Learn how to water plants during ... Drought conditions

By David Campana

Ohio certified volunteer naturalist


The spotty rainfall and high temperatures earlier this summer stressed our vegetable gardens and landscapes.

There is a chance for another dry period during the fall season.

Plan now to provide needed moisture to certain plants.

Signs that plants are not getting enough moisture include: Leaves curling, yellowing or undersized; limited shoot growth; and blossom and fruit drop.

Stressed plants are susceptible to: Spider mite infestations; blossom end rot; and predation from hungry wildlife and insects.

Long-term problems include susceptibility to disease, root death, diminished winter hardiness and terminal branch dieback.

Watering can be expensive and labor intensive, so planning will help make things easier.

The first step is to prioritize plants by concentrating on the most valuable in terms of desirability and replacement cost.

The highest priority should be given to young trees and shrubs. Next in the pecking order are perennials, fruit trees and vegetables. Of lower priority are annual flowers, herbs and ornamental grasses.

Allow turf grass to grow to 3-4 inches. Replace lost plants with drought-resistant varieties.

The source of water is important. Municipalities regularly test and purify water supplies, and conscientious homeowners using well water should do the same.

Water from ponds should also be tested regularly.

Rain barrel water should only be used to hydrate annual flowers and perennials, not edibles, as droppings from wildlife onto roofs could contain Ecoli pathogens, and roofing materials could bear heavy metal containments.

The general rule of 1-2 inches of water per week depends upon plant type and stage of growth. Large plants producing fruit may require 2-3 times the hydration needed by ornamental perennials.

Two to three inches of organic mulch allows moisture to reach the roots and limits evaporation.

Avoid using fertilizers this late in the season. They can stress plants by encouraging new growth, and that new growth may not harden off before colder temperatures arrive.

Avoid compacting soil with foot traffic, and keep turf grass at least two feet away from landscape plants as it competes for moisture.

Avoid diseases like powdery mildew by watering in the morning.

Water wands are efficient and economical but labor intensive. Drip irrigation systems are less sweat but not without drawbacks. Exposed hoses can be easily damaged, are unsightly and the black plastic can super heat water, damaging roots. Hoses under mulch can hide breakage and clogs.

More advanced, albeit expensive, systems have the conveniences of timers, differing nozzles depending on plant type, and can tell when it is raining or when water is pooling.

During the hot, dry dog days of summer, do unto your plants as you would yourself. Keep both sufficiently hydrated.

To learn more about water requirements for plants, go to http://go.osu.edu/wateringdry.

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