Deb Babcock: It’s not how much you water … | SteamboatToday.com

Deb Babcock: It’s not how much you water …

Deb Babcock

Water your plants and lawn based on need, not a calendar or timer. Different plants and soils require varying amounts of water, and resisting the temptation to over-water can help your plants and lawn produce strong, deep root systems.

— Steamboat has experienced an unusual rain pattern this summer, with town getting some deluges, higher elevations receiving hail, and areas north and west of town getting a small fraction of the moisture that other areas enjoy.

As a result, gardeners cannot use a set formula for the most effective watering schedule. Watering should not be scheduled by the clock but instead by whether the plants need it.

Your lawn and garden will do best when you let your plants tell you when it’s time to water. When greens start to turn yellow or gray or when leaves begin to wilt at their tips, it’s time to water. Don’t worry; they’ll perk right back up, and the little bit of stress they experience will cause them to produce a deeper, stronger root system.

You need to know your plants, and group them accordingly. Some plants, such as penstemon, sedums and yarrow are harmed by too much water. They’ll grow spindly and may even die. Other plants such as lilies, irises, monarda and primroses require moist soil.

Therefore, plants needing moist soil should be grouped together so your watering reaches them efficiently, while those needing little or no watering should be in a different part of the garden that can avoid the sprinkler system or watering hose.

When you water, water deeply. This means water until the soil is moist to a depth of at least 6 inches. (Measure by digging with a small trowel or using your fingers.) If your soil has a heavy clay content, you may need to split your watering time by giving some water in the morning and then waiting until evening or the next morning to water again so the moisture has time to soak into the clay.

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For a bluegrass lawn, the soil should be moist to around 2 inches; for fescue, an inch.

Then let the plants live off this water until they begin to show signs of needing water again. This deep and less frequent watering trains your plants to develop deep roots. The water that penetrates your soil deeply tends to remain there, safe from sun and wind evaporation. The plants become hardy, able to withstand our high-altitude sun, wind, lack of humidity and temperature extremes. Over-watered lawns and plants are susceptible to a variety of diseases and tend to grow weak, shallow root systems.

You’ll find that your newest transplants and annuals will ask for more water in the heat of summer than established plants. Plants in containers and those in sandy soil will also require more frequent watering than those in clay soil in the garden. Some vegetables, such as lettuce, taste best when the soil around their roots is kept evenly moist. But, let your plants tell you when to water – not the calendar or a clock-timer.

Some tips for getting the most water to your plants include watering at a rate that allows water to soak in. If poured on too quickly, water just runs off. Keep weeds at bay since they steal water from your plants and grass. Plants that are heavily mulched will not need as much water. Water in early morning or late evening to lessen evaporation.

Whether your water comes from a well, a spring or the municipal water supply here in Steamboat, it’s a precious commodity that needs to be conserved. Water wisely and you’ll develop a hardy garden that can withstand most anything our high mountain climate can throw at it.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service Office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or e-mail gardeners@co.routt.co.us.