This summer was a scorcher, and who knows what next year will bring. By proactively planning now for efficient watering this summer, you can help protect your landscape plants from stressful summer conditions. Here are some easy tips to consider.
Mulch Mulches conserve soil moisture by reducing evaporation, and mulch keeps soil temperatures cooler in the summer. Proper mulching can reduce the need for watering, too. Consider organic-based mulches, such as shredded hardwood, pine bark nuggets, cypress, etc. Avoid using rock mulches and mulches made from recycled plastic which can actually absorb and reflect heat, drying out the soil and heating your plants. Remember that with mulch, less is more! A layer 2-3 inches thick is adequate in most landscape beds. Avoid direct contact with plant stems, so thin towards the plant. Also avoid the popular "mulch volcanoes" around trees that you may see out and about in commercial landscaping. A great resource on all things mulch is available from North Carolina State University.
Effective watering In order to get the most out of your water, use efficient watering strategies. For lawns, water deeply and infrequently instead of every day for short periods of time. Deep and infrequent watering promotes deep roots, which can better withstand the heat and drought of summer than roots growing close to the surface.
Consider using drip irrigation or soaker hoses in landscape beds and veggie gardens. These watering systems direct water to where it is needed most - at the roots - and by being placed under mulch, less water is lost to evaporation. Use in conjuction with a timer to maximize your water efficiency.
Reduce competition between turfgrass and tree roots Trees have very fine-textured, hair-like "feeder" roots that can extend out from the base quite a distance - up to 2-3 times its height. These fine feeder roots are extremely important to the tree - these are the roots used to take up moisture and nutrients to help the tree grow and thrive. When we grow grass in the same area as these feeder roots, we set up a competition for resources. It's best to mulch under trees at least out to the drip line, using the same guidelines for type and amount as listed above.
Improve your soil Adding organic matter to soils goes a long way in improving its ability to use water. In heavy clay soils, organic matter improves soil structure, allowing for better root development and drainage. In sandy soils, organic matter helps the soil retain water, making it available to plants. The best amendment is compost - either store bought or homemade compost.
Follow the tips above and your plants will be happier next summer!