skin. Given this, I can empathize when my plants wilt in the sun. Perhaps because of my own sun/heat issues, I am a chronic over waterer…even at the first sign of stress, I am there, trusty wand in hand, to save my poor plant. I think it makes me feel cooler to see the water soak into the soil. This is not always what is best for the plant. In fact, some midday wilting is normal on hot days. My over eager watering has sent a few heuchera south with edema, and certainly creates a more slug friendly environment. However, in my quest for the perfectly irrigated garden, I have picked up a few tips & tricks to share with you.
Tree gator Jr: This is a handy little device for new trees or shrubs. I first came across these in downtown Seattle on newly planted trees. It looks like a giant doughnut, and holds 15 gallons of water with a slow drip system underneath. It’s hard to give new trees enough water during their first summer. You can stand with the nozzle on soak for what seems like forever, but it’s never enough. The gator helps. Be sure to peel it back every few weeks to air out underneath, and if you have some prize hostas near by – be aware that underneath the gator is a 5 star slug hotel. www.gardenhomedirect.com/Treegator-Jr-PRO-15-Gallon-Slow-Release-Watering-Bag_p_4.html If you want to go with the ultra cheap and ”green” subtitute, take a large recycled bucket (for instance an empty kitty litter tub) and drill two holes in the bottom. Place said bucket over tree roots. Fill. Voila.
The magic wand: By now, as a gardener, you have probably learned that you need to water the roots, not the leaves. The best way to do this is with a watering wand. I like the Dramm wand. The water comes out in a nice soft flow that does not blast or compact the soil. There even is an extension option for those hard to reach spots…www.gemplers.com/product/G48843/Commercial-grade-30-Aluminum-Dramm-Rain-Wand.
Rapid Reel: I have not purchased this yet (it’s on my gift list), however it was just installed at a client’s and I am very impressed. It’s is a bit on the expensive side, but if you do a lot of hand watering…this is without question the way to go. The hose unreels like a dream and does not kink on you. The house mount is a handsome and low profile brushed bronze. Kiss those horrible plastic hose reels goodbye…www.rapidreel.com/Category/1/Garden-Hoses-and-Reels.aspx
Going off the deep end: Rather than giving your plants frequent and shallow waterings, water deeply and less often. This encourages your plants to set deep roots, which over time will minimize your watering burden. Remember with new plants, you need to keep that small root ball well watered, so frequent watering with the new recruits is essential through the first summer.
Minimize the sprinkle: I admit, I sometimes resort to the ”sprinkle” if I am short on time or just fed up with watering. However, you will never get the accuracy and delivery with an overhead sprinkler that you have with hand watering. I also prefer hand watering because it forces me to check up on my plants at close range. With overhead, you end up watering a large area where plants might not be…today at least. This excess water feeds the weed cycle. Overhead watering also flattens your plants and encourages some diseases. Use it sparingly.
Rinse, Repeat: If you have to water on a slope, you will find once the soil dries, the water just runs off…usually carrying your compost with it. This is much worse if you are dealing with compacted soil, such as clay (to address this, see below note “compost”). I have found if you spray the entire area with a gentle shower of water before soaking each individual plant, the water will absorb into the soil more easily.
‘Til death do us part: Commitment. That is what I am looking for from clients during the first summer of a newly installed garden. The party line: Be prepared to water, water and water some more for the first 2 summers. By the third summer, assuming you have not been playing plant Tetris (my favorite), the plants should be well established. If hand watering is too much for a client or a garden too large, I encourage installation of a drip system. This is not a fool proof solution, plants still need to be checked on a regular basis.
Compost: Yes, I can work this into just about any blog post. Seriously though – it helps watering. It locks in moisture and opens up soil making it easier for water to penetrate…sounds like a contradiction, but it’s true. Use it.
PS – adding a post script to this entry….do mix in drought tolerant plants. In my own garden, I opted to not do auto irrigation due to the conditions and how I garden. This is also made possible by the fact that I have selected many plants that are drought tolerant. This does not mean classic xeriscaping, though I personally love this look, but you will find many of your favorite perennials and shrubs are actually quite drought tolerant. Knowing what conditions each plant needs, and using this to your advantage will both reduce and improve your irrigation.