Impatiens for water

Posted on August 6th, 2009 – 10:38 AM
By Connie Nelson

I’ve got a big ol’ pot of impatiens by the front door. When they’re dry, they communicate very clearly: They wilt. I water.  

I was riding my bike the other day, when I noticed a whole bunch of dried leaves in the gutter. It took me a minute to realize that IT’S NOT FALL YET. It’s too early to have dried leaves in the gutter. They’re supposed to be green and on the trees. The trees are telling us something we may have overlooked: it’s really dry.

In the metro area, so far we’ve had the 6th driest summer and the 15th coolest summer since 1871. The lower temps were a good thing. They’ve kept the soil from heating up and the plants from drying out so quickly. But they may have masked the problem a bit, especially for trees.  When it’s cool, I don’t think about watering as much as I do when it’s hot. And, even when it’s hot,  I hardly ever think about watering my trees. Maybe that’s because my trees aren’t as demonstrative as my impatiens. Many trees don’t even show signs of drought stress until they’re in a bad way.  Losing leaves in early August means that at least some trees are in a bad way. 

So (you know what I’m going to say) do water your trees, even mature ones. Unless we get some rain, set a sprinkler under the drip line and run it for about a half hour a week. Or snake a soaker hose under your tree. Or water with a regular hose. Just water. At least every once in a while.

 I’m not a natural born waterer. I have to be reminded. I’m glad my impatiens live up to their name, get tired of waiting for me and just demand water. Wish my other plants were as pushy.

How do you water? Do you have a watering schedule? Or do you wait to water until you think your plants need it? How do your plants tell you they’re thirsty? 

21 Responses to "Impatiens for water"

Kathy says:

August 6th, 2009 at 11:19 am

odd days – Use watering cans/rain barrel to water the newest & neediest. That can use up to 1/2 of my barrel (about 9 cans), so can’t do too many.
even days – Hose water (no drip, no sprinkler) all shrubs (I have 50+ baby shrubs this year) and gardens (butterbly, hosta, herb, tomatoes, perennial), about 20 seconds per shrub, 1 minute per garden. Sometimes I use dish water for the container plants, or throw it to the sturdier shrubs nearest the deck. The trees that have perennials around the base get watered, the others don’t. Never water the grass.

CJ says:

August 6th, 2009 at 11:23 am

I’ve got a mature hackberry tree that is discoloring and losing some leaves on the outer branches. I know this is normal, as it is compensating for the drought; but it has definitely received more attention as far as my watering habits

swschrad says:

August 6th, 2009 at 11:26 am

we added two more rain barrels (alas, merely garbage cans) and we have cut our watering down to a couple of consecutive watering-permitted days per month. we lost our grass four years ago when we bought our house, and thus we do water when it gets brownish and stressed. when we do, we put down at least a couple inches. but we also cut with the mmower cranked up as high as it can possibly go, so the grass gets plenty of shade at the soil, and can drain every bit of dew down to the roots.

Geoff says:

August 6th, 2009 at 11:26 am

I drink until the plants no longer look thirsty. I’m always happy to share my beer with them if they ask though.

Connie Nelson says:

August 6th, 2009 at 11:30 am

Hooray for all the rain barrels, out there. I have them at the cabin, but am still working on getting some at home.

Eric says:

August 6th, 2009 at 11:59 am

good one Geoff- I make sure I water my garden.. didn’t get rain barrels this year, its on my to do list for next spring.. I’ve been watering the lawn occassionally… not too much just enough for it not to be brown

AboundingJoy says:

August 6th, 2009 at 12:38 pm

I have no idea what I’m doing and my poor plants are paying the price. Rain barrells? Seriously? I wish I had Aqua Balls for all of the plants and shrubs in my yard.

susan says:

August 6th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Yup, rain barrles are great…but we’ve had to refill them with the hose a few times. Do this to let the chlorine evaporate out, Cl isn’t helpful to the beneficial microrganisms in healthy soil. And wow, are plants thirsty this year! We’re watering veggie gardens deeply twice a week–if we wait a whole week the plants wilt badly.
Amen on not watering the lawn–we don’t waste either water or gas on it that way!

Connie Nelson says:

August 6th, 2009 at 1:45 pm

I’m with you about watering the lawn. I don’t do it much, but I do it enough to keep the grass from dying. Back in 87, we learned — the hard way — that the newer grass seed mixes don’t have the drought-tolerance of the old ones. That means you’ve got to water enough to keep the roots alive. (The grass will probably brown out a bit on the tips but should still have some green color near the base of the plants.)

