It has rained: now is the time to water plants!
– auf Deutsch lesen – You may wonder why my next gardening thoughts arrives so unexpectedly in the middle of the week. This morning I heard the gentle patter of raindrops on leaves. A welcome sound after the many weeks of little or no rain. On my travels this summer I have witnessed many trees desperate for water. The hot dry summers of 2018 and 2019 were hard, 2020 is no better.
I must confess being happy that the weather was so beautiful during the Corona lock-down period. Although the lack of spring rain was a worry, very selfishly I was quite pleased that the weather was so nice. The sunshine and mild temperatures were good for the soul in difficult times.
But the dry start to the season has taken its toll. Dying woodlands tarn the landscape. Trees are weakened by drought, becoming more susceptible to pests and diseases. Beeches struggle for survival because of the lack of water, oak foliage is covered in a white powdery film of mildew, restricting the trees vital photosynthesis mechanism.
In gardens it is clear to see which plants cope better, which really struggle. Lawns are brown but will recover quickly. Herbaceous borders are letting their ears hang, Hydrangeas shrivel and much-loved Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariesii’ and Cornus kousa var. chinensis are having a very tough time.
Water now, water thoroughly
Following the few hours of rain we had in Berlin this morning, several people already said to me: “Oh good, I won’t have to water my garden today.” Wrong! This is the perfect time to get the hosepipe out and give your plants a good soak. The little rain we had does nothing, other than settle the dust, and refresh the atmosphere. With a bit of luck it will have slightly softened the soil surface so that water will be absorbed more readily. My neighbours used to think I was rather eccentric, going out with a hosepipe during, or just after the rain, but plants take up water so much better when the atmosphere is cool and moist. This watering session will bring so much more than anything else you will have done in the past two weeks.
How much water to give your trees and shrubs?
Twice or three times a week, I watch my neighbour distribute one watering can of water between two shrubs. Much of this modest quantity will be lost through evaporation, very little will reach anywhere near the roots of the plant. Instead of giving a plant 2-3 Litres every few days, it will benefit much more from 10 litres once a week.
Much depends on size of plant, degree of thirst and your water pressure, but think how long it takes to fill up a bucket of water. As many modest garden trees and shrubs will need at least two buckets of water, stand by the plant and count to ten, then move onto the next one. After four or five plants, go back to the first one and start all over again. Visit each plant twice, or even three times like this. Important is to stop when you notice the water is running of the soil surface, and wait for it to drain away before continuing.
Don’t forget to spread the water over a large area: long-established plants have their roots at the canopy edge or even beyond, not at the base of the trunk!
Make use of the time that you stand attached to the hosepipe, to look more critically at your beds and borders. Which plants need replacing, where do you need something new. Spend the coming weeks researching appropriate plants. Visit gardens and nurseries, look out plants that would fit and you like, and then plant them this autumn. I will come back to autumn planting in a later blog, but the hot, dry summers of recent years have shown how important it is to plant in the autumn months. It is particularly important for trees and shrubs to have a long establishment period before the next stressful hot dry season starts. Our long, mild autumns offer cooler nights, combined with still sufficient warmth and daylight that the trees have time to “arrive and install themselves” and can still develop new roots before the winter arrives. When spring comes, they can carry on their establishment, so that by the time the heat comes, they will be better equipped to withstand tough times.
So now you now the urgency of this article. Happy watering!