Native plants have an advantage when it comes to water needs. After the first year plants need to get established they will generally not need additional watering. However, high summer or times of drought when your garden is starting to look brown and dry, it may be time to start supplemental watering. We all know that water is a precious resource so, let’s look at some ways to be the most effective with the least amount. The number one rule is: water deeply but less frequently. Many people feel the urge to water just a little every day or so but that actually has an adverse effect. In doing so you encourage the plant roots to grow up near the surface, the place that dries out first during dry spells.
Water Early in the Day
Whenever possible water your plants in the early morning. That way the water you do use is less likely to simply evaporate. Watering in the late afternoon is the second best choice. Wet foliage at night can contribute to disease problems like mildew, especially in fruit. It’s also important to prioritize what plants are the most valuable. Young plants, even drought tolerant ones need regular watering in their first year to get established. The veggie garden that feeds your family may have priority. The lawn of course, comes in last. It may go dormant and turn brown but will green up quickly with the next rain and cooler weather.
When you bring home your new treasures from your garden center you are going to need to water them regularly for their first year. That even holds true for drought tolerant or drought resistant plants. Every plant needs time to get established. The same principle of watering deeply but less frequently applies. For trees and shrubs you can lay a hose down near it’s base with the water pressure at just a trickle and let the water slowly soak into the ground for a few hours. Perennials and veggies will often let you know when they’re thirsty by flagging. Check them often and remember to water your plants well before planting.
Chose the Right Plants
Choose plants that are adapted to your particular climate and soil type, like plants native to your region. American Beauties plant tags have all the information you need to be successful. We list information about exposure, water needs and ultimate height and width of a plant. Once these plants become established you’ll have a minimum of care and watering. Click here for information on dry shade gardens. Click here for information on wet sun gardens.
Adding Organic Matter, Compost and Mulch to Conserve Water
Adding organic matter or humus to your soil is great because it can absorb large amounts of water and release that water and nutrients when needed by you plants. It also improves soil structure. A top layer of organic mulch will further inhibit water evaporation. Extremely wet soil will not benefit from adding organic matter or mulch. Read more about mulching.
The Right Tools
Choose a watering can or spray wand with a spout that will give you a gentle stream of water so it gently soaks in rather than runs off. Soaker hoses are effective because they supply a steady, slow supply of water with no water loss through evaporation or run off. Drip irrigation is effective for the same reasons but may be difficult to use or unattractive in a bed or border. The system does lend itself well to vegetable gardens with long straight rows.
Collect your Own
Harvesting your own rainwater helps conserve water and reduces storm runoff from your home. Your plants prefer it because it is not chlorinated. Setting up a rain barrel is quick, easy and relatively inexpensive. They can even be hooked up to a sprinkler system. Here is a quick guide to how much water you can collect: 1 inch of rain from a 1,000 square foot roof will provide 623 gallons!
Let’s not forget to provide water for the wildlife we share our gardens with. Make sure the birdbaths are clean and full. Providing trays of water for the other critters will be much appreciated and may make your tomatoes seem a little less desirable.
One last thing to consider is fall planting. Cooler and wetter fall weather means that plants need less supplemental water to get established. Plus, you’ll be able to take advantage of fall sales at your garden center.