Rebecca Winn of Whimsical Gardens designed my backyard. She sent her clients these eye-opening tips, which I now share with you. Hint: Sprinkler systems ain’t doing the trick.
1. Water your big trees. We don’t normally need to water our big trees, because they get their water from deep sources and good soaking rains, but if they don’t get anything more than your sprinklers pittance, they aren’t getting enough. Water them deeply once a month at least. Deeply means at about an hour with a hose on very low. Use the system below to insure the water actually sinks in and doesn’t run off. Remember, things show up very slowly with big trees. If they are dying of thirst, by the time they begin to show signs of it, it could be too late.
2. Do not rely on your sprinkler system. Most sprinklers have a misty spray that loses as much as 80% (that’s right eighty percent) to evaporation and float in this weather. Even the systems that have the heavier flow output can still lose almost half the water to evaporation before it ever hits the ground. This is not only wasteful during a water shortage, but an expensive waste.
3. Supplement your sprinkler. I know this isn’t what most people want to do, but landscaping is expensive, and things will die without sufficient water. Relying completely on a sprinkler system forces the roots of plants to the surface because that is the level of the small amount of water they are receiving. This might get you through the summer, but with shallow root systems, you will then have to worry about roots being more susceptible to freezes and future droughts. Water deeply at least once every two weeks.
4. Consider changing your sprinkler settings. Because of the relentless, high, dry, heat, your plants are not getting the water you think they are getting if the settings are the same as years past. When we have rain, everything gets a periodic deep soak, but without that, plants and trees never get enough water to really reach their deep roots. In this weather, most sprinklers barely put out enough water for plants to survive, let alone thrive.
5. Check your sprinkler heads to be sure they are hitting everything. Walk through the garden periodically and see if anything looks dry. Sprinkler heads sometimes need adjustments, both directional and in elevation as plants grow. Also be sure no water is just spraying onto concrete and into gutters.
6. I’m sure most of you are doing this one already, but set your sprinkler to go off in the early morning (not late at night). Around 4-5 a.m. is good. The more it can cool off during the course of the night, the greater percentage of water will actually get to the plants and have a chance to absorb into the soil. Since it is sometimes still 100 degrees at 10p.m., you need to wait for it to cool off as much as possible.
7. Replenish your mulch if you haven’t already done it. This will help keep soil temperatures cooler and help the soil retain moisture.
8. The best watering wisdom is to water is deeply and infrequently. However, unless you have been doing that all along, now is not the time to water infrequently. But now IS the time to begin watering deeply. The best way to do that within the limitations of a sprinkler system is to follow these steps:
A. Run sprinkler for 10-15 mins for a full cycle if you have full sun, 5-10 mins if you have shade.
B. Then immediately set the system to go another round for 20-25 mins for sun, 10-12 mins for shade.
To be clear, you are running 2 consecutive full cycles of watering back to back. The first round softens the ground and allows some water to penetrate about an inch or so. If you try to just run the sprinkler longer once, it will just run off because the ground has not had time to absorb it and soften. The second round allows the water to go deeper as the moist soil acts as a conduit for the water to get deep into the ground. The goal is to train the roots to go deep to find water. Frequent watering with shorter durations train roots to stay shallow which causes all kinds of problems. Do this once every two weeks while we are having this weather. Leave the rest of your watering days the same.
This is not a good year to train your landscaping to be drought tolerant. Everything is already drought stressed enough. But in the fall, and next spring, and next summer, if it isn’t so bad, if you will water like this only twice a week, then you will be able to train your plants to deepen their roots and be much safer against all the slings and arrows that Texas weather might throw at them.
Mostly pay close attention to your garden right now. If everything looks fine, then great, you don’t need to modify, which is possible if you have a ton of shade. Just check, check, check, so you don’t have to replace a lot of plants later.
You want to be sure not to over compensate by over watering. You can’t compensate for heat with water, only drought. The plant roots still need air, so if your soil is soggy, you see signs of fungus, you may be watering too much. If things look abundantly, tropically lush, you probably don’t need to increase your watering, and may also be using more water than you need to.