Here we are just days from the summer solstice and the longest day of the year, and it is as good a time as any to go over again — Watering 101.
Sometimes one is observed watering a vegetable or ornamental garden with a hose producing a fine mist, and about the only thing getting watered is the foliage of the target plant(s). Or, conversely, sometimes there is a blast such as a fire hose would produce, which has the effect of a miniature atomic bomb as some small marigold or tomato is blasted clear of the ground, to die a lingering death in a hot June sun.
These are the two no-no extremes and, as is often the case, the proper way to hand water lies somewhere between the two, with neither a blast nor a useless little mist that does as much harm as good.
My regimen, from long experience, is to water individual plants, some of which are nearly always thirsty in summer, selectively with a hose equipped with no nozzle, just the male end of the hose. With a thumb it is easy to adjust the water flow to the needed velocity to water effectively without either of the two mentioned extremes. Succor one plant, then move to another.
Of course, if you have piped-in automatic irrigation you are fortunate, but irrigation is not the whole answer. For instance, irrigation set to water for, say, one hour at each zone is nowhere near adequate for high-demand perennials, shrubs and trees.
These are better individually hand watered. A young tree demands deep watering, and it is tedious to stand and water long enough. A hose-end placed at the base of a young tree and turned on to a slow dribble until the ground is muddy a few feet away from the trunk will produce enough water for that specimen not to need the treatment again for at least a week, even in dry weather. The drier the surrounding soil gets, the more water is needed to overcome the wicking effect the dry soil produces.
Soaker hoses are a godsend in areas difficult to reach with a handheld hose, and they cover a lot of ground. They are available in 25-, 50- and 100-foot lengths. Ideally used on relatively flat surfaces, water tends to run out at the lowest area on a slope. The cousin to soaker hose is drip irrigation, with little outlets at the locations where water is needed, i.e. at the base of each plant in a bed or line. Friend Rick Conger is a long-experienced expert in their application. One big advantage is that custom arrangements can be made, with outlets only where water is needed, and blank hose where it is not, thus a saving on water.
Where some few isolated new trees or shrubs are located, I have had success with using 5-gallon plastic cubitainers with 3-inch lids. I drill a small hole in the lid, fill one or more cubitainers, and haul them to the preferred locations in my lawn cart. At least 30 gallons can be pulled by most lawn tractors. The cubitainer is turned upside down near the base of the specimen that needs water and the water will dribble out the small hole at a very slow rate. I run my cubitainers every few days in dry weather. The upshot of all this is that too often not enough water is applied, whichever method is employed. As the days get longer and drier, more and more water is needed to satisfy just about any plant. A few minutes with a fine mist is entirely inadequate.
Strange as it may seem, an inch of rain is more valuable than an inch of boughten water. Why? An inch of rain covers every inch of ground of the extent of the downpour, while an inch of water from a hose covers only a small area.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.