Summer Watering Basics

Summer Watering Basics

Here in the Pacific Northwest, Mother Nature helps us keep our gardens watered for much of the year, but during the summer, she takes a break! Unless you've intentionally designed a xeric home landscape to reduce the need for supplemental irrigation, watering is likely to be at the top of your to-do list during the hot, dry summer months. (And even waterwise landscapes require a little water every now and again!) Keep reading to discover all the tools and know-how you need to water with confidence this summer and beyond.

Watering in the Summertime

There's nothing particularly special about watering in the summer compared to other times of year, except that best practices become much more important in the heat, and by virtue of it being warmer outside, the frequency of watering will increase. (In all likelihood, even your houseplants will require more water during their active summer growth period.)

Because their roots are still working to grow into the surrounding soil in search of water and nutrients, new plantings will require more water than established ones.  In our climate, we typically consider the establishing period for perennials to be around a year, but trees and shrubs can take up to three years. During this time, new plants benefit from water two to three times a week if we aren't receiving other rainfall. It's also good to keep in mind that plants in pots often dry out more quickly than those in the ground and may need to be watered more often.

When it comes to watering, common sense goes a long way! On the whole, an agave will require less water than a hydrangea, but every plant has its limits. And there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. One way to determine if your garden needs water is to perform a simple soil moisture test by sticking your finger into the ground near the base of your plants. If it feels dry to the touch, it's probably time to water; if not, you can probably hold off for a day or two. Unless you are growing bog plants, it's probably okay to err on the side of less frequent applications of water until you get a sense for your garden's particular needs. But if your soil is dry to the touch and your plants are already flagging, this is a sure sign you need to increase the frequency of your water regimen.

When watering your garden, keep the following best practices in mind:

1) Water roots, not leaves. Wet leaves can encourage the spread of fungal diseases. In the case of many edible plants in your kitchen garden, this can be particularly devastating, costing you the delicious fruits of your labor, but it's important to keep in mind for ornamental plants, too. Watering at the soil line and being careful not to splash too much will help to prevent the conditions where diseases proliferate.

2) Water in the morning, if possible. It's always preferable to water your plants early in the day before things heat up outside. Not only does this make your watering efforts more efficient because you don't lose as much water to evaporation, but it also helps any water on your plants' leaves to dry throughout the day, helping to prevent pest and disease issues like the ones mentioned above. If you forget or come home to find plants drooping at midday, it's fine to go ahead and water them while you're thinking about it and have the time, but if you're developing a watering routine, aim for the morning!

3) Water deeply. By allowing water to sufficiently infiltrate the soil, you can encourage your plants to develop robust root systems that can reach moisture and nutrients further down in the soil, making them more resilient in the face of fluctuating temperatures and moisture levels. This also means that you can go longer between times when you have to water!

4) Keep an eye on the weather. On warm and/or windy days, plants require more water than when it's cool and overcast outside. (And even if it has recently rained, it may not have been enough to sufficiently water your plants, so it's always good to check!) Monitor your plants and keep an eye on the forecast. If there's a heat dome on the horizon, your whole garden — trees included — could use a good drink in the days prior, which will help them resist damage from exceptionally high temperatures.

5) Get to know your plants and your site. Gardening is a relationship between gardener and earth! It helps to do your research ahead of time to select plants that are well matched to the gardening conditions you provide, but you can learn a lot simply from careful observation. If you are attuned to the needs of your plants and the different micro-climates in your garden, you're poised to not only be a better waterer, but a better all-around gardener, too!

The Right Tools for the Job

When it comes to watering, there are a variety of tools to help you get the job done. While drip irrigation and sprinkler systems are a convenient way to keep your plants watered, these may not be feasible options for many home gardeners. And even with a professionally installed system in place, there are almost always times when you need to spot-water. Below, you will find some of the essential watering supplies we recommend to keep your garden looking lush and healthy even in the heat of summer.

1. Hoses & Soaker Hoses

Garden hoses are a must-have for any gardener, allowing you to move water from a spigot on the wall to virtually anywhere you need it. They come in various lengths and materials to fit your particular needs. Here at the Farm, we carry a variety of high-quality garden hoses, from drinking water safe polyurethane hoses from Water Right to heavy-duty rubber hoses from Dramm, and beyond. These tend to be good options for most applications, but collapsible and coil hoses offer the benefit of being lightweight and easy to store, which makes them a great option for smaller gardens and people who don't want or need to leave a hose out all the time.

