A GROWING CONCERN: Water, water, water is key

THINGS ARE DRYING out with our warm weather and summer breezes, which ideally suits some of the Mediterranean plants that like a drier climate, such as our Sequim favorite plant: lavender.

All things lavender are happening in Sequim this weekend, so take a drive over to Carrie Blake Park for the new location of the Street Fair from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, its last day, celebrating 22 years of the Sequim Lavender Festival. A map of the eight farms can be downloaded from the web.

Some of your summer flowering annuals need extra watering in these dry temperatures, as do your flowering plants such as roses, lilies, and your hanging baskets and planters.

There really is an art to watering, and before you start snickering, let me tell you that it is easier to get people to cut their 5-foot roses back to 10 inches, than it is to get them to water the rose bush properly.

Many factors come into play when watering, such as how, when, to what, with what, and how much water is enough. What time of the day should you water? Should you get the foliage wet? How can you tell if the osculating sprinkler has put down enough water, etc.

To start, the watering is only as good as the devices and equipment that you use to bring the water to the plants.

Now if you were from Montana, Idaho or Oregon, for instance, you would simply flood the field with irrigation water. Yes; flood irrigation. That’s a no-no here on the Peninsula.

Water concerns have arisen in the Clallam-Bay Sekiu area which is largely dependent upon rainfall rather than snowpack for its water supply. The Clallam County Public Utility District is asking for voluntary conservation there. No alerts are planned in other areas right now.

Here on the Olympic Peninsula we rely on piped irrigation, piping, and in the backyard, hoses.

Your garden hoses should be of good quality.

Cheap hoses that kink easily, or leak, cause the homeowner to rush watering and give the plants less time than is adequately needed.

The same goes for the hose bib; spraying water all over the siding can cause long-term damage to the wood sheathing and foundation supports of joists, causing decay and introducing bugs into your moist framework, including rotting out the deck if you’re not careful.

Reinforced rubber hoses of ¾ inch diameter are preferable. Hose lengths exceeding 150 feet are both difficult to pull around and nest, but they reduce water flow output.

The watering wand and breaker (the nozzle) is the next item to consider, after the plumber fixes the frost-free, anti-siphon hose bib.

If I could have but one water wish, it would be for the complete disappearance of all of those gun, pistol-type nozzles.

For watering, they are worthless, but they are great in a water fight. These trigger-type nozzles blast the plant with high pressure with a simple slip of your grip, or too tight a squeeze.

I prefer the Dramm water breaker, by far above all other types. They provide a soft but steady stream of water, evenly distributing flow while not disturbing roots or foliage.

Water early in the morning

Early morning watering for all of your plants is ideal.

Plants like saturation conditions before 8 or 9 a.m. in the morning.

As the light intensity increases and food production begins, the plant and living cells have their maximum moisture requirement at hand.

Primarily flower buds will continue to develop and swell, rather than shrivel.

Remember, many plants and fruit trees abort their flower buds or fruit if they become dry. Fuchsias are a prime example.

When watering roses, direct water to the soil and avoid spraying their foliage, or rust and mildew will be encouraged.

When watering, pull your hose to the farthest point away, then work backward toward the water connection, allowing the hose to be gentle around the plants, making the tug-of-war in the yard one less battle to endure.

Take care around corners and when going over the top of, or through your plants with a hose.

When watering a spot, first think and look at the dryness pattern.

The edges of beds, places along sidewalks, spots next to rocks or places of great reflection, dry out first and the quickest.

Water the dry prone areas first. Then water the whole bed, those dry spots included, then water the dry spots again.

This gives the dry spots three doses of water.

When you water, you want to move the hose head back and forth, in a semi-rapid motion.

Water to the right, to the left, then the middle, back to the right, the left, the middle, the whole bed, the dry area, the left, the right, the whole bed, the dry area and then move onto the next area.

Make short passes

This is how you water: numerous short passages with a water breaker with moments of no water while water is soaking in, then back to that same spot several more times.

Deep, thorough waterings move the roots and water down into the soil.

Dry soils are another matter.

When soils become “bone dry” they actually repel water. Freshly tilled beds, especially with new peat moss added that are dry, flower beds baked in the sun for a long time, wilting pots, trays, baskets or boxes can take me a day to saturate, sometimes even two or three days.

Here is the key: Water, water, water.

Following the pattern above, but do this type of soaking 5, 6, 7 times a day an hour or so apart.

Do not be afraid to stick your hand down into the soil to see how deep the water penetrated.

Sometimes I do this down to my wrist level to test saturation levels.

You can also listen to the water as it hits the soil, hearing a distinct change in sound when the soil starts to become saturated, but even with the sound changing, stick your hand into the soil to test how far the water has traveled.

It is amazing to see how long it takes to water a bed.

Twenty minutes often times needs 30 minutes (and yes, your fingernails will clean up afterwards, with a scrub brush, and nail file in the house).

New plantings should be watered five to ten times the first day, three to five times the second day, then every day for a week to get their roots to set down into the soil and find moisture nearby.

This watering style saturates the soil and settles the plant into the bed, to become part of the soil, not simply a plug into the ground.

Watering is the greatest planting trick, outside of proper soil preparation (think mulch and fertilizer applications).

In warm weather, your baskets, pots, containers, raised planters, rock beds and all the container areas cause a severe phenomenon when they dry out.

They shrink.

Remember an actual air gap will form between the pot, rock, basket, and the soil.

When you water, it runs down that gap and the plant gets nothing.

When these types of planters get dry, long slow soakings all day are the way to go.

Another alternative is soaking in a container of water, if possible.

Another is 12 or 15 individual waterings, ten minutes apart.

Either way, water running out the bottom is not always a good thing. Make sure these air-gapped containers get soaked or they die slowly.

Water is a fun thing to play with on a sunny, summer day.

Water given to your plants correctly will have them growing with the vigor of small children running through the sprinkler in the summertime.

So after you’ve watered your garden beds and container plantings this morning, grab your car keys and sun hat and head over to the Sequim Lavender festival at Carrie Blake, taking a friend or loved one along.

Enjoy some ice cream, music, festival booths, soaps and lotions for your well-deserved limbs, admire the bluest skies you’ve ever seen, and breathe in the beauty that we call the North Olympic Peninsula.

Enjoy the warm summer day, knowing that your plants are at home, happy about their moist root system.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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