From Dennis Patton:
It seems like most of us have missed out on just about every chance of rain in the last few weeks. We are a little on the dry side right now. In fact, the national drought monitor calls us “abnormally dry.”
But I would challenge you to think twice before turning on the sprinkler system or watering your flower garden. How you water now will help determine your plant’s needs later on this summer. As the old saying goes — an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
By that I mean if your lawn and plants get used to a constant supply of water now they will expect it during the heat of summer. Keeping everything on the lean side will encourage them to send roots deeper into the soil in search of moisture. By providing frequent water at the surface, the roots will develop just under the surface. Summer heat and evaporation will quickly dry the soil close to the surface leaving the plants struggling to find ample moisture. Grass is especially prone to this problem.
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During periods of frequent rains and cooler summer temperatures, it is best to let the plant wilt slightly between watering. This may sound cruel but it is really best. It basically forces the plants to search for the water held more deeply in the soil. These deeper water-searching roots will be the ones the plants depend on in July and August when Mother Nature is not generous with rainfall.
Roots right under the soil surface often die off or thin out under summer heat, leaving the plant even more stressed. Roots deeper in the soil are cool and function more efficiently. Watering of all garden plants should be done using the “soaking deeply and less frequently” approach. That means when one does water; soak the upper 6 to 8 inches of the soil. This will normally require about one-half inch or more of water in our heavy clay soils. Then don’t water again until the plants show a wilt.
There are always exceptions to the rule. The exceptions would be newly planted trees, shrubs and flowers. They are on a very limited root system and need weekly watering to help them get established. The above comments are for well- established plants that have a healthy, developed root system.
Practicing tough love with your plants now will pay off later this summer, not to mention save on the water bill.