New Landscape Watering Guide
To assure that your new plantings thrive and provide all the enjoyment that you expect for many years to come, we’ve put together this watering guide. True - it’s a bit wordy but reading it all (including the FAQ’s) will equip you with all the knowledge you’ll need to meet your objectives.
Once Per Week. Slow Trickle. Pea Soup. Through the Frost.
Other than under severe and prolonged drought conditions, all of your plants should require no more than *one watering per week. But one deeeeeeep watering.
This is best accomplished with a regular garden hose turned on only slightly to a slow trickle, as pictured. The hose should be placed directly on top of the root ball of each new plant and left to run for several minutes – often 10 minutes or more, depending on the size of the plant. More importantly than the time requirement however, is the condition of the soil surrounding the root ball when you’re finished. This soil should be so sloppy wet that you can stick your entire hand (or a stick, branch, or even the hose itself) 5”-6” down into the soil – it should be the consistency of pea soup.
This practice needs to continue for the remainder of the first growing season through the frost, and until the first hard freeze. The following year will only require watering during drought conditions (which are common in our area).
Once per week. Slow trickle. Pea soup. Through the frost.
*What if I have heavy clay soil that doesn’t drain well? Great question! Several days after your first watering, you should check the moisture content of the soil around your plant. You can check it by pulling some of the mulch away from the base of the plant and digging down a few inches in to the soil with a tablespoon or a small hand shovel. If the soil is still moist, you should avoid watering and check again in a few days. Once you’ve learned how well your soil drains, you can adjust your watering schedule to assure that there are a few days in which the root zone dries out between waterings (keep reading).
Why water right on top of the root ball? Watering directly on top of the root ball assures that the water is actually available to the roots and not just flowing away. Most root balls are more dense than the surrounding soil due to the density and compactness of the many roots already present. For the first season, care must be taken to treat the roots well.
Why water so slowly? This is to assure that the soil all around the root ball is thoroughly saturated. If the hose is turned on more fully, much or most of the water is going to flow away, may cause erosion in the bed, and will likely take some of your mulch with it.
Why so much water? During the first few days after the watering, the plant gets a very good drink. But as the water starts to evaporate and dissipate after 4 or 5 days, the soil starts to dry out and the roots start to dig in and go in search of more water. This is exactly what we want to see – the development of a good root system. We like to say that “to grow a strong root system is to grow a strong plant.”
Why not a few lighter waterings per week? Frequent, light waterings (or even frequent, heavy waterings) often causes three main problems. 1) The roots have no reason to dig in and grow due to being spoiled right where they are. 2) The constant presence of water can lead to fungal issues that may harm the plant – root rot, for example. 3) Roots need water, but they also need oxygen. If the plant spends too much time in water, it can literally drown.
Why not spray the whole plant? The minerals and chemicals that many of us prefer to filter out of our drinking water are the same minerals and chemicals that can lead to health issues if a plant’s foliage maintains the build-up that can occur. While the water will evaporate off the leaf, the deposits that remain can lead to fungal issues, which can harm the plant. It’s best to water directly on top of the root ball which is far less likely to be affected by any potential chemicals or minerals.
What about my lawn irrigation system? Will it do the trick? In short, no. Due to the nature of automatic irrigation, it fails to meet almost all of the criteria for good watering practices listed.
How many weeks will I need to continue this? Through the frost and to the first hard freeze. This is rarely earlier than the end of November and may be into the middle of December some years.
What’s option “B”? Soaker hoses. Though it’s not an extremely efficient use of water, some of us can’t dedicate a Saturday morning to watering the landscape. We get it. In this case, soaker hoses can be looped a couple of times around the plant’s base – right on top of the root ball – and left there for the season. Soaker hoses will very slowly release water – again, verrrrry slowly. This means that once you attach your regular garden hose to the soaker hose that you have laid out, you’ll need to leave the water on for several hours. Remember, the standard for a good watering is always the same no matter how you do it. The soil around the root ball needs to be the consistency of pea soup when you’re finished.
Soaker hoses are relatively inexpensive and can, if you plan ahead, be buried beneath the mulch so they can’t be seen. They can be purchased at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart, Target, etc.
If you have any questions about any aspects of the care of your landscape, we are always happy to help in any way we can. You can email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org.