Master art of watering

A learning experience: From lawn to potted plants to hanging baskets

August 10, 2011 

Water, water, water is usually the work of the gardener during the dry month of August.

But how much to water depends on so many factors that the best tool for this job is your poking finger.

Dig a bare finger into the soil around potted plants and water until the drainage holes flow. In the month of August, don’t depend on how often a hanging basket needed water in the beginning of the summer.

By now, roots have grown and larger plants need more moisture than they did a month ago.

In the vegetable garden, a soaker hose or drip irrigation system is the practical way to deliver moisture to the crops and not the weeds.

Leafy plants such as lettuce, cucumbers and Swiss chard require more moisture than deep-rooted crops such as corn, potatoes and squash.

When it comes to your lawn, you have a choice. You can let the lawn “go golden” or dormant in the summer months and not water at all.

The lawn might look dead, but roots will survive and when fall rains return, your grass will again turn green.

We are going on vacation for 10 days and want to know how we can keep our potted plants alive without water while we are gone. I am sure other gardeners have this same problem. – J.S., email

Dear J.S.: Move thirsty potted plants to the shade and set them in a child’s wading pool. Fill the pool with one inch of water. Or, add drip irrigation connected to your faucet with a timer. You also can set plastic water bottles on top of the soil with pin-prick holes in the bottom of the bottle so water will slowly leak into the soil; wrap clay pots with wet towels and secure with bungee cords; and the most practical of all, hire and train a neighbor to water while you are gone.

My hanging baskets of petunias are looking all long with bare stems and flowers just at the tips. If I cut them back, there will be no blooms at all. How do people keep their hanging baskets looking good all summer long? – N.C., Bonney Lake

Dear N.C.: A pinch and a snip goes a long way to keeping blooming baskets beautiful all summer. A lot of water and frequent fertilizer is the other demand of overflowing baskets and pots. Now is the time to be ruthless and snip off those long and lanky petunia stems even it means you are left with nothing but stumpy remains. Water, fertilize and wait. You’ll soon see new growth, fresh buds and a petunia basket that overflows with blooms just in time for the Indian summer of September.

Is it best to water the lawn during the morning or hot afternoon hours? We do not have a sprinkler system, just a sprinkler that hooks up to the hose. – R., Kent

Dear R.: Most plants do best when watered in the early morning hours when there is less wind and hot sun stealing water from evaporation. Then, afternoon sun can dry the foliage before the cool night can move in to cause leaf blights and fungal infections on wet foliage. But kids, summer afternoons and a sprinkler on the lawn were made for each other. Lawns need at least one inch of water every week to stay green and it is better to water deeply and slowly once a week than it is to water a little bit every other day.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her website at binettigarden.com.

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