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thirsty plants

Watering Plants in the Summer

    Hot sunny weather means lots of watering for gardeners; it becomes the number one priority. That and a cool drink. Next time you get thirsty and relieve yourself by drinking, recall that if you had no water or other fluids, you'd perish. Whether you'd last merely a day or 10 days, would depend on the temperature and how active you were. We must drink to live, and so must plants. We can't just say "hey, quit complaining --you have roots, so use them!"
    Gardeners strive to give their plants just the right amount of water. It's not simple, since every plant differs. The extremes are, say, water lilies and cactus. So we must learn which plants are most sensitive, and give them extra attention. A few common thirsty garden flowers are fuchsias, astilbes and impatiens.
    Believe it or not, too much watering is a more common problem. It not only wastes a vital resource, but can promote fungal diseases, explosive weed growth, and in extreme cases can drown plants, including trees. It is not rare that a novice thinks a plant is suffering, so overzealously waters it to death.
    If your garden soil is heavy and holds water well, you need to water less often than if it is sandy and quickly drains. If you have trees, their cooling shade may indeed reduce surface evaporation, but their roots still soak up tons of soil moisture, so be aware of them. Tree roots can even invade large pots and planters kept outdoors year-round. Brand new plants, whether seedlings or potted acquisitions from a nursery, need frequent watering until they get established. If you have various potted plants, those in hotter, sunnier sites need more water than those in shade. This, like most of watering, is common sense.
    I prefer to water first thing in the morning. Then the sun comes out, dries off the excess moisture, and warms the soil, so by nightfall, when slugs patrol, the garden is less hospitable to them. If watering is done at 3 or 4:00 in the afternoon, the blazing sun's heat whisks away much water almost instantly, so the main excuse to water then is to cool oneself --a most refreshing indulgence.
    There is a commendable, growing movement to design and plant more water-frugal gardens. Because no matter how much rain falls in winter, our summers are dry. And we can have equal beauty whether plants need little water or much. If you must grow thirsty plants, the rationale goes, do so --but put them near each other, mulch them properly, and give them a separate watering regimen. Don't plant a cactus or ice plant right next to a thirsty plant such as a birch tree.
    In the future we will probably all use gray water for our gardens, and precision sensors controlling automated irrigation systems will be the rule. Meanwhile, it is laissez faire, we can do anything we want by way of watering, unless water rationing is required.

(originally published in The Seattle Weekly, August 1997)

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Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

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