Many parts of Michigan are experiencing a drought this summer. Unfortunately there is an old saying that drought brings drought. As weather systems pass over dry land they lose strength and little rain falls. Your garden and lawn may be suffering and need supplemental water. Here’s a review of best watering practices for home gardens.
Even plants that are said to be drought tolerant are starting to suffer after weeks of basically dry conditions and high heat. If you are on sandy soil your garden is going to suffer if you don’t have regular irrigation. Even clay based soils will become very dry after weeks of inadequate rainfall.
If you notice plants wilting, you should water them. Initially plants may only wilt in the heat of the day and then recover in cooler times of the day. But when you see wilting it’s time to water.
Perennial plants need a good soaking at least once a week. Plants that are in flower may need more to keep up a good bloom show. Water with a sprinkler or by hand but give the garden about an inch of water each time. Perennials that prefer moist areas will need watering more than once a week and when temperatures get over 90 degrees may need watering every other day.
Annuals need watering more frequently as a rule than perennials as their root systems are small and they grow faster and are constantly blooming. In temperatures above 90 degrees they may need daily watering. Since their root systems don’t go deep, frequent shallow watering is the most helpful for them.
Hanging baskets and containers will probably need watering every day, twice a day may be necessary to keep them fresh and growing. Check before watering of course, because even in the heat some containers can be over watered. When it is very hot, sunny and windy you may want to pull containers and baskets into a shady area.
If you want food crops to grow they need water. Try to avoid letting plants wilt, each time a plant wilts and then recovers weakens it. Corn leaves roll up instead of wilt when water deprived. Water content affects the flavor and quality of many vegetables, without adequate water many vegetables get bitter or less sweet. Nutritional value also decreases.
Water vegetable gardens regularly if it doesn’t rain. Try to give at least an inch of water to gardens in clay soil, 2 inches for those in sandy soil. Mulch may help hold water, but make sure when you water dry mulch that water is getting through that stuff to the soil. In some cases you may want to actually reduce the depth of mulch on gardens so that water you give plants isn’t soaked up by the mulch.
If water is rationed lawns are the last place you should use it. Cool season turf grass that we grow here in Michigan can go brown and dormant and survive. However after a month when less than 2 inches of rain have fallen, you should water the lawn deeply at least once to keep the grass alive. If you are on sandy soil or have little topsoil for the grass roots you’ll want to water at least every other week. Give lawns an inch of water when you do water.
If you want your lawn to stay green through the drought, daily watering may be needed when temperatures are above 90 degrees. When you walk on the lawn and you can see your footprints 15 minutes later the lawn needs water if it is to remain green. You may be able to water every other day in hot weather if your soil is good.
Trees and shrubs
Trees and shrubs are often overlooked when we water other landscape plants. Newly planted trees and shrubs need to be watered if they wilt or at least once a week they need to be soaked. But even mature trees and shrubs suffer in drought and high heat. Trees may yellow, wilt or drop leaves but sometimes they suffer silently and the drought damage shows up when they fail to survive the winter or grow poorly the next year.
Water stress in woody plants often leads to higher than normal insect damage and feeding insects bring diseases. One way to water mature trees and shrubs is to lay a hose somewhere under the tree canopy and let it run at a trickle for several hours. You can also fill a 5 gallon or larger container with water, put a couple small holes near the bottom and let it slowly water the plant.
As far as harming the plants it doesn’t hurt to water in the middle of the day if that’s when you can do it. You will lose water to evaporation but the leaves of the plants will not burn. Try to water early enough in the evening so that the plants dry before darkness. When plant foliage stays wet a long time in hot weather it’s a perfect set up for fungal disease.
Areas near pavement, rocks and buildings or fences that reflect light and heat need special consideration in watering. You may need to water these areas more frequently than you water other places.
No matter what kind of water we give plants, well water or city water, it isn’t as good for them as rain. Try to save any rain water that falls with rain barrels and use it to water your plants. If you only have small numbers of plants to water run water into a tub or bucket and allow it to warm up before watering plants.
Try to water plants at their base if you can. Soaker hose and drip irrigation systems save you money and water. Aim sprinklers so that they water plants and not driveways and paths. Don’t let sprinkling systems run longer than they are needed, if water runs off the area or stands in puddles you are using too much water. Consider diverting gray water if it is allowed in your area to water non- food plants. Gray water is laundry and sink water.
Don’t forget to top off water features and ornamental ponds with fresh water often and keep the bird bath full.
Hopefully Michigan’s weather pattern will shift and normal rainfall will return. Until then give your plants a drink.
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