Digging the Dirt: Watering Concerns

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I read it on a friend's FB page:

Now that the plants are all in the ground - they have to be watered too! Is there no end to this project?... No we don't have automatic sprinklers - entire yard, all watered by hand.

While it's better to plan watering before a project is begun, many of us run into problems with watering our landscaping during the heat of summer.  Automatic systems can break, watering by hand can be inefficient.  Worse, our water district may inform us of watering restrictions which mean cutting the watering to a minimum.

Gardening is a thing of beauty and a job forever.  And watering is one of those "forever" jobs.

So let's pretend it's June, it's warm-to-hot, and you need to water your yard. What must you consider and how best to get it done?

First, if you are watering your grass, it needs about 1" an water a week. You don't want to do this all at once; the soil will not absorb it all so much of your water will run off. You don't want to water every day; the top of the soil will be watered, but not the region where the roots live. You'll encourage very shallow-rooted grass which becomes vulnerable to insect, compression, summer's heat and winter's freezes. Try to water your lawn about 3 times a week.

The tricky part of this is measuring how long does it take for your watering system to deliver about 1" of water? The best way to test this is to place several vessels around the lawn, turn on your watering system and time how long it takes to fill most of the containers about 1" full. Rain gauges, or 1# coffee cans work the best for this. Something cylindrical with straight (not sloping) sides. When most of the containers are full, make note of the time it took. Divide this time by 3 to determine how long you should water each time. Your lawn will thank you for this.

With other plants- trees, shrubs, bushes, perennial plants, annual flowers and vegetables- deep water to a depth of 6" in the soil at the drip line - is perfect.

The best way to water your landscape is by an automatic system. After you've determined the best timing for each section, you can set it and forget.

It's important to check how your automatic system is working.  At least a couple times a year, I wake up while my system is running to find a fountain spraying somewhere in my yard.  Systems need to be regularly maintained as drippers fall or break and lines develop links.

What if you need to water by other means? 

Hand water, is at best, a poor way to water your gardens.  The soil gets water too quickly, which puddles on the surface yet never soaks in.  As much as 75% of the water can evaporate before it becomes available to the plants to use.  But what other options are there?

Drip hoses -usually made from recycled tires - can be laid underneath plants, where they slowly leak water into the soil.  These can be moved from section to section -watering one part of the gardens a day- or enough sections of drip hose can be purchased to lay down and keep for the summer.  Then only the main hose connection needs to be moved to a new spot every day.  Plan it so you can water each part of your yard about every 2-3 days.

Here in California, our governor has declared the state in a drought and asked for water conservation.  My local water district has had us conserving the last couple years which has forced me to make a choice growing more popular every year.  I do not water any lawn.  When we get rains -fall through spring - the grass grows as nature intended.  In the summer, when it's dry and hot, my lawn goes dormant and turns brown.  It may look dead, but it's not.  As soon as enough rain falls on the soil, the grass will come to life again. 

Additional Reading:

The Country Gardener was hoping for rain this week. She got her wish and more (click through for pictures of her flooded property).

Richard of (Ln(x))3 doesn't like gardening.  And he's got a point:

This does not mean I don't want a nice-looking garden, though. It simply means I want a nice-looking garden without having to be any good at nor have any aptitude for gardening.

So, our garden could do with some more plants. If I buy plants and plant them, though, they will die. This is because plants are fussy, fragile things that will only grow in the right conditions. I don't know those conditions. Well, I do know them, because they come with instructions that say "prefers partial shade, well-drained slightly alkaline soil in a sheltered position facing south". I've said before, I don't want any of this stuff. I want "grows near where your lawn has clover in it" or "just put it next to your roses".

Nigel Slater, explaining his recipe in Cos you're worth it begins with an observation on his home-grown lettuce:

Heavy rain overnight turned my precious lettuce seedlings into what looked like a box of green mush. But the next day they were up and running again, shaking off the excess water, sending up new leaves, and they seemed all the better for a good drenching. With that sort of stamina, they should be ready for picking in a week or two.

Debra Roby blogs her creative life at A Stitch in Time and her journey to fitness at Weight for Deb.

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