The following column was submitted to the Tri-City News from Brian Minter — master gardener, best-selling author, Order of Canada recipient and co-owner of Minter Country Garden Store.
It’s been a challenging year for plants in our gardens and landscapes, and there are many situations needing immediate attention.
We’re discovering, as never before, the true importance of water in our gardens.
What is also an issue is the lack of proper soil preparation.
Water stress shows up far more quickly in soils that were never properly prepared to retain moisture, and as a result, many plants are having great difficulty surviving.
At this critical stage, with continuing record-breaking drought since July, how do we deal with this situation?
Wisdom, observation and prioritizing where water is needed most are the keys.
We also have to respect water restrictions as regulated in every community.
Trees that are under stress must get attention first.
They are huge environmental allies that not only cool us but also sequester carbon, produce oxygen and collect pollution — and that’s just for starters.
When watering is allowed, we must get soaker hoses around the drip lines and water as often and as deeply as we can.
This is especially true of shallow rooted hedging plants, like cedars. Once you have watered, dig down to see how far it has penetrated the soil. Wetting the top few inches is not adequate as you must get a good level of moisture down to the roots – it’s a matter of life and death. Even when using drip systems, in this continuing heat we need to check for adequate moisture levels.
Plants of any type in containers are particularly vulnerable. With our continuous watering, we are leaching out most nutrients and creating starved plants. Slow-release fertilizers, like Osmocote 14-14-14, will help a great deal, as will organic fish fertilizer, either 5-1-1 or 0-10-10. The food these fertilizers supply is critical to getting all your plants back into a vegetative cycle and showing signs of new life. This is particularly important for our fall and winter containers.
Mophead and lacecap hydrangeas are far more water sensitive than most plants and need enough water to finish developing new buds for next year’s blooms. Rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias are all shallow rooted, and they too need moisture to prevent extreme stress. Mulching them with 2 to 3 inches of fir or hemlock bark mulch will help them retain moisture longer.
Areas up against your home, particularly on the south and east side where you get reflected heat, will need more moisture checks than those plants out in the open or in shaded locations. Watch for wilting or flagging foliage as the first sign of moisture stress and prioritize those plants.
Our lawns, too, have become far too dry for too long. If they can get even an inch of water per week that may save many grasses.
The idea is to water thoroughly and then let the plants dry out slightly between waterings. Remember: over-watering can be as bad as under-watering because roots begin to rot, from which there is no recovery. Water wisely.
With these hot and dry conditions, it’s very important to take the time and make the effort to look after all the plants in your garden and landscape as many have never been in such a water-stressed situation as we are experiencing now. Their survival is up to you.