Watering your plants is one of the single most important things you can do for your garden. Almost all plant failures have to do with watering, typically under watering in our climate. New plants need a lot of water. They have small root systems and are dependent on your watering to find enough to survive. Just like a baby or a puppy needs to drink often, new plants are dependent on you.
New lawn needs water 6x/day for seed until up and growing, 3x/day for sod for first 10 days. Then twice for a while and then daily for the first year. New trees, shrubs and perennials, water daily the first 2 years. Supplement with hose watering in hot weather. Even the most xeric plants require water for them to establish. If you think plants are tougher than that in nature then you have forgotten that nature plants a thousand seedlings to get one to survive. Most don’t make it. Do you want those odds? Generally you can stop watering around Halloween when the rains start and the temps drop and plants are truly dormant. You have to start again at the first sign of spring. In fact, for plants under eaves or evergreen plants like rhododendron, you may need to supplement watering even during thaws in winter.
Do you use less water with drip irrigation? Not done correctly. The amount of water you need to apply is the amount of water the plant needs. The plant does not care what kind of nozzle delivers the water, it needs the same amount. It is very hard to make drip work except with very small or immature plants since it gets a little area wet when a tree needs a large area wet to spread its roots. I see trees failing in gardens every year as the result of attempts to use drip. If there is a lawn nearby, sometimes the tree can get to water, but if isolated, drip often leads to failure. The other thing to remember is the first sign of a clogged emitter is a dead plant. Drip emitters are little and break much more easily than a reliable shrub spray head. The spray heads get a big enough area wet to let a spreading perennial spread or a tree grow adequate roots.
Chessy is a great plant person, and when I told her I was about to write this article, she had an insightful comment. She said it seems that only gardeners have a real understanding of water needs and there is much misunderstanding among novices. She noted that it seems odd for people to somehow think a nursery should have any responsibility for the person’s failure to water or care for a plant. She asked me, “Do they take a dog back to the pet store when they kill it if they don’t water it?” Her point is these are living things, and when we buy them and take them home we also take responsibility for their welfare. Plant the plant the same day you buy it. Use the videos on our website to see proper planting technique and watering for planting (water before and after backfilling the hole). And keep the plant watered. I have never expected a nursery to replace my ignorance or negligence. I know it is not the plant’s fault, nor the nursery’s fault if I fail to place or install a plant well or care for it well. I know most of you feel the same way. My guess is that mostly really experienced gardeners bother reading a blog on a specific topic such as this. But trust me, there are novices who are killing plants unaware of their responsibility for watching and adjusting and wanting to place blame on anyone but themselves. When the plant speaks, listen. Adjust. Make it right. Sort of like awareness of the “Force”. Be observant and aware.
Irrigation is an imperfect practice. One plant can be over some rocks with better drainage (or worse) and the underground circumstance can lead to one plant dying just next to one that lives. It still has to do with water. Watch and the plant will tell you by going off color or wilting or failure to grow as quickly…it is likely getting too much or too little (usually too little) water. Believe what the plant says. It knows. Supplement accordingly or find a way to adjust the irrigation.
So watering your plants requires that you be in tune with them. That you observe. That you see their “happiness ratio” or however you want to name it. That will tell you how much they need and when to adjust. Remember to follow adequate water recommendations, because plants can be like cut Christmas trees and look OK even when treated in a lethal manner. By the time damage shows, for evergreens it can already be too late. So be in tune, but also know what’s reasonable. Regular and daily watering of new plantings is reasonable. Automatic irrigation is the best way to assure coverage and the appropriate time in each area. It is far more reliable than hand watering and will save water for you since it always stops and moves on when the area has been watered.
Watering your plants and weeding your gardens, these are the life of the gardener. Done well, the garden will reward you.