Creative plant watering techniques
There is no doubt about it that this summer is one of the hottest we’ve had in a long, long time. In fact the week of July 2 more than 4,500 record high temperatures were broken in the United States. With local temperatures surging more than 100 degrees in recent weeks and little rain in sight, even the most avid and experienced gardeners are struggling to keep their plants alive. As the Gazette reported last week, Delaware water reservoirs are the lowest they have ever been; therefore ‚we are understandably under a watering ban for lawns and gardens. At times like this, it is obvious why water conservation movements once reserved for the desert are gaining popularity in all landscapes. While under a watering ban, it is possible to keep your plants watered if you are willing to be a little creative.
First and foremost one needs to prioritize his or her plants. Established trees and shrubs are likely to have root systems deep enough to access water, so they should be able to make it through this weather with little additional watering. More showy shrubs like hydrangea, roses and butterfly bush will likely require more water. In my garden, I am staying more focused on preserving the health of my perennials than my annuals. After all, the annuals will meet the same fate no matter what. While a brown, crunchy lawn is a suburban nightmare, it is not in critical condition. As long as the grass is established, it protects itself in this weather by going dormant. Plants that are in most dire need of water are recent transplants, containers and young plants. Luckily, tomato plants can survive with shockingly little water. Any plant in the ground will likely fare better than those in containers because a container creates a microclimate that dries exponentially faster than in the ground.
Unfortunately, one very effective method in maximizing water retention for plants is to remove any weeds that will compete for whatever water you do provide. While it is not desirable weather to be out weeding, it could make a big difference in the survival of your garden. Mulching, even the soil in containers, helps a great deal in maximizing and retaining water. Also, when you water is of the utmost importance. Watering in early morning is ideal. Far more of the water will be absorbed than evaporate as it would later in the day. And even though those leaves look so thirsty, water the base of the plant instead of the foliage. Water droplets on leaves are more likely to evaporate; and can act like a lens and magnify the suns rays, scorching the plant.
Of course, none of those techniques change the fact that we are still under a watering ban…so how do you get water for your garden without using your hose?
â€¢ Catch rainwater. While rain has been sparse lately, a plan to harness whatever water we do get from the occasional shower is vital. Gutters and downspouts will provide the most output for the least effort. This can be as simple as a Home Depot $2 five-gallon bucket, or as elaborate as a custom-designed gutter system and reservoir tank. Capturing the water coming out of downspouts can provide gallons of water with minimal effort and rain, because roofs have such great surface area. For even greater collection, place buckets out when rain is expected.
â€¢ Recycle water. It is surprising just how much water one can gather in simple ways. For instance, if your water takes a few moments to warm up placing a bucket in the shower to catch that otherwise wasted water would definitely be appreciated by a thirsty plant. If you’re making pasta or blanching vegetables, drain over a bucket, let cool, and use to water. Even bathwater is suitable to use to water plants. And being the height of barbecue season, instead of letting the ice in the cooler go to waste, save it and use it in the garden. Or it might be worth it to buy a few bags of ice and let them melt in the garden overnight.
While this season we are being forced to think outside the box on watering, it really is a great tool overall for any gardener to decrease consumption and increase recycling by using alternative sources for water. One last note, if you have been thinking that shrub might look better in another corner — put the shovel down, and wait. Transplanting in weather like this could easily kill even the most hardy perennial.