Water Wise Plant Care
Water – it’s the lifeblood of our plants. In fact, it makes up 95 percent of their tissue. Water helps seeds sprout (“germinate”) and helps plants make food (“photosynthesize”), transport nutrients and keep cool (“transpire”). Yet, water is a limited resource especially in the heat of summer. Today, we’re sharing a few ways we conserve water at Groovy Plants Ranch and in our own backyards. We hope you’ll join us in rethinking ways to more efficiently use water to sustain our plants.
Choose Water-Wise Plants
To start, we highly recommend native plants and plants from arid regions for water-wise gardens. Try Midwestern prairie plants like baptisia, coneflowers, bee balm, black-eyed Susans, coreopsis, liatris, yarrow, Agastache and asters that are adapted for our hot, dry summers. Also, look for drought-tolerant plants from desert, Mediterranean, and arid mountain regions. Our go-tos include sedums, succulents, cacti, blanket flowers, lavender, yucca, lambs’ ears, Russian sage, lantana, glove thistle, sea holly, catmint, salvia, gaura and ice plant.
Collect and Use Rainwater
Next, tap into the benefits of rainwater versus city water or softened well water. Rainwater is free of salts and treatment chemicals. It is also slightly more acidic and contains traces of beneficial organic matter and nitrates. Try collecting rainwater by connecting a rain barrel to your downspout. A 1,000-square-foot roof collects about 625 gallons of water from just 1 inch of rain. Your plants -- both indoors and out -- will thank you.
A rain garden is another way to conserve and collect rainwater. It basically is a recessed area placed in a low-laying area of your property and filled with water-loving plants. It’s designed to temporarily hold and soak up water reducing runoff from roofs, driveways, patios and lawns. Check out this USDA fact sheet for tips on building a rain garden and this central Ohio plant list including cardinal flower, hardy hibiscus, New England asters, irises, milkweed, culvers root and switch grass – all found at Groovy Plants Ranch.
Water Deeply in the Morning
When supplemental water is needed for plants, the most precise watering technique is hand watering with a hose or watering can. Just water the base of plants where water is taken up through the roots. Be careful about wetting foliage which lead to increased risks for fungal and other diseases.
For larger beds, especially newly planted ones, sprinklers and soaker hoses are good options. Try using a faucet timer to control the amount of water you use. Automated irrigation systems are helpful with larger properties. Whatever technique used, remember morning is the preferred time which minimizes evaporation and allows foliage to dry before day’s end. Wet foliage overnight can invite fungal diseases such as powdery mildew.
Check plant tags for watering needs and observe plants for clues like drooping leaves to know when to water. Tropicals and annuals will likely need more water than native perennials. Also, newly planted perennials, shrubs and trees need more water during their first year as they get established. Check out this video for more tips.
Use Mulch and Compost
Boost moisture retention by adding organic matter to the soil. Also add a layer of mulch to flowerbeds and around the base of shrubs and trees to minimize moisture evaporation during dry spells.
Keeping up with container watering can be especially challenging in the height of summer. First, start off with a container with a bottom drainage hole. Also consider the type and size of containers. Coir hanging baskets and terra cotta pots tend to dry out faster than resin or glazed ceramic ones. Also, smaller pots dry out quicker than larger ones. For soil, fill containers with a light potting mix not a heavy garden soil. When combining plants, avoid mixing ones with different watering needs (e.g., petunias and succulents). Before watering, first check soil moisture by inserting a finger to the first knuckle. If your fingertips don’t feel moisture, then it’s time to water; otherwise wait a day or two and recheck. When watering, remember to water thoroughly (until water leaves the bottom hole). For more details, check out Jared’s videos on watering hanging baskets.