Watering Plants During Drought

Robert J. Souvestre  |  6/1/2011 7:11:26 PM

Landscapes are suffering from drought conditions. Shade trees, lawns, shrubs, flower beds, and vegetables require deep, thorough watering on a regular basis to maintain healthy and safe growth.

The duration (how much) and frequency (how often) regarding watering varies greatly with the age of the plant, plant type, sun exposure, soil conditions, planting site preparation, and the environment. It is best to water in the early morning so plants will have available water throughout the sunny day.

Mulching newly planted and established plantings will help conserve soil moisture. Many types of mulch are available including pine straw, shredded bark, shredded hardwood, etc. Apply a 1-2 inch thick mulch layer around tender bedding plants and shallow-rooted herbaceous plants and a thicker layer, up to 4-inches, around shrubs and trees.

The best irrigation is accomplished by allowing water to slowly penetrate the soil. If water puddles on the surface, stop, and then start watering again after all water has been absorbed. Dig a hole to check the depth the water has penetrated.

An important part of gardening successfully is learning to water your plants properly. Learning how to water properly is not complicated, but during hot, dry weather it can make a world of difference to the health of the plants in your landscape.

Most plants in the landscape, but particularly those planted this spring, will need supplemental watering during hot, dry weather conditions. Moisture stress due to lack of available water can result in reduced flowering, leaf drop, increased pest problems, substantial decline or even plant death and the loss of the investment they represent. Applying water deeply and thoroughly when needed is the key to proper watering, states Dan Gill, LSU AgCenter Horticulturist.

Hand watering is ideal for watering plants growing in containers and hanging baskets. To water properly, apply water until you see it come out of the drainage holes. Plants in containers have a limited amount of soil for the roots to grow in, and they dry out very rapidly during hot, dry weather. These plants often need to be watered every day, especially those growing in smaller pots.

Don’t allow container plants to wilt before watering them. Even though they may revive, wilting causes damage that can lead to bud drop, leaf drop and scorched leaf edges. If you find that you need to water container plants more than once a day to prevent wilting, the plants are probably root bound and need to be repotted into a larger container, or you need to move them into a shadier location.

Proper watering is not that hard. But it is very important, especially when the weather is hot and dry. It basically requires watching the weather, paying attention to your plants, checking the moisture in the soil and common sense.

Following these tips will help assure that your plants remain healthy during the ongoing drought.

Shade trees: Water large, established shade trees every two weeks in the absence of a deep, soaking rain. During periods of drought and without supplemental water from irrigation, the wood within the tree can develop internal cracks which can result in branch failure. Maintain health and safety by watering to a depth of 8-10 inches every two weeks.

Lawns: Centipede and St. Augustine grass develop leaves and roots from above-ground stolons. As the grass wilts from lack of water, stolons become stressed and overall plant growth and health suffer. Maintain lawn vigor by watering thoroughly to a depth of 4 inches when the grass blades begin to fold inward.

Shrubs: Established woody shrubs like azalea, holly, camellia, cleyera, hydrangea, etc., will require water weekly. Water newly planted plants at first sign of wilting. Some evergreens do not wilt but the leaf color will change - so be alert.

Flower beds: Tender bedding plants and herbaceous perennials often require frequent watering - possibly twice a week. Plants may wilt during midday heat but revive after the sun goes down. Avoid overwatering and saturating the soil.

Vegetables: As plants grow and mature and begin producing a crop, they will require ever-increasing amounts of water. Any water stress may result in flower drop and crop loss.
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