From Joel John, M.J. Design co-owner & president
It's Joel, talking about the weather again. It has been so dry! Some spots have received a good soaking in the last day or so, but many have not. It is not great for plants to go into winter in dry conditions. We typically can still count on some good soakings in October and November, BUT we better get them soon. Stressed plants going into winter are more likely to dieback or have winter damage. For example, most Roses, Boxwood, Beech trees, and Azaleas had a major issue with this last winter. I saw evidence of this on my own home’s landscape. Not complete death, but an ugly growing season for these plants as they spent the entire season trying to grow back to what they were before fall.
Turf has enjoyed a fairly wet growing season. It may start to go dormant early this fall due to the dryness, but it should be good until next spring. But fall seeding (typically the best time of year to do so) has been awful unless you have an irrigation system. The soil strata is just too dry!
I've seen lots of evidence lately of not water thoroughly enough. Multiple soakings a week is not as beneficial as one deep thorough watering. You want to make sure when watering that the water gets down 4-6’’ into the soil, at least. The best way to tell is to spot dig around your property. Roof lines, tree canopies, tree root systems, density of plantings, and mulch depth all have an impact as to how wet the soil is, and if it stays wet.
When watering with a rotary sprinkler, do so for at least 60 minutes if not 2 hours. It can be as simple as setting the hose at the base of the plant and letting it run for an hour or two on a slow trickle. This is especially good for trees and larger shrubs. Flood the root zone. And then do not water again until the soil starts to dry out again.
Mulch can also be a big help—but also a hinderance. A good layer of mulch maintains moisture once the ground is wet. But, when very dry, the mulch soaks up all the small waterings and rains, which does not allow the water to get to the soil and the root systems. Loosening and breaking up the mulch as it hardens with time allows air and moisture to more readily enter the soil strata.
If you have irrigation, do not fully count on it with these drought-like conditions. Irrigation is designed to try to get the most area watered, however, as plants build foliage, it will sometimes create canopy which does not water like you hope. If a plant has been newly planted this year, you should be maintaining around an inch of water a week. If the plant is looking stressed, we always recommend that we manually check newly planted material by hand. Simply dig down a little and feel if the soil is wet. Can you make a ball with it, or is it simply dry dirt? That will give you a clear indication if it is crying for water.
There is no major length of time to run a sprinkler. I get that question often. Run the sprinkler until the soil is wet and check weekly. Do not let the soil get crumbly, especially with newer plantings.