by Connie Oswald Stofko
It’s been a dry spring in Western New York, and now that summer is officially here, well, it’s still dry.
Gardeners I’ve talked to all say the same thing. Thunderstorms that were predicted passed right by. Even when we got rain, there wasn’t enough to help our gardens.
While the beach-goers are loving this weather, what we as gardeners should be hoping for is a good, all-day soaking rain, said Teresa Buchanan, general manager at Lockwood’s Greenhouses, 4484 Clark St., Hamburg. That’s what we need to get enough water to irrigate our plants.
Even if we had gotten a thunderstorm, it wouldn’t have been very helpful, she said. The water pounds down for 10 minutes, but much of the water just runs off because the ground is too dry for the rain to quickly soak in.
“We need a lot of rain over a long time,” Buchanan said.
If Mother Nature isn’t providing that, we have to step in. Here are some tips on how to water your plants properly to get them through this dry weather.
Provide lots of water slowly
Using your hose, you want to mimic the effects of a good, soaking rain. You need to get the water not only down to the roots of the tree or plant, but below the roots to encourage the roots to grow deeply.
To do that, get out your hose, turn on the water to a dribble, set the hose down at the root ball of your plant and let it run for at least half an hour, Buchanan said.
If you just planted the plant, remember how big your pot was. That’s where the roots are. That’s where you want your water to be.
If you set your hose on high, the water may run off the surface and you may wash away the soil without getting the water deep into the ground, Buchanan explained.
I have a hose attached to my rain barrel and that works great. You don’t get high water pressure, but you don’t need it. You can set the hose at the base of a plant, then come back awhile later and move it to the other side of the plant or to a different plant.
Buchanan uses soaker hoses and you have to let them run longer because they are covering a larger area. The longer the hose, the longer you have to run the water. Buchanan estimates that if your hose is 25 feet long, you would want the water to run for 45 minutes to an hour. She uses a very long soaker hose and runs it about three hours a day.
You can stick your finger in the soil to make sure it’s moist at least as far as you can reach.
You want to thoroughly water your plants at least every few days when it’s this dry, she said
Pay special attention to newer plants
Perennials and trees that have been planted recently should get special attention because their root systems aren’t fully established yet, Buchanan said, and by recently, she means in the past three years.
Buchanan planted a bunch of shrubs this year and “I’m out watering like a maniac,” she said.
I have a tree in front of the house that the town planted a few years ago, but the leaves were turning yellow, so I got out there and watered it.
You should water anything that looks stressed, Buchanan said, and try to give the plant enough water before it gets stressed. The stress can make the plant more susceptible to pests and disease, and my tree looks like it has some kind of bug.
Let your tomatoes wilt, then water them
On the other hand, don’t overwater your tomatoes. Wait until your tomato plants wilt, then water them. A few weeks ago we shared this tip from said Jen Weber, retail manager at Mike Weber Greenhouses, 42 French Rd., West Seneca.
I asked Weber for clarification at least four times to make sure I was getting this right.
“Yep, let them flop over, then water them,” she said.
Get a longer explanation as well as more tips on caring for vegetables here.
Skip watering your lawn
You don’t have to worry about watering your lawn, Buchanan said. When it gets this brown, it’s going dormant. It doesn’t look pretty, but the grass is fine.
Although no municipalities have issued bans on watering and we do have a huge amount of water in Lake Erie, she said that we should still conserve this precious resource. We don’t need to water our lawns.
One exception is if you just put in a new lawn or sod. Then you do have to water.
You can have a great-looking lawn even during a drought. Molly and Leon Goldthwait shared their garden on the Lancaster Garden Walk a few years ago and had a sign out with these tips for visitors:
How to keep your grass green in a drought:
1. Let the weeds grow! This lawn is full of creeping plants that are much hardier than plain old grass: clover, potentilla, ajuga and pennyroyal are just a few. And yes, dandelions, too.
2. Stop mowing when the weather’s hot. So what if it’s long? It’s soft underfoot. If you must mow, mow high.
We haven’t watered the lawn! (Honest!)
If you still want to water, do it properly because poor watering practices can do more harm to your lawn than good, according to Cornell University. Get tips on watering your lawn here.