Summer Plant Care: Watering Wisely

Work with Mother Nature and make smart watering decisions for your garden during the final weeks of summer.

Early summer months brought a cool, wet weather pattern, but the dry, hot days of summer have arrived. Most trees, shrubs, perennials and vegetables need 1 inch of water every week. Follow these tips to become a confident gardener as you decide how much and when to water: 

Strive to water deeply, not daily. One inch each week is just right for trees, perennials, shrubs and vegetable gardens. Ask yourself, has it rained in the last week? If so, how much?  Get in sync with the weather by investing in a rain gauge. Check it regularly. Less than an inch? You’ll need to make that difference up by adding additional water to the garden. By working with Mother Nature, you can water efficiently and only when the garden needs it. If you can’t find a rain gauge, you can always use a tuna can to measure inches of rain.

Monitor soil moisture by digging down several inches underneath the surface with a hand trowel. Is the soil wet and sticky or dry and crumbly? Healthy plants root deeply into the soil with fewer deep waterings. Consistent moisture is better than allowing plants to become stressed because of a lack of water followed by a revival deluge. Invest in a good pair of garden gloves and a soil knife.

Time of day matters for disease prevention. It’s best to water early in the day, allowing plants to dry off before nightfall. Soaking the garden thoroughly to a depth of 6 inches ensures that water is getting down to the root zone where plants need it. Frequent sprinkling encourages stunted, shallow rooting plants that are less able to stay upright in windy, stormy conditions. 

Strive to keep beds weed-free to cut out competition for water. Use mulch around plants and between vegetables to help keep soil cool, to hold in moisture and to discourage weeds. 


Editor’s note: Lisa Hilgenberg is a horticulturist with the Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG). The CBG is a great place not just to visit, but to learn about plant care. Take advantage of their educational opportunities, along with their entertainment programming all summer long.

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