Be vigilant in watering new plantings and containers

Richard Bogren  |  5/19/2017 3:17:47 PM

By Dan Gill

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

(05/19/17) Proper watering can make the difference between life and death to newly planted lawns, trees, shrubs, flower and vegetable transplants and ground covers during summer. Because their roots have not had time to grow out into the surrounding soil, these plants do not yet have well-established root systems. With their root systems still limited to a relatively small area of soil, they are especially vulnerable to drought stress.

Trees

The first summer after planting is the most critical time for newly planted trees, and proper watering plays a major role in whether or how well they survive.

One good method is to turn a hose on trickle, lay the end on top of the ground within 6 inches of the trunk, and let the water trickle for about 20 to 30 minutes. Or build a 4-inch-high levee out of soil around the edge of the area dug up to plant the tree. Fill this area with water and let it slowly seep into the root zone.

I’ve found one of the best methods is to use a heated metal skewer or ice pick to pierce five or ten holes through the bottom of a 5-gallon paint bucket or similar container. Make all the holes on half of the bottom, and place the bucket next to the tree trunk with the holes closest to the trunk. Fill the container with water, and it will slowly seep through the holes, providing excellent irrigation. You can paint the outside of the bucket dark green to make it less noticeable.

Use any of these techniques during hot weather whenever seven to ten days pass without substantial rainfall. Continue to water twice a week until a good rain occurs. Drought-stressed trees may experience wilting, leaf drop, yellow or brown leaves, scorched leaf edges or even death.

Shrubs

Newly planted shrubs will need to be monitored more carefully and watered more frequently than established shrubs. Water them with soaker hoses or sprinklers left on long enough for the water to penetrate at least 4 to 6 inches into the soil.

Keep in mind that all of a newly planted shrub’s roots are in a small area about the size of the pot the shrub was growing in before planting. This is especially true for shrubs planted after March because they have had little time to grow roots into the surrounding soil. A shrub can use up all the water in its root ball and become drought stressed even though the soil in the bed outside of the root ball is moist. So when checking the soil moisture in the bed, always be sure to stick your fingers right around the shrubs themselves.

Lawns

Now is a great time to lay sod to install a new lawn or repair an established one. Newly laid sod needs special attention to watering. Water newly laid sod for about 15 to 20 minutes every day for the first seven to ten days. Then, water for about 30 minutes every other day for another seven to ten days. After that, irrigate the lawn thoroughly once or twice a week, as needed, to encourage the roots to grow deep into the soil. Do not water every day for more than ten days, or you may encourage fungus diseases. There is no need to water if adequate rainfall occurs.

Seeds

Water areas seeded with vegetable seeds, flower seeds or lawn seeds lightly by hand or with sprinklers every day until the seeds germinate and plants start to grow. It is critical for the soil to stay moist during germination. Once the plants come up, water more thoroughly but less often to encourage the roots to grow deep into the soil. As the seedlings become established, water normally as needed.

Containers

Watering plants in outside containers is a constant job during the summer. It is typical to water every day, even twice a day, when weather is hot and dry. Keep this in mind when considering how many outside container plants you can maintain. Plants need to be watered more frequently when weather is hot, if the containers are small, if a light potting mix is used, when plants are in a sunny location and when plants are potbound. Clay pots tend to dry out more quickly than plastic or glazed ceramic pots.

To reduce container watering, consider the following: use larger rather than smaller pots, choose a potting mix that retains more water (it must still be fast draining), repot potbound plants into larger containers, use plastic pots and, if practical, move the plants into somewhat shadier conditions.

Potting mixes will retain more water with the addition of hydrophilic polymers. These gelatin-like particles hold large amounts of water without creating a waterlogged soil condition. Look for these polymer products or potting mixes that contain them where garden supplies are sold.

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Plants in pots need to be watered more frequently when weather is hot, and clay pots tend to dry out more quickly than plastic or glazed ceramic pots. Photo by Rick Bogren/LSU AgCenter

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