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What you didn’t know about watering your lawn, trees, and garden

In the Garden

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Lance Ellis,

As the summer progresses and temperature’s rise, proper watering is critical to keep your plants happy, as well as to prevent issues in the future.

A general rule of thumb is to water your plants according to their needs; and their water needs are different from plant to plant as well as their age and the time of year. This can be a tricky thing to handle and many problems arise due to improper watering.

In our arid climate, many plants are chronically underwatered rather than overwatered. Shade trees growing in a lawn are one of the most likely victims of drought stress since people think that they are getting enough water since the grass is green, so therefore the trees must be getting enough water as well. Many times this isn’t true.

Most often homeowners water their lawns for short amounts of time on a daily basis, rather than giving the lawns and trees a deep soak of water on an intermittent schedule. When I refer to a deep soak, that means that you have moisture penetrate down at least two and possibly three feet into the soil.

When the common mistake of often and light watering happens, the grass normally soaks up the majority of the water, and it never gets past 6 inches into the soil. Therefore shade trees become chronically drought stricken as most of their water absorbing roots are within the top 2 feet of soil.

A good rule of thumb for established trees, (meaning they have been in the ground at least two to three years), is to give them a deep soaking every two weeks during the summer time. But there are exceptions to this.

You may need to irrigate more often for water loving trees such as willows or birches while the opposite may be applicable if you have drought loving plants like junipers, that will suffer if overwatered. Another aspect to consider is the age and size of the root system of the garden seedlings, landscape plants, and lawn.

When a garden is just starting out and the seedlings have a very small root system, then watering may have to be done on a daily basis, and if its gets really hot and the soil is sandy, it may have to be watered more than once a day to prevent dehydration.

Once plants are established and develop a larger and more effective root system, then watering may need to only be done two or three times a week depending on the crop needs. Some vegetable crops such as lettuce are shallow rooted and struggle in even mild drought conditions.

A simple way to figure out if your garden needs water is to dig down in the soil about an inch, and if there is no moisture, then the garden needs to be watered. If it has moisture within the top one inch of soil, then it’s probably fine, except if you have small seedlings.

They need watered more often till their roots expand and deepen. If I was watering a recently planted fruit or shade tree, then I would water them at least weekly and maybe more often depending on soil type and how hot it is outside.

Sandy soils drain water away quickly so a young tree may not thrive the first year in a sandy location without ample irrigation. Young or newly established lawns also require more frequent watering, but as they deepen their root systems and thicken the grass stand, then deeper and more infrequent watering becomes the better practice.

As we near the month of July, lawns are notorious for showing drought stress, and turning brown or dull green. Homeowners many times don’t notice the impact of the warmer weather, fewer spring rains, and may forget to increase the amount of water being applied during the week to their lawns.

When changing your watering schedule to match the heat and rainstorms, keep in mind you want to water deeply and infrequently. This reduces water loss through evaporation, helps plants grow deeper root systems, and strengthens a plant’s overall health and resistance to drought.

Remember to water your lawn during the early morning hours from about 4 AM to 8 AM, before the heat of the day starts, which helps reduce evaporation, and improves water penetration into the soil. For further watering and gardening questions please contact Lance Ellis at (208) 624-3102.