Wednesday, 05 June 2013 13:40

Tips on Watering, Use of Mulch and Planting Versus Transplanting in Your Garden

By Peter Bowden | Home & Garden

Up until now, I’ve been ruthlessly mowing my lawn very short. I could tell you that I’m doing this to promote side growth and thickening of the lawn, but that would only be partly true. Mowing the lawn very low does indeed promote a thicker lawn as long as the soil is moist and the weather cool.

I do have to admit that I’ve been mowing the lawn low to try and stretch the time between mowings a bit. I’m watching the weather for the onset of the dry summer conditions that will force me to start raising the lawnmower’s blade so the grass can grow tall enough to shade the soil below and protect the roots from overheating. 

While I haven’t had to do much watering of flowers and vegetables this spring, I’m sure the day will arrive soon that it will become a necessity as well. With that in mind, I’ll give you the lowdown on how to water correctly so when you finally need to, you’ll know how to do it right. 

We never want to use a lawn sprinkler in our flower and vegetable gardens. Spraying our garden plants with water washes away pollen (no pollen, no vegetables) and greatly decreases the time a flower lasts in our flowerbeds. Spraying also chills the leaves shocking the plant and creates the perfect conditions for diseases to take hold. How do we water the gardens without wetting the plants? 

Use a watering wand. 

A watering wand allows you to direct the water onto the soil at the base of each plant so the roots can be soaked without wetting the foliage. The wand gets the water where it’s most needed without wasting any. If you haven’t the time or patience for wand watering, you can install oozing soaker hoses under the mulch, so all you have to do is hook up your hose and walk away. If you are using several soaker hoses in different beds, you may want to invest in snap connectors and an inexpensive water timer/shut off so you can let it run while you leave for work. 

Naturally a four-inch layer of mulch in your flowerbeds will ensure that your precious water doesn’t evaporate away. Mulch keeps the soil cool and moist a lot longer and really cuts down on watering and weeding. 

One note of caution: don’t pile the mulch up around the stems of your garden plants, including shrubs and trees. The stems and bark must be exposed to air for moisture and nutrients to flow unimpeded from the roots to the leaves above. I know you‘re all seeing mulch piled up volcano-like around trees in the area but, trust me, those trees are suffering and will likely die in a few years. It seems cozy to nestle that mulch up around the stems of your plants, but believe me, your plants will thrive if you keep the mulch away from the stems.

Every year as summer begins, I notice that there’s a lot of concern among garden center customers about planting shrubs, trees, roses and perennials during summer. In talking to these folks, I gather that their concern is based on having read that “You should not transplant during summer. Spring and fall are the best time for transplanting to be done”. 

Literally speaking, this statement is true. 

However, there’s a major difference between planting and transplanting. Transplanting is the process of digging out and moving an established plant to a new location. If you attempt to transplant during this time of year, you run a very real risk of sending the plant into fatal shock. When you dig the plant out, you’ll inevitably destroy many of the small roots. Since the plant is in the full flush of growth, this shock is often fatal.

When you shop in your local nursery or garden center, you are buying plants that were dug and balled or potted much earlier when the plant was still dormant. What you are doing when you bring your new shrub or perennial home is planting, not transplanting. You didn’t dig it up, so you haven’t disrupted the root system or shocked the plant. It is the act of digging out that causes severe stress. Many folks put off their planting until fall because they’ve read or heard that they shouldn’t do it now. This thinking is flawed by a lack of understanding the difference between planting and transplanting. 

If you have planting to do, do it as soon as you can. Planting in July is better than August, August is better than September, and so on. Remember, the longer the plant has to establish itself before winter, the better the chances are that it will survive. Summer planting will mean extra attention to watering to be sure the plants don’t dry excessively during the (hopefully) hot days ahead. If you are planning to be away on vacation for more than a few days, have a friend or neighbor water for you while you’re gone. 

Thanks for the read.

Peter Bowden has been providing gardeners with tips and advice for over 35 years. With decades of garden center management experience and thousands of hours of conversations with customers, Peter is well equipped to answer any gardening question that comes his way. His knack for practical and concise explanations has served him well during his 20-year tenure as WRGB’s garden guy. Peter’s tips air each weekend morning on CBS 6 News.

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