8 Myths to Avoid When Watering Your Plants
Watering plants isn’t an exact science. Read this article to help you understand when to and when to not water plants.
When summer’s dry heat arrives, plant demand for water goes up. Fail to deliver, and the result is a landscape full of wilting or dead plants.
On the other hand, unsustainable water bills, the prospect of running a well dry, or just a lack of time to keep up with unrelenting hose demands can make it difficult to keep up. At some point, gardeners may need to “triage.”
Triage is that tough decision that divides plants between ones that need water now to stay alive vs. those that can risk delay – or go without. If you can’t water everything, a sensible strategy is to focus limited water and time on the plants that are most valuable to you. That could be the costly new tree or bed full of shrubs that landscapers just installed in May, but it also could be sentimental-value plants, such as that irreplaceable peony division handed down from Grandma or a rare heirloom tomato variety. Either way, a good question to ask is, “Which plant losses would hurt most if I don’t water?”
Keep in mind that any new plant is more at risk of drought injury or death than established ones. Even drought-tough species aren’t very drought-tough until their roots occupy enough ground to mine what moisture they need to survive.
Most perennials and ornamental grasses are in reasonably good root shape after two years in the ground. Trees, shrubs, and evergreens can take three to four years to adequately root-establish. The upshot is that a five-year-old magnolia might be able to go weeks without water while the same variety in the same spot might need a soaking twice a week if it was just planted this spring or last fall.
The same is true for lawns. Turfgrass that’s two or more years old generally can go a month without water even after it goes brown and dormant. Established lawns usually can go to the bottom of the triage list, especially since lawn irrigation requires a lot of water.
However, new grass that’s less than a year old will die sooner due to its limited root system. Since replacing a whole lawn is expensive and labor-intensive, a new one might rate high placement.
Another low-on-the-list possibility involves annual flowers, container plantings, and vegetables. Most of these are going to die come frost or the end of the season anyway. If you can live with the possibility that your petunias and zinnias might croak in August instead of October, then those are candidates to go off hose-fed life support.
Container plants need water every day or two in hot weather, so unless you really need them to the bitter end, they’re also sacrificial candidates. And although it’s not easy to walk away from wilting peppers or tomatoes in their prime, at least you can divert would-be water expenses into grocery-store substitutes.
When you’re in triage mode, try dividing the yard into zones. Instead of watering the whole yard full of plants every few days, break up the job by watering one zone one day, then another zone another day – focusing just on the plants most in need.