Gardens and landscaping are an investment in your home. Time and money go into finding the right plants for the right places, then caring for them to keep them healthy and strong. The U.S. Drought Monitor currently lists DuPage, Will, & Kane counties as having abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions. Only heavy, sustained rains count for watering plants naturally. Here are tips on watering properly in different conditions to reduce plant stress for long-term success.

Watering New Plantings

Plants installed this year have higher water needs because their root systems have not grown much further than the original pot area. It’s best to water your new plantings by hand.

First Day — Water the roots, not leaves, slowly and deeply after planting.
Week 1 — Check daily. Only water when soil is dry about 1”-2” under the surface, watering slow and deeply. (Test with your finger or a moisture meter.)
Week 2 — Check every 2 days. Only water when soil is dry about 1”-2” under the surface, watering slow and deeply.
Week 3 — Check every 3 days. Only water when soil is dry about 1”-2” under the surface, watering slow and deeply.
Ongoing — During the rest of the season, check at least once a week.

Watering Existing Plantings

Water plants if we have not had significant rain in 2 weeks. Plants installed the previous year, or ones that require more frequent watering will need a little extra attention. If no rain continues, water again when the soil is dry 1”-2” below the soil surface. Make sure water gets through the mulch into the soil.

A portable 10-foot section soaker hose is efficient and can easily be moved to water all sides of the plants. If using a sprinkler, use a rain gauge and water long enough to equal an inch of rain, preferably in the morning. If you have an automatic sprinkler, set it for 40 minutes twice a week instead of everyday. Plants do better with deeper, less frequent watering.

Watering in Drought Conditions

Drought conditions bring slower growth and increased susceptibility to diseases. Symptoms of drought include wilting, leaf color change, leaf drop, and even death. Interestingly, too much water can cause similar symptoms. Tree & Shrub Manager Eric Gundersen says “The more established trees have more reserves, drawing from a larger area with their bigger root system. Be cautious with the 1, 2, & 3 year old trees that are younger and actively growing. You may think they are established if planted in the last year or two, but their root systems are young yet and have not spread out as much. They need supplemental watering.”

It’s a good idea to put a rain gauge under your sprinklers because you don’t really know how much water they are putting out. Generally, you want 1” of water a week for trees. It is better to water deeper infrequently than watering lightly more often. Light watering promotes shallow roots, which are more prone to stress during drought and high temperatures. Watering deeply encourages roots to grow deeper. Water the tree drip line and beyond, encouraging the roots to grow out.

Watering Tips from the Professionals

Know your plant’s moisture needs. Some plants need more water than others. Plants under trees may require more water.

When soil feels dry water slowly and deeply. Allow the water to pool and sink in at least three times. Be sure to water out past the edge of plants. Watering deeply encourages roots to grow deeper.

Break up mulch. If you have shredded mulch over your beds, you may need to break up the crust to get water through to the soil.

Water at the base of plants to keep water off the leaves. This reduces diseases.

Water in the morning. This prevents water from evaporating into the air on hot days, and gives foliage time to dry, especially if using sprinklers.

Too Much or Too Little?

Limp, hanging or yellowing leaves may indicate either too much or too little water. Check the soil two inches under the mulch.
If it is dry, water the ground slowly and deeply. If it is wet, do not water until the soil has had time to dry out. If it is really wet, you can thin or loosen the layer of mulch to help air get in and dry out the soil. Do not water until soil has had time to dry out below the surface. Plants need air as well as moisture.


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