Drip Hose or Wait for the Rain... How Do I Keep my Plants Alive?
We are almost to the end of springtime in North Carolina and this morning might have been the last of the cool, early mornings we’ll enjoy for the next few months. Summer has arrived and it is hot! The question that we here at New Leaf get asked more often than any this time of year is: How often should I water? The answer to that question is, as it often is: That depends.
In spring and winter here in the Piedmont we generally get enough natural rainfall and the weather is cool enough (lower evaporation) that watering is not necessary. As summer approaches and rainfall becomes less reliable, we sometimes need to give, especially for newer plantings, a little help for our plants. The Triangle area is known for our clay soils. The extremely fine soil particles often have little-to-no granular organic material mixed in to give open spaces in the soil profile. This means water is very slow to migrate into and through the soil. Once this soil dries out, it is hard to get it wet again. One of the reasons drip irrigation works so very well in this part of the country is that the water literally drips out of the end of the emitter tubing, giving a slow, steady trickle right at the root area of the plant being watered. A hand-held hose almost always delivers too much water, and too quickly, to allow the water to infiltrate. Instead, a bit of the water sinks in and the rest runs off and is wasted. Water conservation is another very good reason to rely on drip to irrigate your plants.
In general, running a drip system for around an hour and a half two or three times a week is enough to keep a reasonable amount of water in the soil around your plants. But don’t forget the “it depends” part of the answer given above! A rainy day, something that gives say, an inch or so of rain, means you may be able to skip a day or two of watering. However (“it depends”) If your plantings are getting sun all day, they may still need help. If they are in the shade, maybe not. To make that decision, gently pull the mulch around the plant aside and push two fingers into the soil as far down as you can. When you pull them out, do they feel damp? In that case, you probably don’t need to water. Are they pretty dry? It’s probably time to turn on the drip system.