Eternal Gardening Question: When to Water?

When and how to water your landscape.

One of the questions that I get asked quite often is: When to water?

That's a tough question – when to water what? Water lawns? Water trees? Water vegtetable gardens?

As a landscaper, I am acutely aware of the need to water plants appropriately.  Lawns, in particular, really should only be watered twice a week.  That watering should be a deep soaking that will promote deep root growth — giving the lawn a better chance of survival in hot, dry weather. 

Trees, especially when they are newly planted need the same type of deep watering so they can develop healthy roots.  Once the trees are established, in dry conditions (like the ones we are currently having) they can benefit from an occasional watering. 

Although we’ve all seen countless commercials of people watering their gardens with a sprinkling from a watering can, if you water a vegetable garden every day for five minutes, you train it to have shallow roots.  A vegetable garden should be watered every other for a longer period of time, say 10 minutes, at the base of the plant, so the water goes to the roots. Vegetable gardens should also be mulched.  Mulch keeps the weeds down and keeps the soil as cool as possible in the heat.

Perhaps you’d rather not do your own watering. Perhaps you’d like to install an automatic irrigation system. But if you do, please don’t be one of those people who runs their irrigation systems in the rain. It’s such a waste of water.

It’s also not good for the plants.

As a species, we seem to think too much of anything is better. Not so with watering plants. Plants need to be thoroughly watered and then they need to be allowed to dry out. They need to breathe. If you water them too much, their roots begin to rot. They can also start picking up fungus.

There’s no need for irrigation systems to run in the rain. As a landscaper, I spend a fair amount of time setting up these systems, and I can tell you that there’s no need to them to run on the same schedule from April to October, all season long — nor should they.  When I set up an irrigation system, I spent a lot of time educating my clients about how to use them appropriately. What you want to be is proactive.

Being proactive means being hands-on.  You are going to water more often in the spring, to get those new plants established, and then you are going to ease off. If things get very dry, as they are now, you may want to add more watering times.  It’s easy to do. And if we have, for example, a rainy August, you definitely would not want your irrigation system running

I think of water as holy — in and of itself.  Especially now, when most of the United States is in a drought. Water is essential to all life on earth, which is why it amused me to discover a cocktail called a Holy Water. To make a Holy Water, mix together

2 oz vodka

1 oz orange liqueur — Cointreau, Grand Marnier
1 oz rum


Put that into a tall glass over ice, and fill it with tonic water.  Add a dash of grenadine syrup, and serve while the tonic water is bubbling.

To your yard!

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Carol Robidoux July 03, 2012 at 07:06 PM
R. Scott White: I love that Bill always ends with a theme-appropriate cocktail recipe!
Judith Hogan July 04, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Note to Bill: You did not address watering flower beds. I water mine (perennials and annuals in the same bed) once a day. I am told that is too often. I should only water when dry. Beds are in full sun and look somewhat dry every day. Am I overwatering? Flowers look great at this time. I also fertilize once a week with a liquid fertilizer. Is this too often. Thanks for your input.
Bill Parker July 09, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Judith, sorry for the delay in getting back to you. The watering guidelines I have mentioned are simply the standard watering practices we should all use but also must be adjusted for various conditions, soil structures, sun exposure, etc. If your flower beds are exposed to extreme sunlight and the plants look wilted by mid-afternoon, then you may need to water daily. The objective would be to make sure the soil really is close to being dry and the wilting is not simply the plant's response to not liking hot afternoon sun. Weekly fertilization is too much and can promote plant health issues. Too much of a good thing! Again, it should be based on the plant's needs. I'd suggest a monthly fertilization but a little research would be advised. Check the UNH Extension Service web site - it's a great resource. Bill
Judith Hogan July 09, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Bill, thank you so much for your reply to my inquiry. My largest flower bed is in the hot afternoon sun. My cone flowers are often bent even though I water them daily. Sometimes I water them again in the evening and they do seem to perk up. Hubby, however, claims I am overwatering. I will switch to fertilizing every two weeks. Great advice and thank you so much. It has been a wonderful summer for slowers - with the exception of the proliferation of the "red beetles". Any advice on how to control them?
Judith Hogan July 09, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Make that "slowers" "flowers". My apology for poor typing skills.


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