With recent daytime high temperatures close to 90º and very little rain, just about the entire landscape would benefit from supplemental irrigation. This is especially true for newly planted and established plants. Plants selected for ‘drought tolerance’ will not exhibit this trait until their root systems are fully established. How long it takes for a plant to become established depends a little on what type of plant it is and a whole lot on how large it is at the time of planting. Smaller perennials and shrubs may only need one growing season to become established in their new environment, whereas a large tree may take several years to become fully rooted-in to the point where supplemental irrigation is a luxury rather than a necessity. Loss of evergreens can normally be traced to improper watering as much as 6-7 weeks before!
It’s up to the conscientious gardener to provide additional water to ‘even out’ nature’s deficits until a plant is established.
The next question we are asked at Fraleighs is about the frequency of watering. How often? This can’t be easily answered with ‘once a day’ or ‘once a week’. Too many variables exist to have a pat answer, other than ‘monitor your soil moisture.’ We have found that a trowel and a dollop of common sense are as useful for watering as is a hose. Frequently checking the soil moisture 6-8 inches below the surface is the single best way to determine how much (or little) supplemental irrigation needs to be applied. ‘Evenly moist’ is the target for most plants, especially newly establishing ones. ‘Moist’ means neither soaking wet nor bone dry but comfortably in between. ‘Evenly’ means don’t let the soil dry out completely between waterings either. Common sense comes in the form of ‘the hotter, windier, and drier that it has been the more frequently I need to monitor the soil, and the more frequently I’ll probably need to water’. The probably part kicks in because not all soil types are the same in how they retain moisture — sand dries out much faster than loam, and clay can retain water too long, leading to situations of over-watering for some plants. That’s where the appropriately frequent soil moisture monitoring becomes so critical to determining how much and when supplemental irrigation is needed.
One of the most frequent misconceptions is that your lawn irrigation system will do the job. Lawn irrigation systems are set up to water to a depth of about 2”, the average grass root. This is not sufficient to water the majority of landscape plant material and can quickly lead to the demise of even the most forgiving plant.
Special hydration bladders (DewRight & Ooze Tube systems) can assist (not replace) in spot-watering establishing larger shrubs and trees. These are available at the Fraleighs sales office. It is worth noting that slower, lower volume irrigation is more effective than quick, high volume watering that tends to run off rather than soak into the soil.
Lastly, it is worth acknowledging that severe conditions (such as the recent heat) take their toll most heavily on marginal plants; otherwise established plants that are poorly suited to their environment will be the ones that perish. If that sad outcome befalls one of your plants, be sure to mention it to our staff as you select a replacement – we’ll be glad to help you find an option better suited to your site conditions.