Right now it is so dry at my house that when I went fishing the other day I had to throw everything I caught back because all the fish were infested with ticks! Now that ‘s dry! Seriously though, it is dry at my house. In fact, according to the US Drought Monitor (http://www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html) it is EXCEPTIONALLY dry at my house. Exceptional is the highest drought rating assigned by the US Drought Monitor. If you look closely at the map below you will note that Washington County and half of Harris County are experiencing an exceptional drought. The last time it was this dry was the drought of 1917-1918. While this is extremely bad news for farmers and ranchers, it is pretty bad news for us gardens and yardners as well. Hello high water bills! If I were a betting man, I would be willing to bet that forced water reductions are on the way for many of us in Central Texas. Since it is so dry, I thought this would be a good time to review some watering best practices.
As a general rule, most vegetables and flowers (and your yard too) need about an inch of water per week. How do you know if you are putting out an inch of water? The best way is to measure. If using a sprinkler, put several cans out in various places under the sprinkler’s pattern. Let it run for 15 minutes and measure the water in the cans. Average those numbers. If those cans averaged ¼” of water in 15 minutes then you will need to run that sprinkler for one hour. When measuring flow for soaker hoses or drip lines it is better to use tuna cans. Also, if using soaker hoses do not use more than 100 foot runs. The average garden faucet can push water through 600’ of hose. However, at distances of greater than 100’ pressure drops drastically beyond that 100’ point.
When to Water
Most experts suggest watering in the early morning. Especially if using sprinklers. Winds are lower in the morning, humidity is high and temperatures are low. This is the ideal time to maximize water usage and minimize loss to evaporation. Also, many plants are prone to disease if their foliage stays wet. Watering in the morning will let the foliage dry up rapidly as the day warms up.
You know the yupneck loves his mulch. In addition to reducing evaporation and keeping the soil cool, mulch suppresses those pesky weeds that compete for your plants water. One thing to remember, mulch not only helps keep water in, it can keep it out too. A deep layer of mulch can trap alot water if it is applied from above.
Soaker Hoses and Drip Irrigation
I love soaker hoses. They are cheap, easy to use and they put the water where it is needed. If you use soaker hoses, you can water anytime you want since you are not going to be wetting the plants foliage. Place your soaker hoses under a good layer of mulch and you will be doubling the benefit. Drip irrigation works the same way. The only thing I don’t like about drip systems is the cost and maintenance. That is a personal thing though. I know lots of folks that swear by their drip systems.
Trees and shrubs
Watering trees is considerably different than watering veggies or flowers. While most garden plants need one inch of water per week, most trees need gallons of water. A mid-sized fig tree needs at least five gallons of water per week. Also, you shouldn’t water a mature tree at the trunk. Use a sprinkler or drip hoses to saturate the area under the trees drip line. Water to runoff and quit. This deep watering should get the tree through about 10 days. If the ground around a tree stays too wet for too long you can kill young roots.
Newly planted trees and shrubs should be watered differently than mature ones. While trying to get these plants established it is alright to water right at the trunk. Water to run off every five days. Here is a trick I learned from my wife’s very frugal and very Czech grandmother who believed in wasting nothing (especially not water). Take an empty 5 gallon bucket and drill a hole in the side right above the bottom of the bucket. After planting the tree, put this bucket beside the tree so that the hole is pointing toward the base of the tree. Now, simply fill the bucket once a week during the hottest part of the year. As the bucket drains it will give exactly 5 gallons of water to the new tree.