If you've spent any time at all summer 2012 in mid-Missouri, you know: 1. We're in a drought. 2. Things are dying in record heat. 3. There's no end in sight.
In other words, it's time to water.
This applies to both gardeners who have put off watering, hoping for a summer deluge, and gardeners who have been using sprinklers.
I have to confess, I was a sprinkler. Not only could I see them out my windows and remember I had them running, but sprinklers attract wildlife, which I love to watch.
The morning after I recently inadvertently left a sprinkler on all night, I counted more than a dozen frogs hanging out in my two very wet little ponds. I usually have frogs, just not humongous, base-croaking Billy Joe Bob bullfrogs I suspect wearing name tags. Amazing how quickly word gets around!
The challenge with sprinklers is that over a certain temperature, water simply evaporates. The best watering is 3-10 inches underground, not on leaf surfaces, where moisture encourages diseases.
Although a lot of plants and trees are not producing much of anything and may be dropping leaves, this is how they survive challenging conditions.
By shutting down systems that require energy, they can concentrate on hanging on until it gets cooler.
Years ago, I used to transplant dogwood seedlings throughout my limestone hillside garden. When I didn't see them the following year, I thought they didn't make it. Now years later, I'm finding dogwoods popping up all over the place. One little dogwood – I named Theodore – remained 3 feet tall for a good 25 years; I was convinced I had the only bonsai dogwood in Phelps County.
Then two years ago, Theodore grew 2 feet, then another year another 3 feet. Today he's taller than I am and bloomed this spring for the first time. My guess is his roots finally made their way through limestone crevices and found enough moisture underground to keep going. And yes, I did dump several gallons of water on him in dry spells.
Now there are a lot of recommendations on how best to water. If you have a collection of old hoses with holes like I do, you're all set. I would even punch a few more holes in the hoses to make sure you have even water leakage when you leave the hose on the ground so water can soak in. When you see water running off, it's time to move the hose.
For those of you who want to spend money, there are a variety of different color, and different-priced soaker hoses that do the same thing.
If you only have a good working hose with a jet function on the nozzle, that works well to create a hole in the ground where you can then lay the hose for 5-10 minutes per tree or bush.
If all you have is a hose, then leave it running in a hole you make with a trowel within 3 feet of the plant. When water starts to seep around the hole, move the hose. The idea is to give it a long, cool drink.
You can move from plant to plant but remember all soil is parched. Once you water one spot, surrounding soil will absorb water so your best bet is to water an area instead of a plant.
Now I don't have grass to water but if you do, if you haven't watered your grass in a month you need to now or it won't make it. Grass roots are shallow and they won't be able to reach into the sub-surface for moisture.
From a pocket book perspective, it will cost less to water now than to have to re-seed and regrow grass later.
If your grass is gone, this is a good time to plan a native wildflower garden you can plant this fall. Local plants take less water, have a better chance of making it through weather vagaries and you will be creating habitat for a variety of wildlife including bees. And no weekly cutting!
If all you have are plants in pots, use plastic pint milk jugs or plastic salsa bottles full of water with holes in the bottom to slowly give your plants moisture. I add general plant food in half the recommended dosage so they get nutrients and can keep growing in these record temperatures.
Charlotte Ekker Wiggins shares her gardening, and beekeeping adventures at http://www.bluebirdgardens.com/gardening_to_distraction. Copyright 2012 used with permission by The Rolla Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at firstname.lastname@example.org.