Despite NW rain, we still need to water

By Steve Smith

There is a certain fact that Northwest gardeners are going to have to start embracing: our summers are getting longer and drier and our plants are only going to get more and more moisture stressed.

It is up to us to help our landscapes get through the summer months, so here are the basics of proper watering. It could mean the difference between life and death for your plants. Most gardeners water too often and not deep enough. Stick your finger into the soil 2 inches down and see if there is moisture. If there is then don’t water yet; wait a few days. Most of us are trying to garden on 2 to 4 inches of topsoil. You can thank your city/county building departments for leaving you in this untenable situation. If they would only just require the builder to leave us with 12 to 18 inches of wonderful topsoil, they would solve their stormwater runoff problems and make every gardener happy. Appropriate sprinklers are as follows:

1. Soaker hoses typically ooze or sweat. These are perfect for shrub borders and permanent plantings. Turn them on when you go to work and turn them off that evening or even a couple days later. 2. Oscillating or impact sprinklers. You can pay from $15 to $80 for an oscillating sprinkler. They are perfect for square or rectangular spaces and apply water fairly uniformly. Impact sprinklers, like the good old Rainbird styles, are more adjustable for odd configurations. Both types work well for large areas and can usually run for 20 to 40 minutes before you have to move them.

3. For spot watering, my all-time favorite is a Gilmour Fan Sprinkler. For hand watering pots, it is hard to beat all the sprinklers that Dramm manufactures. With their wands and hand-held nozzles you can do anything from lightly misting the foliage of a delicate fern to blasting off the bug remains on the windshield of your car. With all the designer colors they come in it can actually be fun to do these chores.

4. Automatic sprinkler systems are nice, and I made a living installing them in California, but you still have to monitor things to make sure water is being applied uniformly. And please don’t run them every day.

Adding compost – this is an essential step in retaining moisture in soil. Applying a 1 to 2 inch layer of mulch to the soil, under your shrubs and trees and around the perennials, will reduce the frequency with which you need to water by as much as 50%. That is a very good investment.

Established shrubs and trees need only watering once or twice a month, perennials, annuals and lawns only one to three times a week and containers only every day or every other day depending on how root bound they are. Water deeply and infrequently using an appropriate sprinkler and always count your blessings that we live in a civilized society where we have the option to water at all.

Also, Sunnyside will be hosting two free classes – ‘Herb-o-rama’ June 29 at 10 a.m. and ‘Carnivorous Plants & Bog Gardening 101’ June 30 at 11 a.m.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at

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