The August heat lingers, the late-summer sun persists, and our gardens are feeling the effects! It’s the season for increased watering to keep all of our outdoor plants healthy; from annuals to perennials, trees and shrubs. However, this is a gentle reminder to you (and ourselves) that water is a precious resource that needs to be actively conserved and protected. Hopefully, the following tips can help us practice more effective, sustainable watering habits in these sweltering days of summer that will last us all-year round.
For Your Everyday Watering
Timing is everything. Do your best to water in the morning before the sun is high (before ~9am). If the morning window isn’t practical for your schedule, try waiting until the heat of the day has passed to give your plants a drink (after ~5pm). However, if you notice your plants are wilting or look heat-stressed in the middle of the day, a quick dousing can lower their temperature and provide the needed water.
Don’t overdo it -- use the right amount of water. Not only is this the easiest way to conserve water, but it will also be better for the plants and their root systems. Light, sandy soils will need more frequent waterings than clay soils, but those heavier clay soils will need a slightly larger volume of water each time you give your garden a soak. Container plants will also need varying amounts of water depending on their size and soil conditions. For small containers, stick to smaller amounts of water on a more frequent basis. Larger containers will take more water, less frequently. Observe your particular environment, and adjust accordingly.
Aim for the base of your plants. This practice will deliver water directly to the soil and roots. This is best done using a hose, watering can, or drip irrigation system. Taking care to direct water where your plants need it most will make your watering efforts more worthwhile. Additionally, watering from above (wetting the foliage) is more likely to invite pests and diseases to your plants.
Find and fix leaks in your hoses or irrigation systems. If you haven’t done so recently, make a quick inspection of your watering set-up to make sure there aren’t any glaring leaks. Even minor ones can waste a lot of water over time. Do your very best to troubleshoot the leaks with patches or new equipment where necessary.
Build that soil!! Adding organic material to your soil is an easy way to improve soil structure, which will help your soil retain more moisture naturally. This can be accomplished by mixing in manures and composts. Go a step further by layering natural mulches around the base of plants or in open spaces where the soil is exposed to evaporation. Over time the mulches will break down, contributing more organic matter to help you build healthier topsoil.
Plant selection to the rescue. Make the choice to select native plants that have adapted to our soil and climate conditions. This is an excellent option since they will be more resilient to drought and less dependent on extra waterings. Many native plants are also very pollinator friendly, providing blossoms and habitat for these important members of our ecosystem.
Install a rain barrel and/or update your irrigation system. If you’re already thinking about next year’s garden, fall and winter can be the perfect time to make upgrades to the ways you water. Diverting a downspout into a rain barrel is the simplest way to collect rainwater for future gardening uses during those stretches of summer drought. Installing a spigot at the base of the barrel gives you the easy option to connect a hose or drip line, and let gravity do its work. If you already have an irrigation or sprinkler system that’s more than a few years old, consider the use of smart-controllers and more efficient emitters that can prevent water waste.
(Photos and Writing By: Bridget Murphy)