Another incredibly useful kind of hose is a soaker hose, which is a great option for watering plants at the root level. These porous hoses allow water to pass through tiny holes along their entire length, providing water directly at the soil line, reducing evaporation and water waste in the process. (And with a timer attachment on your spigot, you can even set your soaker hose to turn off automatically!) Think of this like a less-targeted, less permanent version of a drip irrigation system. Once they're set in place, soaker hoses don't have to be moved unless you so desire. They are great for keeping a newly planted bed or border watered during the heat of summer or for placing in long vegetable beds, but it should be noted that they function best on relatively level sites.

(If you need to hook up multiple hoses to your spigot, link hoses together, or repair a hose, we have solutions for these, too!)

2. Spray Nozzles & Watering Wands

While hoses deliver the water where you want it, you'll likely want some sort of attachment to direct the water more precisely, whether that's a simple water breaker attachment to deliver water to your plants in a gentle shower or a spray nozzle attachment that affords you even greater control over the pressure and spray pattern of the water. Dramm is our brand of choice for precision watering, and we believe in their tools so much, their long-handled water wands are the only attachments we use around the Farm. We find them particularly useful for targeted watering of plants high-up in hanging baskets, in hard-to-reach containers, or down at ground level. We love that they feature a flow control valve you can easily adjust with your thumb — and, as a bonus, they come in a variety of fun colors.

3. Sprinklers

If you are trying to water a larger area than is feasible to water by hand, an overhead sprinkler can be a good option — especially for turf grass. There are a variety of styles, including oscillating and whirling types, and the exact one you pick will depend on your garden's layout and the amount of ground you have to cover. We don't usually recommend using sprinklers to water annuals, perennials, woody plants, or vegetables because they repeatedly wet plants' leaves, creating the kinds of conditions where fungal diseases can easily proliferate. Where they shine is in lawn applications, such as establishing newly laid sod. That said, smaller sprinklers with more targeted water delivery, like Dramm's adjustible ColorStorm turret sprinkler, could be suitable for watering a newly-planted tree or shrub.

4. Tree Watering Bags & Donuts

Rather than turning to a sprinkler, our go-to method for keeping a newly planted tree or shrub is a watering bag or ring — often called a watering donut. The former works well for standard trees whose branching is high enough to accommodate the vertical profile of the bag, whereas donuts are a great option for trees and shrubs with lower-hanging branches. Both, however, are easy to install: simply fill the reservoir with water and let it slowly seep into the soil over the next week or so. This slow-but-steady application of water not only helps to create the perfect environment for your tree to send out new roots, but also reduces water runoff in the process. And our favorite part? They save us time and effort while helping large plants get established, which isn't a quick process. These "set and forget" tools really earn their keep.

5. Watering Cans

While they aren't particularly efficient for watering lots of plants at a time, watering cans still have a place on our potting bench! They are perfect for delicate plants, seedlings, and small-scale container gardening both indoors and out. Because they are mobile, they can also be a good option for watering a container garden that might be farther from your spigot than your hose will reach. Look for cans with a long spout for precise watering and a comfortable handle for easy carrying, in whatever size makes sense for your intended application. We tend to find that watering cans with a "shower" style nozzle are best for outdoor use, whereas a more directed stream is great for watering smaller containers like you might find in your houseplant collection.

6. Hydrometers

While gardeners tend to develop an innate sense of when our plants need to be watered over time, it can be useful when just starting out or when dealing with particularly finicky plants to have a tool that helps you determine how much moisture is available to your plants. While we often go with the relatively subjective "finger test" of placing a digit into the soil to test how wet it is, a hygrometer will provide a more precise measurement, informing whether you decide to water your plants now or to hold off so as to prevent overwatering. Simply insert the probe into the soil at different points around your plant's root zone, read the results, and compare that to the preferred baseline for the kind of plant you are growing. (Most hydrometers have a handy quick-reference list of common plants to assist you!)

7. Watering Assistance

If you plan to steal away on a vacation for a few days or simply identify as a proud lazy gardener, we have a few devices to help you extend the window between waterings so that you don't have to water as often. There are various styles of watering globes, including the popular Plant Nanny, that provide a reservoir of water that will seep into the soil as your plant needs it, and you'll also find wick-based systems that function via capillary action! These tend to work best for potted plants and are an especially great option for houseplant hobbyists.

Whatever your plants' watering needs, we have a tool to help you get the job done, and our helpful team of plant experts would be more than happy to answer any watering questions you may have! Stop by the Nursery to explore all of our watering equipment and supplies, which are located on the south end of the Veranda of our Checkout Greenhouse.