Watering – 2010/07/20

Sorry about the long absence, but we’ve been watering and watering…and watering. I’m having to get up in the night to run to the washroom because my dreams are filled with sprinklers and hoses and wands.

I often hear about problems people are having with their plants and more often than not, it’s because of watering. If the leaves are turning brown or yellow, then that’s usually a watering issue. Unfortunately, many plants will do this if they’re getting too much water and if they’re not getting enough so it’s not always easy to figure out. Ideally, you should be watering a garden (or container) when it is on the dry side down where the roots are. The biggest problem with watering is usually too much water. When pressed about their watering habits, people will often say that they’re watering every day. That’s good for the annuals in a container or when it’s unusually hot and dry like it’s been lately, but not so good for perennials, trees and shrubs. For an established garden, I almost never water. Most of my gardens, which admittedly have been completely neglected the last four years, haven’t been watered once this year, including during the heat wave.

New plantings of perennials and shrubs, however, are different. They get watered heavily at the time of planting. I follow that up with fairly heavy watering every two to four days, depending on the weather. If it’s in the 30’s every day (that’s over 86 Fahrenheit) or very windy, then I water the new plants every other day. Once the temperature drops down to average temperatures, then the watering drops down to every four days. I keep this up for a couple of weeks, then drop the watering to once a week if we don’t get rain.

The condition of your soil also plays a part. Anyone who’s been to my place will know that I have sand. Not sandy loam, just sand. This means that the water drains quite quickly. If you have clay, and this includes under your garden soil, then you have to reduce your watering. Many people think that because they have a foot or more of good garden soil, then they have good drainage. The trouble is that the water may drain through the garden soil at a reasonable rate, but when it reaches the clay underneath, if often stays there, keeping the garden soils quite moist. Watering too often in these conditions is like having a bog because the soil never dries. If you have impatiens out in the full blazing sun and they’re doing well, then you’ve essentially created a bog through your watering habits and most perennials, trees and shrubs don’t like those conditions. If you aren’t sure about your garden soil, try watering heavily one day, then two days later, dig down a foot somewhere and see if the soil is dry or moist.

So what do I consider watering heavily? When I put a new tree in, I’ll let the hose trickle on it for a couple of hours. When I use a seeping hose, which is my favourite way to water a garden, I let it run for three hours at a time. This might sound like a lot of water but remember it’s not running out of the hose, just dripping along the length of the hose. When I’m using a sprinkler (in the morning), I’ll leave it on for about ninety minutes. I have a new impact sprinkler on a tripod that covers a huge area (about five or six times the area of an oscillating sprinkler) which I run for about four hours. If I’m watering by hand, then the wand is right down at the dirt so I don’t water the leaves. I usually circle each of the plants I’m watering a couple of times to get the soil a little moist, then go back and water each one for 30-60 seconds, depending on the plant.

If you’re one of those gardeners who buys plants but don’t know where you’re putting them right away so they end up staying in pots for a couple of weeks, then the frequency changes, but the rules essentially remain the same. First of all, you’re not alone. Many people do this, myself included. I have plants that have been in pots waiting to be planted for a couple of years now, not that I recommend this. Water the pots until they’re nice a heavy. If the soil level is up to the rim of the pot, then you’re going to have to water it, let it soak in, then water it some more and continue like this until you notice a substantial difference in the weight of the pot. You then leave it alone until it’s nice and light, which can be anywhere from a day to a week, depending on the plant and how much sun it’s getting.

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About johnsgarden

I have a garden centre which operates out of my home in Uxbridge, Ontario, Canada I write columns for a local paper, which I will include here
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