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Portland Landscape Designer’s Advice on Watering

Portland Landscape Designer’s Advice on Watering

carol lindsay portland landscape designer with lupe

Portland Landscape Designer Carol Lindsay (with client’s puppy Lupe)

You know how Facebook gives you that reminder about something you were doing a year ago today…………Well! Let me tell you, a year ago today I was sick with worry about my clients’ gardens because of the horrible, everlasting,  record breaking,  summer of hell.  Do you remember?  It was unseasonably and unreasonably  hot early in our spring and it stayed that way all summer.   I grew up here and I was in shock and a kind of grief actually.  I missed our normal summer.

As a Portland landscape designer I’m always trying to teach  my clients about how to water.  Did you know you can train your plants roots to grow more deeply? This has many health benefits and one of them is that the plants will be less stressed in high heat periods, another is they won’t need as much water which is nice for your water bill and for the environment in general.

People who don’t know the tricks of proper watering really struggled with their plants and lawns and had many plant losses.  Most were busy watering every day and either rotting their plants or doing such a light watering that the only thing that grew well was their water bill.  A big shock for me was the number of clients whose lawns did not come back at all due to the extreme heat.  They let their lawns go dormant, something that thrifty Portlanders have been doing for decades.  The lawns did not come back with the fall rains.  This had never happened to anyone I knew before.  The spring of 2016 was very busy for Portland landscape design professionals.  People were replacing their dead lawns and remodeling their landscapes.  So now it is July of 2016 and it’s just starting to get hot.  Whether your landscape is mature or has recently been installed it’s not too late to learn how to water properly and protect your investment.

So it’s time to share my watering tips with you again.  SUMMER WATERING TIPS

Summer Watering Tips for Portland Area Landscapes

Water feature in Portland Area landscape designSummer Watering Tips for Portland Area Landscapes

First Rule…Do No Harm.  If you are watering every day, this is harmful and as far as you can get from the ideal watering practice for your plants’ health and for growing in your design.  Plus you will be accidentally training your plants to be shallow rooted and water hogs.  One is not good for the plants and the other not good for your wallet.  If this is how you have been watering for years and you want to change, let’s talk.

Watering  First Year Plants

I consider any plants that have not been through a summer to be a first year plant.   I typically have clients start watering first year plants every 2 weeks in April (depending on weather conditions in the Pacific Northwest).  This can continue into the mild temperatures of mid-May most years but by the end of May, the temps can go up dramatically.  New plantings and first year plantings should be getting watered thoroughly twice a week in late spring. When we start having 85 to 90 degree weather, first year plants should be watered thoroughly, 2 to 3 times a week maximum, not every day and not just a splash.   We want to manage the plants heat stress with other methods besides watering.

Plant delivery for portland area landscape design

New plants need more water than established plants, but don’t overwater.

Don’t wait until you see signs of stress to check the soil moisture with your hands – it can be hard to get moisture back into clay soils once they dry out.  Do you see leaves wilting, scorching, crumpling, or dropping even though the soil is moist?

Here are Tips to Prevent or Minimize Heat Stressed Plants

Protecting Portland Area Plants from Heat Stress

(1)  Sprinkle water on the leaves to cool them off in the evening when light is not on the leaves, or very early in the morning (before 8 am).  Never sprinkle water on leaves after 9 a.m. in sunny weather, this will cause scorched and damage leaves and flowers.

(2)  The Sheet Trick – Cover your plants’ leaves for up to 3 days.  Covering plants helps them conserve water loss and deal with the shock of temperature change.  When not exposed to the sun, the cells in the leaves will close.  When closed, the leaf cells do not release water.  Covering the leaves conserves the existing water in the roots and leaves.

Portland area landscape designer uses binder clips to secure covers over heat stressed plantsTo cover the plant take a lightweight fabric (a white or light colored sheet is ideal) and attach it to the plant during the most extreme heat.  I like to use black office clips on individual trees or shrubs.  Or use rocks to hold the fabric down if you are covering an entire bed.  Note:  This is also an excellent way to protect a plant from drought stress after transplanting.New plants

(3)  In late summer when heat spikes up to 100 degrees you could add one additional watering per week.  Check your soil a few inches down with your hand.  If it’s still moist, watering is not the solution and may be the problem.

Dead twiggy plant due to irrigation leak

Clogged irrigation equals plant loss – check emitters regularly.

Watering Established Plant Material

Plants 2 or 3 years old are established plants.  If you have heavy clay soil you may need to water twice a week even in early summer.  Apply the water slow and for a long period of time.  You do not want the clay to dry out.  Its very difficult to get it to accept water after that.   All plants will respond to sudden change in temperature, for instance mild early summer weather interrupted by 3 days of intense heat, you will see leaf droop or slight wilting regardless of whether the soil is moist or not.  As soon as the intense heat retreats, the plants leaves return to normal typically.  The only way you will know if they need additional watering over and above your typical practice is if you check the soil.  Remember, too much moisture and too much heat equals root rot.  Remember first rule, do no harm.

For more about protecting plants from heat see Hydrangea Love.