It feels like we haven’t had any significant amount of rain for over a month. The ground is hard, the grass is crackly, and all living things droop their heads in this heat. I could run up my water bill to shocking figures, or I could work with what I’ve saved in my rain barrel.
In times like these, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the long term and give rationed water to the most important plants. Annual flowers and vegetables will be history by winter, no matter what, while expensive and slow-growing items like Japanese maples should be once-in-a-lifetime purchases.
It’s tempting to try to rescue the neediest; yellow-leaved plants with hanging heads are heart-wrenching, but plants already stunted by drought are the least likely to thrive later, even if they do survive. It’s better to water things that are OK but just a little peaked. And don’t forget that spring-flowering shrubs like lilacs start building next year’s blossoms as soon as they finish this year’s show. They need water to do it, so don’t let appearances deceive you into shortchanging them.
If possible, water whole areas rather than single plants. Dry soil wicks moisture away, so spots watered in isolation are surrounded by the enemy. Select the few healthiest tomatoes and peppers, give those all the water they need, and let the other vegetables go. Your crop will be smaller but better tasting (it takes a lot of water to make good fruit). If you’re determined to save annual flowers, shear them back. If rain comes, they will rapidly put on new growth and a burst of bloom.
And, remember, sprinklers are not the best way to water your plants. Water that lands on leaves is not absorbed. It evaporates before it reaches the ground, as does some of the water thrown into the air by a sprinkler. Watering the soil at the base of the plants really is more efficient. Even if there are no summer droughts to cause watering restrictions, it makes sense to conserve by watering effectively.
It is best not to water in the evening because leaves stay damp much longer, and damp leaves are a terrific breeding ground for many fungus diseases. The smartest gardeners water at dawn or in the early morning. With the whole day ahead, any water that does land on leaves has a chance to evaporate long before sunset.
Finally, let’s do away with the myth that water drops on foliage will burn the leaves in bright sunshine. Water droplets do magnify a bit, but not enough to even warm the leaves, let alone burn them.