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It's all about the water

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

I know I have talked about water several times this growing season. Homeowners are still strongly encouraged to continue to water their valuable landscape plants and shade trees. If watering has not been part of the summer gardening "chores" yet this year, it is not too late start. The cost of water is a minor against the cost of replacing landscape plants in the yard even if you could find plants of similar size. We pay for car and homeowner's insurance, thinking of it like that may help justify the cost. There is absolutely no way to replace the 20 year or older shade tree on your property. If you consider the benefits like the shade it provides, the lower utility bills, the increased property value, again the cost of the water is minor.

County Extension offices are receiving lots of calls to our help desks where Master Gardeners are responding to questions on how to water, how much to apply and how often. Landscape shrubs and shade and ornamental trees are handled differently. Individual shrubs or shrubs in beds can be watered near the base of the plants or a soaker hose run down the landscape bed. Young ornamental trees out in the landscape can be watered in the mulch ring at the base of the tree or pretend there is and water 3 -5 feet around the base. Larger and established shade trees take a different strategy. A typical root system radiates outward past the drip line some distance, so watering at the base of a larger tree is not putting the water where the roots that take up the water and nutrients are. Visualize the entire root zone and cut it into quarters. You should water in each quarter to evenly distribute the water throughout the area, starting 10-15 feet from the trunk on the larger older established trees and extending about the same distance beyond the drip line. The portion of the root system that absorbs the water and nutrition is in the upper 12 inches of soil in this area.

When you are watering, time how long it takes to put on an inch of water. This should soak down about six inches. Another way to measure this is to check the water meter before you start and after you are done with the inch of water. The next time you can use the water meter from then on to know when you are done. On heavier soils where water infiltration is slow, you may need to go over area twice using less water each time to get all the water to soak in.

The question of how often is the most difficult to respond to. Older parts of town where the soil is better conditioned can absorb and hold the moisture more easily and have it available longer to our plants. Landscape plants and shade trees will have a longer interval between watering. In new homes where the organic matter is limited and often times the soil is mainly clay, watering takes more management to ensure the plants have the water they need. Given the same soil around the home, those southern and western exposures will need more water than the north or east sides of the home.

One of the last things you can do this fall is to water your landscape plants, shade and evergreen trees one last time before the hose goes into the garden shed for the winter.

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