Written by Susan B.
Southern California residents are all too familiar with dry spells that have plagued our state. While we know that there are dry periods throughout the summer, we can’t predict when the droughts will be severe enough that local governments impose watering restrictions on us. Hopefully, you keep that in mind when you choose the plants, trees, and shrubs you want to grow on your property. But you should also remember that when you establish a watering schedule for your lawn, garden beds, trees, shrubs, and container plants.
Understand Your Watering Goal
The goal of watering should be to give plants enough water to reach the root system to moisten it. That means getting the water far below the soil surface. We call this deep watering. And it’s far more beneficial than a light watering every day. Light watering doesn’t penetrate the ground. And because it’s only saturating the top couple of inches, most of that water evaporates. If you’ve ever wondered why your plants aren’t lush and green and full of flowers, it may be because they aren’t benefiting from the water you give them.
Forget About the 1-Inch of Water Per Week Rule
If you read gardening magazines or watch programs about gardening on television, you’ve probably heard someone mention that the rule of thumb for watering outdoor plants is that you should give them an inch of water a week. The problem with that rule is that plants don’t fit into the “one-size-fits-all” mold. So the amount of water that your outdoor plants need will depend on a variety of factors.
- Newly sprouted seedlings and transplants (either starter plants you bought or transplants from seeds you started indoors) will need water consistently until they establish themselves in the ground.
- Mature trees and shrubs whose massive root systems extend a foot or more below the ground may be able to survive with far less water. And these plants may need extra water during dry periods.
Other factors that contribute to watering frequency and quantity include:
- The type of plant
- The soil type and quality
- The time of the year (growing season versus dormancy.)
- Weather – whether there is a drought, intense heat, or a lot of rain.
Have you ever heard about or read the advice of experts who suggest that the best time to water your garden early in the morning? These knowledgeable individuals stress this for a reason. Temperatures are cooler in the morning, and the sun isn’t high enough in the sky to heat the ground where you water your plants. If you water your garden in the afternoon, you lose a lot of moisture to evaporation, so your plants aren’t getting the water they need. You may want to water late in the day – around sunset, but we prefer not to do that because plant leaves and stems may not dry out before sundown, so your plants become a target for insects and pests who are searching for food and water after dark.
You can buy mulch at gardening centers like ours, or use the compost you make, grass clippings, or composted leaf mulch. You will probably need to replenish the mulch layer throughout the season, but doing so will suppress weed growth, so your plants don’t have to compete with weeds for water. By covering the ground, you minimize water evaporation from the topsoil. You will also slow the rate at which the surface soil layer erodes. Since the ground will stay moist longer, you won’t have to water as often.
Use Soaker Hoses
If you don’t have an underground sprinkler system, or a drip irrigation system, a soaker hose will help you direct water to your plant roots and minimize evaporation. Sprinklers are useful for getting water to large areas – like a lawn. But sprinklers don’t let you control how much water your plants get, and you can’t direct it to specific targets. Garden centers like ours sell soaker hoses and kits to turn regular hoses into soaker hoses, so you’ll be able to target plants without wasting water.
Attach a Timer to Your Outdoor Water Faucet
It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a sprinkler to water your lawn, or using soaker hoses to water your vegetable garden, flower beds, or shrubs. A timer that attaches to your faucet lets you connect your garden hoses to the timer, allowing you to water areas of your property for the length of time for which you set it. The timer stops the water even though the faucet is still on. Best of all, you don’t have to watch the clock, wondering whether you’ve given your lawn or garden beds enough water. And it’s useful if you’re hand watering container plants with a hose and nozzle, too.
We hope we’ve shown you that you don’t have to have a computerized underground sprinkler system to water your garden without wasting water. Our suggestions are inexpensive, simple to implement, and so effective that you’ll see your reward in lower water bills. Call us or come into one of our stores so our garden experts can help you find a suitable water-saving solution that works best for you.
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