Water Witch or Wizard?

July 6, 2019


Ah, the dog days of summer when the gardener can relax and reap the harvest of spring’s hard, hopeful efforts. Alas, while the sun tea brews, there is no rest for the weary.


Keeping up with the water needs of the garden can be challenging when the summer is hot and dry. As a rule of thumb, water when rainfall is less than one inch a week. In reality, keep an eye on your garden for signs of heat stress and water accordingly. Plants in containers can require water twice daily in severe heat. I’ve heard that water-retaining polymers are helpful for containers, but they must be added at the time of planting.


The nature of your soil is one of the critical factors in the garden irrigation conundrum. Sandy soil does not retain water. Heavy clay absorbs water but the poor drainage can lead to a boggy situation which dries to the consistency of a brick. The repeated addition of organic material is the real solution to either of these problems. It can take years to correct. Meanwhile, the gardener must cope.


One deep watering is more beneficial than repeated shallow sprinklings. This water will soak down to the root zone rather than quickly evaporating from the soil surface. Weeds are reduced because they are unable to tap into the deeper reservoir of moisture. Even ideal soil benefits from mulch to prevent evaporation. Soaker hoses placed under the mulch conserve water by delivering it at the soil surface and keeping it off the foliage. In the lawn, mow high, about 4 inches, allowing the blades to shade the roots.   


Compacted soil does not absorb water well and really needs to have the weekly water ration applied in divided doses. By placing shallow containers such as tuna cans around the area, you can measure the amount of water applied before “run- off” begins. At that point, turn off the water and check the level in the cans. Allow this application to soak into the soil. Knowing the dose your garden can absorb, calculate the amount to equal one inch. Now you know how frequently as well as how long to water.


Watering should be done in the early morning. The wind is calm. Plant leaves will dry quickly, preventing fungal disease and sun scald.


Having spent many a summer weekend moving hoses, I know how difficult it can be to avoid evening irrigation. On the bright side, I don’t envy the neighborhood children.

 I play in the water myself.


Master gardener Ann Bartlett cavorts in the spray from her (extremely decorative) garden hose in the ornamental beds around her home.

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