Watering can be a tricky thing. Most of us are tempted to set your sprinkles on and forget about it. But as tempting as this might sound, it is not the right way to water, especially native and well-adapted plants. The general rule of thumb is simple – we should water deeply and infrequently. But what does that mean? 

If you ever hand watered your landscape, you might know that watering can be deceptive. We see the mulch looking soaked, and the first inch of soil seems moist enough, and we think it is enough. Often plants will look very wilty in the afternoon summer weather, but that is how plants cope with excessive heat and whether the plant needs water should not be judged then. The best way to decide if your garden needs water is to take a look at it in the early morning hours, or if not possible, late in the evening. 

There are many variables that need to be taken into account, and many will be specific to your garden - soil type, for instance, others will include weather, rainfall, wind, type of plants you have, etc. These will have to be assessed on a case by case basis, but there are some general rules to follow:

  • All plants need regular watering during the first 1-3 years after planting, that includes drought-tolerant plants.
  • Be careful not to overwater — it’s the most common and easiest way to kill a plant. 
  • Overwatering means watering too often, not too much at one time.
  • Know your plants - different plants have different needs and watering should be customized to their needs.
  • If you have a sprinkler system make sure you water early in the morning - between 4-8 am.
  • Make sure the water infiltrates the soil.
  • When planting newly purchased plants, remember that they were most likely watered very often in the nursery, perhaps daily, and they will need time to adjust.

When planting newly purchased plants, start with watering every other day the first week, then go down to every other day the second week, then every third day the third week, and so on until you reach optimal watering interval for your garden. Let’s say it is once a week – continue to water deeply at this interval but always adjust to the current weather conditions. Plants will have different needs when the weather is cool, when it rains, when plants are dormant, etc..

Most native and well-adapted plants should do very well on rainfall alone in the spring and fall (but always check the actual weather conditions, some years will be wet, some will be unusually dry, and it is critical to adjust to these conditions), and usually will need additional water in the summer. Winters can be tricky in North Texas since often it is warm enough where plants are not actually going fully dormant and in some months actively growing. It is important to water only as needed in the winter, most likely only every few weeks.

If you expect a hard freeze, water the plants a few days before the freeze to help the plants do better during extreme weather since plants under drought stress can be more susceptible to cold damage. Water also holds warmth and releases it slowly, so it helps to water your plants right before a freeze to create a source of warmth. Water is not meant to protect tender plants, but help reduce damage in native or well-adapted plants.

And finally, just observe your garden. Pay attention and plants will let you know when they need water. That is, after all, part of the fun of having a garden.

December 07, 2013 — Agnieszka Hurst

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