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.
I agree on all points. I plant my garden perennials so close weed seeds don’t sprout- not enough sunlight
Have never commented before, but I just want to say that I receive your emails and do enjoy reading them every week
thank you for doing what you do
Thank you so much on all points! First, for being a faithful reader. And thanks for gardening so sustainably. I always love to hear about other gardeners who do.
Automated irrigation ‘can’ work, but is rarely as effective as doing it yourself. How sad. I also find that ‘modern’ systems are the worst. They always break, and are in need of repair and updating and such. The sprinklers that were installed in the lawn of my former residence in 1959 worked until the gardener that is there now replaced it with a new system that is always out of whack. Too much water too frequently. It is killing the trees. Oh well. I do not live there anymore. I hated that lawn anyway.
I am sure that in ground irrigation, set correctly, can work. The problem is that I have rarely, if ever, seen such a thing. My sentence, in my post, was addressed more to the folks who were using the lawn sprinklers–set to go on once a day or once every other day for 10 minutes because that’s how we do it here in the East (And that too is stupid and wasteful) and then complaining “But I DID water my tree and it STILLdied.”