On Monday I talked about living mulch–or the idea the ground cover plants could actually fill in the spaces between perennials and shrubs and be used instead of truckloads of bark or cocoa hulls or whatever it is you prefer (I refuse to even consider the idea that it might be colored mulches, although I know that box stores sell gross tonnes of the stuff every spring. Whatever.)
Today let’s talk about watering–or not. I know that lots of you are not blessed–or cursed–with my heavy wet clay. You may think you are. I’m continually surprised by how many folks tell me that they have heavy wet clay soil. Then I’ll ask them how often they have to water an established plant. If it’s more than once a month, I’m going to tell you that you don’t have the same heavy wet clay that I do. In a drought, I may have to resort to turning on a soaker hose once every 6 weeks–or not. That’s how well my soil holds water.
What does that mean? A lot of my plants rot if they are not carefully selected for these conditions. Anything the least bit succulent-like–forget it! Lavender? Nope. Heaths and heathers, which should ordinarily love my highly acidic soil, can’t take the wet. Herbs are grown in containers or raised beds (and obviously those need more water).
But roses do fine, hydrangeas are great, because they’re usually very thirsty plants and thirsty plants aren’t going to have an issue in my yard.
This is all another way of saying “know your conditions and know your particular microclimate.” I killed a lot of heaths and heathers before I figured out what the problem was and that there wasn’t enough compost to amend the clay.
We’ll talk about amending on Monday–but before I finish up this topic, I want to talk about how to properly water a plant as it is getting established.
Less frequently and deeply is the proper way. What does that mean? It rarely has anything to do with you standing over the plant with a hose (unless the plant is an annual in a pot–those are the only plants that are acceptable to water by hand with a hose).
If you have a hose that you would like to leave running at the base of the plant at a trickle for an hour (for a large shrub, longer for a tree) that’s fine. You need to water the plant down to the depth of 1″–and do check, don’t just guess.
Do this once a week. And then, unless it’s a rose or something that needs a lot of water, don’t do it again for another week. If you have questions, let your garden center advise you. Fewer, longer waterings are better. You are training your plant to endure periodic dry spells.
Whatever you do, do not rely on a sprinkler system to water for you. That’s the quickest way to kill a plant. It encourages shallow roots that cannot stand up to drought.