Here we are in late June/early July, and by now the excitement of planting may be tempered by the need to keep plants hydrated and healthy for the rest of the summer.
At times, watering may feel like a chore—caring for newly planted landscapes can be time-consuming and stressful, requiring diligent attention with a watchful eye for subtle changes. Often, customers at our garden centers ask how to water a particular plant and we always struggle to provide the best answer. Knowing how much water to give each plant and how often involves the consideration of several factors including exposure (sun, wind, heat, etc.), soil type (sandy, clay, etc.), planting area (slope, berm, raised bed, container, etc.), type of plant, and how well the plant is established.
Getting your plant off to a great start can reduce stress and make your job easier as the season progresses. The best time to do major planting is during the fall when temperatures are mild and seasonal rains are returning; early spring is the next best time for planting. Many of us, however, prefer to be out in the garden during warmer weather, and much of our planting goes on during the hot and dry months of summer. We are fortunate to live in an area where we can pretty much plant things year-round, giving a little extra attention during times of extreme heat or cold.
Pre-Soak Plants Before Planting
Before planting, you can pre-soak your plants in water, compost tea, or root-simulator/transplant shock reducer—a most valuable technique. Nursery-grown plants may be slightly or severely root-bound, and seldom does the soil in the container match the soil that you are planting into; this can make it difficult for water applied after planting to penetrate the existing root ball as well as the surrounding soil.
When preparing to plant one or several plants, especially during hot summer months, find something that will hold water and is large enough to fit the container in which you are planting (a 5-gallon bucket is good for 4-inch to #2 containers; use a clean 20-gallon garbage to soak larger plants). Fill your bucket with water and add compost tea bags for planting edibles (let tea “brew” for 8-12 hours) or Root Master B1 (a transplant shock reducer) for planting ornamentals. Before planting, place each plant into the water, still in the plastic pot, and give them time to absorb enough water and sink to the bottom after several minutes. While the plant is soaking, dig the hole, fill it with water, and let it drain.
Once the potted plant soil has been fully saturated, the plant can be fished out of the water and its pot removed. The wet root ball is now easy to loosen up if roots were compacted and it can be placed in its hole to be planted. Once you are finished pre-soaking all the plants and they have been put into soil, it’s best to go back around and water them all in with the same solution they were soaked in, adding additional water from the hose as necessary for a slow, deep soaking.
This technique gets your plants off to a great start, ensuring that the roots have been properly hydrated and the surrounding soil has enough moisture to encourage new roots to grow. Give it a try the next time you are planting—see what a difference it makes and how easy it is to keep new plants happy!
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch!
Applying mulch to your garden beds is another way to conserve water in the garden and reduce heat stress on your plants. For most plant beds, try using G&B Soil Building Conditioner, a natural soil building amendment that has a rich, dark color and many uses. A 2 to 3-inch thick layer of mulch can reduce moisture loss from your soil due to evaporation; in fact, 3 inches of mulch can reduce your water needs by 30%! When applying mulch to planting beds, always be sure to keep the mulch material at least 4 to 6 inches away from the bases of trees, shrubs, and perennials to reduce the likelihood of suffocating the plant or causing rot around the tree trunk or plant crown. You can even use empty nursery pots turned upside-down to cover smaller perennials and shrubs so you can fling mulch hap-hazardly to cover the soil, and when you remove the pots, reveal a perfect ring of mulch-free space around each plant—a great time-saving trick for a busy gardener who wants it all!
Throw Some Shade
One final trick to reduce transplant shock and keep young plants happy during extreme heat is the use of temporary shade. Providing some shade during hot afternoon sun can help plants adjust to their new home and can be as simple as draping an old sheet across some patio chairs for a few days. Shade cloth is commonly used for this purpose and is sold in bulk by the linear foot, and temporary frames or teepees can be used to hold the shading cloth for new plantings. Shading will reduce plant tendencies to wilt in the sun until they become more established.
Pre-soaking plants, using organic mulch, and incorporating temporary shade can be a game-changer for water-wise gardening. Spend less time stressing about your plants’ needs and more time enjoying them! Stop into one of our garden centers to see the latest tools, products, and techniques to help hydrate your plants with less effort!