Dealing with dryness
On the flipside of too much water is the dry scorch of heat and drought. Midsummer usually means long periods without adequate water for gardens and landscapes. Plant growth slows, leaves wither and gardens (and gardeners) languish in the heat. It is important to have a plan to deal with the summer dehydration to keep your gardens looking healthy.
A typical garden requires at least the equivalent of one inch of rainfall per week to keep plants performing at their top potential. That means each square foot of garden or plant space requires about two-thirds of a gallon of water.
There are several different water delivery methods, but some are better than others, so do some research to see what works best for you. Another important step in conserving water is to use mulch in the vegetable garden and in the landscape to create a barrier against evaporation.
Many people use sprinklers to water their gardens and landscapes, but these are the least efficient tools for watering; the water is not easily directed and evaporation leads to a loss of water. Hand watering is common, and is better than sprinklers, but most gardeners don't have the patience to apply the full amount of water actually required by plants. Sprinklers and hand watering both also may spread diseases because leaves become wet. Use these methods only in the morning to allow plants to dry quickly.
Gardeners increasingly are finding irrigation using soaker hoses or drip irrigation to be efficient and easy. Soaker hoses allow water to weep out of the hose along its entire length. With this method, water is applied at the ground level, reducing the risk of spreading diseases, but it can be difficult to direct water to specific plants or to measure the amount of water used.
The most efficient watering system is drip irrigation, which allows the direct pinpointing of water to specific plants at specified levels (specialized emitters deposit specified amounts of water per hour). This directed approach makes the most efficient use of water, lowering the water bill and saving a valuable natural resource. It can be quite affordable too. Kits for 150-square-foot vegetable gardens and medium-size landscape beds sell for less than $30 each.
What about watering the lawn during dry times? Don't! The cool-season grasses we grow in this region go dormant when it's dry. Just raise the mowing height to about 4 inches or stop mowing (without water, growth slows down or stops). Start mowing again when the rain returns. You'll save on your water bill, conserve water and enjoy a break from mowing the lawn.
John Porter is the WVU Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Kanawha County. He may be reached at john.por...@mail.wvu.edu or at 304-720-9573. Twitter: @WVUgardenguru.