Watering During a Drought

Keep our gardens look great during the hottest part of the summer can be a challenge during a normal year but can be very difficult when we’re experiencing long periods of dry weather and hot days. When the weather forecast calls for a week or more without rain it’s a good time to pay close attention to watering.

Check with your city to see if there are any water restrictions in place before making a plan to keep your landscape watered during dry weather. If there are water restrictions in place, prioritize watering in this order: newly planted trees & shrubs, established trees & shrubs, newly planted perennials, established perennials, vegetables, annuals, and lawns.

Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs are the first plants to prioritize during a drought because an established plant can take many years to replace. Newly planted trees and shrubs that haven’t established a root system will need more water than plants that have been in the ground for more than 2 years.

To encourage trees and shrubs to grow deep roots it is important to hydrate the top 6″ – 12″ of soil. To do this, water will need to be applied slowly to allow it to soak into the ground. The best ways to water slowly are to use a soaker hose or turn a hose onto a slow trickle and move it around the base of the plants.

If you are using a sprinkler avoid letting the water hit the tree trunk which can cause damage or disease. Place a soup can or shallow dish near the sprinkler and water until there is 1″ of water in the container. Use sprinklers early in the day to avoid water loss due to evaporation.

How often should we water?

1-2 weeks after planting: water daily
3-12 weeks after planting: water every 2-3 days
12 weeks – 2 years: water weekly
Established plants: water weekly if no rain

Other Plants

Newly planted perennials will require much more water than an established garden. Water in-ground plants deeply a couple of times per week rather than shallow watering every day. This will encourage the plants to develop deeper roots and become less dependent on regular watering.

Vegetable plants that are in the process of producing fruit will need to be regularly watered. Tomatoes plants that are allowed to dry out too much can produce fruit with black spots on the bottom, called blossom end rot. Some vegetables may stop producing during prolonged periods of hot, dry weather.

Many annuals in containers and in beds can require a lot of water. If water restrictions don’t allow you to water all of your plants, prioritize plants that live for multiple years over annuals. If you are watering your annuals, water in the morning to help plants to get through the hottest part of the day and allow leaves to dry before the cooler nighttime temps.

One of the most tempting plants to water during a drought is our lawns. It can be difficult to see a large area of brown grass in our yards but many of the grass species in our area are able to go dormant during the middle of the summer and turn green again when cooler, wetter weather returns.

General Watering Tips

  • Water early in the day to reduce evaporation.
  • Mulch around plants to conserve soil moisture.

Saving Water at Home

  • Remove weeds that can compete for limited water.
  • Raise mowing height to shade soil and reduce weeds.
  • Take shorter showers and turn off water when brushing teeth or shaving.
  • Wash clothes and dishes when the machine is full.
  • Priortize watering long living plants like trees & shrubs, allow lawns to go dormant.
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