Necessary Watering

Watering London Planetree in A Garden for All by Kathy Diemer

watering London plantree photo credit: Kathy Diemer

I hate watering.  It is a tedious, boring task with no obvious visible reward.  Lugging heavy hoses all over the yard and laboriously rolling them up after is the worst chore for me.  However, for the newly planted tree, shrub or perennial, regular watering is absolutely essential for survival.

Previously, I explained the value of using natives and drought-tolerant plants to help eliminate the need to water once established. The key word is established.  I consider a plant to be on its own the third year in the garden, which means without adequate rain fall watering will be required for two years.  So, what amount of rain is needed to avoid watering?

One inch of rain a week is the recommended amount of water to sustain a newly planted tree or shrub.  Perennials acclimate quicker and usually require watering for only a few months.  Where it gets tricky is figuring out how much rain you are getting.  The only accurate way to measure is a rain gauge, which I urge every gardener to own.  Some may think a passing shower or heavy downpour is providing enough water.  You would be surprised to see how little measurable rain fall these types of storms really provide, quite often not even registering a line in the rain gauge.  This year in particular has been deceivingly dry, even though there has been heavy rain fall in surrounding areas.  In the last few months, we have only gotten one storm that resulted in an inch of rain.

So, what does this mean to you?  First, let me reiterate the importance of planting only what you can feasibly water if it becomes necessary.  I designed a garden for a local client and they enthusiastically decided to install the entire property at one time.  I knew they had a well and strongly discouraged them from doing this.  As a result, they ran their well dry and had to have another well drilled; a very costly mistake.

Even if you have adequate water resources, it takes a lot of time to thoroughly water each plant.  To ensure enough water gets to the entire root system of a shrub or tree, you need to run the hose over the root area at a moderate flow for at least 30 minutes-depending on the size of the root system.  Multiply that by the number of trees and shrubs you planted and you may be watering for hours.

The first year for trees and shrubs is most critical.  I am diligent in watering every week we don’t get enough rain.  Although tapering off by the end of October, I continue watering moderately until the ground freezes.  The second year, I start to wean-off my trees and shrubs, only watering every two to three weeks depending on how the plant looks and how extreme the temperatures are.  A good layer of mulch is crucial to keeping the soil moist in between watering.


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