Well, July is half gone and so is the year. Christmas is just around the corner. It is high summer, and in summer a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of … watering.
So does the fancy of old men. It is a necessary evil in nearly all of our broiling summers. It is a rare year indeed when extensive artificial watering is not required.
It will make a redneck out of you, standing with hose in hand under a scalding sun, patiently keeping a straggling petunia alive. A large number of the gardening gentry have little idea about how to water efficiently, and it is to the detriment to their gardens.
In the first place, when the temperature is in the 90s, say, it takes a lot more water than one might imagine to get the job done, which is to say keep the subject at hand not just alive but thriving.
Yes, there are the rare things (sedums come to mind) that will get by, and even thrive, on little water, but they and their ilk are the exceptions. Most growing things must have plenteous water to gain enough succor to keep them presentable. There is a right way and dozens of wrong ways to water. Pay attention to these arbitrary rules I have conjured up to help save your treasured green things.
First of all, most people water far too little. They hold a hose with the nozzle turned on the finest spray it will produce and stand for perhaps, three or four minutes watering some certain specimen.
About all they actually get water to is the foliage. It takes a lot more than that to keep a prized specimen out of the coffin.
Say you planted a young tree back in March, or even last fall. It is soldiering on to attempt to produce a crop of leaves (or flowers) in its first year in the real earth. What it needs is gallons, not quarts or liters, of water applied perhaps once a week in high, putrid summer. The way to do that without wasting a lot of time is to set the faucet on a slow output, just a dribble no bigger than your little finger. No nozzle please. Lay the end of the dribbling hose right at the base of the tree (or shrub) and retire to the library for reading or watching “Gunsmoke” reruns. Return in about an hour and move the hose to specimen number two, and keep this regimen up until all your favorite plants have had enough water for the ground to get squishy around the base of the plant. A heavy mulch helps tremendously, and keeps the water from evaporating into the air quickly.
DRIP IRRIGATION AT ITS BEST
Friend Rick Conger has drip irrigation down to a science, literally. He has a series of small water lines going from one plant to another, and another, and so on.
Each outlet produces just a drip of water every few seconds. By leaving the system on for hours at a time, he gets a lot of watering done in a day’s time without missing any reruns.
For lesser water needs (i.e. lawn or a patch of annuals or perennials) automatic irrigation is a modern wonder of the world. Again, a lot of people skrimp on their water output. If the source of water is a bore hole and not from the water company, you can afford to water plenteously. However, our very efficient Board of Public Utilities has made even boughten water affordable by capping the sewer charge during summer months. This was partly the idea of former and late BPU board member Bill Caldwell, who pointed out years ago to fellow board members all the water used for irrigation does not go into the sewer, but on God’s green earth. He should get a lot of credit for coming up with the sewer cap.
So, automatic irrigation is a boon. I could never have gardened these years without it. However, since the water is so cheap, be sure to use plenty. I asked a fellow gardener not long ago how long he ran his irrigation system each time it was turned on. He said 10 minutes. No longer than that and the ground is not wet even as deep as grass roots. I recommend a full hour of watering in each zone of your system. Ours is set to come on that long on Monday and Thursday mornings about 3 a.m., which gives a full week’s effectiveness. In extreme conditions I will turn it on by hand, off the clock as it were, for even additional watering.
First year plants are far more needful of water than older specimens, and, of course, some genera of plants need more water than others. But I will say this: in summer months in our part of the world, the likelihood of over-watering is practically nil.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.