Jenny says:

August 6th, 2009 at 2:35 pm

I *heart* buckets.

I’ve adopted a new method to the watering madness this year… the sprinkler stays in the veggie garden, and when I turn it on, I turn the other spigot on to low flow and fill up a watering can and my newest (oldest) watering tool – a bucket! I have several large potted containers the bucket works for… I get impatient with the watering can. By the time my bucket is empty, the watering can is full… dump, repeat, dump, repeat… then after the veggie garden is soaked I am done for the day.

Jenny says:

August 6th, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Oh, and as far as the lawn goes, the only part that gets watered is the part that is next to the vegetable perennial beds that I water with a sprinkler when they get dry. Sorry grass, I don’t *heart* you as much as flowers and veggies!

Connie Nelson says:

August 6th, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Jenny, love the bucket idea, but I’ve got a question for you: Do you dump the bucket of water on your plants or kind of dribble it on? I’d be worried about washing the soil away from the roots if I did a dump . . .

Robert says:

August 6th, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Doesn’t help either that all the Elm trees are dying (Dutch Elm diesese) and the Ash will soon follow thanks to the Emerald Ash Borer. I can’t believe the extent of the Dutch Elm disese this year, it’s sad.

HikingStick says:

August 6th, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Many already use mulch to trap moisture in the soil around plants and trees. If you really want to get the water deeper, however, you can drop a watering pipe into the ground. It’s really simple. Take a length of PVC (or other) pipe, bore numerous holed in the bottom third of the pipe, then bury the pipe (hole-end down) as close to the root ball as you can, leaving about 1/3 exposed. Of course, this is much easier with shrubs and young trees than it is with mature one, and best if placed while planting. Then, when watering, place the end of your hose in the pipe, and let it run. The water will get below the sod and/or mulch, and much more will be available for your plants. Of course, if you have very sandy soil below your first few inches of topsoil, this would not be the best method to use. When done watering, cap the pipe with a pipe cap (available at most hardware stores) to keep moisture in and things out.

HikingStick says:

August 6th, 2009 at 3:45 pm

I’ve been toying with the idea of buildin a miniature water tower in our yard near our garden. It would stand about 8′ high with an artfully hidden half-barrel at the top. It would need a cover that could be left open for the rains, but then closed during the dry spells. I’d want to run a drip line from it, so that I can utilize the rain water we do get from time to time. It’s also something I could fill with the hose before heading out of town, so it could drip through its contents while away. If designed right, it would look nice in the yard–almost like an old-time watering station. Has anyone done anything like this before?

Connie Nelson says:

August 6th, 2009 at 4:00 pm

HikingStick,
I know lots of people who’ve set up driplines on timers, but no one who’s done a dripline off a water barrel/water tower. It sounds pretty incredible. Have you though of how you would control the flow of water when you’re not there?

bsimon says:

August 6th, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Somewhat akin to Hiking Stick’s first idea, I made a couple tree-watering spikes out of copper tubing. They’re each about 2 ft long, in a T shape, with half a dozen holse drilled near the bottom. I soldered a little restricter made from copper into the top of each pipe before putting it into the T. The bottom end is pinched shut & soldered. I put a male & female hose end on the short arms of each T so I can run them in series, which it turns out doesn’t seem to work as well as I’d hoped – the first one gets more water than subsequent ones, which I thought my restricters would have helped. Oh well, they work well enough, if not perfectly.

steeners says:

August 6th, 2009 at 5:46 pm

This isn’t a watering comment – such seeking advice. I have teeny-tiny white little fly-like critters destroying my gardens one leaf at a time. First it was the dianthus, then the rudbekia, then on to the beans and now the cucumbers. I tried an insecticidal soap but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Does anyone have advice for me? Thanks!

Peter Hoh says:

August 6th, 2009 at 11:31 pm

I guess we should plant impatiens under our trees to remind us to water.

Stressed maples (root girdling) on my block are starting to turn color.

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August 11th, 2009 at 5:04 am

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laura says:

August 13th, 2009 at 3:00 pm

i have soaker hoses buried in my garden. water isnt wasted and doesnt evaporate that way like with regular sprinklers, and the leaves of the plants stay dry so theres less health issues for the plants. i also have quick-connect fittings on my hoses so i can turn on the water and switch from one soaker hose to another, or to a sprayer to fill my watering can or the dogs little plastic kiddie pools (black dogs get hot in summer!). i should pay more attention to my trees and give them some extra water.