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Felder’s Smart Watering

Felder Rushing

Donuts on Cake

Watering woes are upon us, as spring rains trickle to a close and the summer furnace is headed towards full blast. I may sound like a skipping record, but it’s crucial that we protect our plant investments.

Not that I take my own advice; like my neighbors who are not hard-core gardeners, I don’t water at all, partly because I live overseas all summer, don’t have automatic sprinklers, and my busy, grown daughter will only swing by once a month or so to check on a few containers.

With those as givens, over the years I have learned to not plant tomatoes and impatiens and others that can’t make it during normal summers without regular care. Instead, I plan ahead to enjoy fall, winter, and spring gardening, and let the summer stuff eke by as best it can on its own.

Which leads to my main approach, of choosing mostly well adapted natives and the kinds of plants I see in low-input gardens. What can’t normally survive hot, humid summers and dry falls won’t last for long in my garden. I email my list of those that will, if you go to and scroll down to “Contact Felder.”

That said, I was still shocked to have several mature, normally unkillable plants “brown out” due entirely to my own neglect during last summer’s brutal weather. Yeah, brown is a great color, but not for a magnolia!

Enough of that. What about taking care of what you already have, which you know will need occasional help? Here are some easy tips from a gardener who was raised by older gardeners who relied on rain barrels and dipper gourds.

First, make sure your plants have plenty of deep roots to begin with, in big pots or wide holes in the ground for extra water holding capacity. Second, cover the soil, even in containers, with mulch to reduce evaporation from the sun and wind, keep soil cooler in summer heat, and conserve moisture. Those tips are often good enough just on their own.

Only a few plants can tolerate heat radiating from walls and paved areas; don’t make them all suffer. Cluster together a few feet away from those spots. If the plants are rootbound, or are older and in soil that has degraded, they won’t have as much water to pull from. Divide or replant into larger pots and fresh soil with more moisture capacity. If a plant still wilts too often, consider pruning all or part of it to take immediate stress off roots and stimulate strong new growth better balanced with the roots.

Top tip: Always water twice, a few minutes apart. A lot of water will run right through and out of drainage holes, but some of it “sets up” the soil to absorb more water the second time, which really soaks in deep. Doing this simple trick, you may go twice as long between waterings.

By the way, this applies to lawns as well. Even a short rain or watering usually does little on its own; following it with a second watering, even right after a rain, can help soil absorb a lot more. Don’t water a little at a time - really soak it, then let it get dry before repeating. Anyone watering the lawn more than once a week is simply wasting water or causing roots to remain shallow. Turf Management 101.

Finally, hold back on how much summer fertilizer you use at a time; half strength is plenty without pushing too much thirsty new growth.

Hot. Dry. Even the toughest plants need smart watering. ‘Nuff said.

Donuts on Cake
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