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Natural Awakenings Lehigh Valley

Watering Your Garden

Jun 27, 2012 07:05PM ● By By Louise Schaefer


Summer is the time to enjoy the full bloom of gardens and landscapes. Unfortunately the summer heat and unpredictable rainfall in our area may require human intervention to keep many plants thriving thoughout the summer. Summer watering can be looked at as a chore or as the perfect time for gardeners to connect to their hobby in a meaningful way.

A little time spent on plant selection on the front end of your garden planning will go a long way towards reducing your watering chores each summer.  Observe the moisture levels in your garden through the season.  Choose plants that are adapted to the site. The advantage to planting native is that if you match the right plant to the right place, your watering chores will be greatly reduced.  Appropriately sited and well-established native plants will not need supplemental watering except during the most unusual hot dry spells.  In general, native plants need less water because many native plants have deep roots, enabling them to draw moisture from deeper within the soil.  

All plants, including natives, need an appropriate amount of water until established.  For a perennial, that may mean supplemental watering for the first year, and for a tree, up to three years. Even the most seasoned gardener can not tell by looking at a plant if it needs water.  The symptoms of over-watering are identical to the symptoms of under-watering; wilting.  Over-watering can kill a plant just as quickly as under-watering. 

It’s critical to feel the soil to decide if it is dry or not before you get out the bucket. The best way to determine if your newly planted native needs water is to brush away the mulch and wiggle your finger 6 to 8 inches down into the soil.  If the soil is cool and moist, it has enough water.   Some soils aren’t loose enough to permit the ‘wiggle test’ and that’s when the challenge begins. 

Here are some tips to help you this summer:

Know the plant.  Does it require high moisture or will it tolerate drought?

Match the right plant to the right place.  If it likes moisture, put it in a wet area. If it likes it dry, choose a dry location.

Note weekly rainfall. If there’s been an inch or more of rain, it’s doubtful that your plant will need supplemental watering that week.

Take your time watering to avoid run off. A soaker hose is ideal.  Think of sending the water deep down underground and picture the roots going down after it. This encourages the roots to go down not move upward to get moisture.

One long slow watering once a week is better than daily sprinkles.

Water the soil, not the plant.  Some plants react poorly to water on their leaves.

Do not water during the heat of the day.

Good quality organic mulch will preserve moisture between waterings.  Keep mulch two inches away from the trunk of trees, and don’t cover the crown of the perennial plant with mulch.

Once the proper plants are placed in the proper location and the garden is established, you’ll be able to sit on your porch on those long hot summer days, enjoying a cool refreshing drink while your garden thrives on its own.

Louise Schaefer is a Pennsylvania Certified Horticulturist and Co-owner of Edge of the Woods Native Plants Nursery in Orefield. For more information on native plants or to register for an informative Meadowscaping workshop in September, call 610-442-2496 or visit  

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