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Time to Water

09/04/08 5:55PM By Henry Homeyer
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(HOST) Gardening coach, writer and commentator Henry Homeyer says that in spite of all the rain we've had this summer, many yards and gardens need watering again.  

(HOMEYER) For much of the summer I've been complaining about the lack of sunny weather.  Not loudly, but like anyone who loves tomatoes, I've been wishing for more sunshine.  Then, about 3 weeks ago, we got it. It's been beautiful - warm and breezy with low humidity. Suddenly this week it struck me: I need to water my garden and any young trees, shrubs and perennials. When our weeds go limp - as some have now - plenty of other plants are also in trouble.
If I ran the world I'd set off those sirens that the weather service uses to warn us about violent storms on the horizon. I'd play the sirens so that people would pay attention to the fact that our plants are very thirsty. Some may be near death.

Let me give you some examples: a year ago last April I planted two tough native shrubs and an apple tree. The shrubs, known as service berry or shadbush, have lost many of their leaves in an effort to reduce their water loss. The apple tree has leaves starting to curl up on the edges. And jewel weed in the dry forest is collapsing from thirst.

At this point the soil in many places is not just dry on the surface, but down a foot or more. A quick sprinkle is not going to do the job. My plants need an all day rain - or plenty of water from my hose. For young trees, I build moats to hold water. I bring in some soil to create a ring around the tree. I fill the moat, go on to the next, come back and do it again. You'd be surprised how much water it takes to moisten the soil down deep.

The type of soil affects how dry it is right now. Sandy soil is the driest, and the hardest to keep moist.  Watering it is like watering a wire basket full of golf balls. Compost and organic matter help soil hold water, but very dry loam will let water run through almost as fast as sandy soil. Once it's moistened, organic matter and loam will expand and hold onto water. Clay soil tends to shed water, especially on a hill. It's made of very fine particles that make it hard for water to penetrate.

Mulch is very helpful in dry times. It minimizes evaporation of water from the soil, and makes the soil more receptive to watering.

I'll have to admit I feel pretty stupid that I didn't notice how dry everything was getting. I was just used to Mother Nature doing my watering this summer. Now that I've noticed the problem, I'm on it. I just hope that we get some rain soon - in moderate amounts, that is.
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