Q: We’ve had such a dry summer. What watering tips can you offer for my garden?
A: While this summer’s dry, sunny days have been a welcome change from our often soggy summers, extended dry periods can prove stressful for area gardens. These tips can help your plants survive the heat, and help you lower your water usage — and your water bill.
Don’t fertilize as frequently. Fertilizer can dehydrate plant roots when the soil is dry, and plants require even more moisture than normal when fertilizer is stimulating growth.
Watering early in the day is another way to make your watering go further and last longer. If possible, water early in the morning while temperatures are still cool and the sun is low. This will prevent a loss of moisture due to evaporation.
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Your method of watering can make a difference too. Hand watering and overhead sprinklers will cause more evaporation to occur than drip irrigation. If you don’t have a drip irrigation system, using a soaker hose will also work well.
Amending and mulching the soil also helps hold in moisture and encourages healthy root growth. As an added bonus, you may find that you need less in the way of herbicides. A Washington State University study found that wood chips were superior to herbicides in controlling weeds.
Consider adding rocks to your garden. Not only are they attractive, but they can also help slow down and direct the flow of water so it soaks into the ground with less runoff and evaporation. You can bury up to a third of the rock surfaces for a more natural look. To be sure you are placing the rocks in the most helpful way — especially on sloping ground — watch how and where water runs when it rains and then place a small outcropping of variously sized rocks in the water’s path.
Another resourceful way to lighten water usage and keep your plants hydrated is to use gray or gently used water, such as dishwater or laundry water. Some gardeners keep buckets in the shower and let them fill while the water is getting warm. Anther trick is to run a drain hose from your washing machine to trees outside the house. You could even contact a qualified professional to help you install a complete wastewater capture system.
Put off planting until the fall. This is especially true for permanent plantings such as trees, shrubs and perennials. Young plants need moderate temperatures and moisture to help them grow a strong root system. Cooler fall temperatures typically reduce watering requirements, and while top growth slows, the roots can develop and become established before the coldest weather arrives. Winter snows and rains will also keep those young roots moist and healthy without the need for continual watering.
HomeWork is the weekly column by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ Remodelers Council about home care, repair and improvements. If you have questions about home improvement, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.