Top 5 Summer Watering Tips

Water is Canada’s most precious resource. Summer garden watering means paying special attention to, and utilizing beneficial water conservation practices. Watering is the most important plant care job in a greenhouse or at home. It can also be a very peaceful and satisfying exercise. A little knowledge about good watering practices goes a long way to ensuring a happy and healthy garden.

Top 5 Summer Watering Tips

Know Your Plants; Know Your Soil

Know the water requirements of the plants you have in your garden. Do not mix plants that need a little water with the plants that need a lot. Plants that are in the ground usually require less watering time than those grown in containers, window boxes, grow bags and hanging baskets.

Young and newly planted annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees need more water, more frequently than older established plants. Older plants that are in the ground are able to spread their roots outward and down in search of water. Know your weeds as well. Weeds take a lot of valuable water away from your garden plants. Keep up the weeding!

Soil that contains organic matter such as compost and drains well, will still retain water. It also allows air to penetrate down into the soil which is also very important for root growth. Compost offers nutrition to the plants and can also be an important mulch which protects roots from the heat and cold.


The Finger Test - Always the Best Test – Indoors and Out

Check for plant water needs with your index finger, pushing it down into the soil approximately 2 - 3 inches. The soil may look dry on the top but is damp further down. If this is the case, do not water. You can also use a moisture meter although I have always found them to be a bit unreliable. Check containers and hanging baskets every day but you may not need to water every day.

During a very hot day, some plants may wilt and look as if they need water. This is why it is always important to do a quick finger test – they may not need to be watered. Often leaves will wilt in the heat and will perk up in the evening. Plants are transpiring heavily on hot days, and wilting happens when the plant is losing more water than it can soak up through it's internal systems. The 'wilt' is the plant losing turgor pressure (water pressure) in it's cells. When the weather cools off, the plant transpiries less, and you see the plants turgor pressure increasing again, stiffening its stem and leaves!


Water Your Lawn Deeply and Infrequently

It will come as no surprise that the watering of lawns uses the most water in the spring and summer. To stay healthy, a lawn needs about 1 inch of water per week; two inches if it is very hot. Water in the early morning to avoid excessive moisture evaporation. If you are unsure regarding quantity, place an empty tuna can in the middle of the lawn and note the time it takes to fill. If you have irrigation, time it to come on in the morning once or at most twice a week and for an extended period of time. Too many homeowners make the mistake of timing their irrigation to come on every two days and for short amounts of time. This only encourages shallow grass roots that are more prone to drying out during extended hot weather. Watering deeply encourages grass roots to follow the moisture down. To further reduce moisture loss set your lawnmower at a three inch lawn height. Lawns may brown out in hot weather. The grass is not dead, it is dormant. Do not fertilize when dormant. A heavy rainfall will bring it back to green over time. Some gardeners have chosen to reduce or remove their lawns altogether and create a water-wise xeriscape garden design.


Water in the early morning or the late afternoon.

This helps to avoid fungal and bacterial leaf diseases. Of course, when to water outdoors is always governed by the weather. Water with a watering wand early in the morning at ground level (never from above the leaves) and make sure you are thoroughly saturating the soil around each plant; (not just the centre). In order to do a thorough job watering, you should proceed slowly and water deeply. Do water your plants before fertilizing which helps to buffer fertilizer root burn. Late afternoon is the second best time to water, which still gives the leaves time to dry off before evening.


Pay Special Attention to Watering Containers and Hanging Baskets

Containers and hanging baskets are notorious for drying out quickly in the summer. They are packed with roots and use up moisture and fertilizer quickly, especially on hot days with drying winds. A compacted root system will often repel water, causing it to run down the sides. You think you have watered it well and the root ball is still dry! To remedy this, immerse the hanging basket pot in a deep water/weak fertilizer soak for about a half hour. A properly watered hanging basket will be very heavy. You can also do this with small containers. Large containers must be watered slowly, watching for water to come out the drain holes. Check your hanging baskets and containers daily for water needs or even twice a day in very hot weather. This does not mean that you have to water them daily – just check.

Remember; try not to overdo it and spoil your garden. Let it dry out somewhat periodically forcing the established plants to root out and down to find water. I grew up on a farm in south eastern Saskatchewan and never once saw my parents use a sprinkler on our vegetable garden or the trees and shrubs. We relied only on the rain.

We must also do our part to make sure the water we use in our gardens is not wasted. As gardeners let’s set an example for future gardeners and respect this finite resource. How can we do this?

Drip irrigation is the most efficient watering method for all areas of the garden. Soaker hoses; a close second. Water sprinklers should only be used for watering the lawn!

Plant more drought tolerant trees, shrubs and perennials.

The best way to deep water mature trees and shrubs is with a Ross Root Feeder. This handy tool gets the water directly to the roots. It is great for trees that use a lot of water such as birch and maples. Let it run with just water to begin with and then pop a fertilizer tab in when you need to feed. It has an adjustable flow rate lever and can be left in place for 20 minute increments.

Invest in a rain barrel or two with hose spigots. A fine mesh should cover the opening at the top to discourage mosquitos. You can also kill mosquito larvae by putting Mosquito Dunks in the rain barrel water. Fortunately this very effective mosquito larvae killer does not harm anything else. You can also add them to ponds and water features!


Check out the City of Saskatoon website for more water conservation tips and information.

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