Monday’s Strictly Opinion: Angie’s Theory

Bear with me, as I am about to post for the umpteenth time about proper watering.  I have just cause-most problematic issues I am dealing with now regarding the landscape have to do with water.  A scheme for watering the plants has been the hottest topic of our season, given the high heat, and the utter lack of rain.  I mean to discuss the water that your plants, garden, and landscape require.  Thoughtful and dispassionately informed watering makes a difficult season more manageable.  I hope by association to address the problems that arise from too much water.  My clients who have not watered, or who have overwatered-we have a discussion pending,   

Our August nights have been on the cool side- downright chilly.  I ordinarily dial back the water when the nights cool off.  This makes sense.  Cool temperatures means water evaporates from the soil at a slower rate.  Hot days do not tell the entire story.  The night time story is a story line worth following.   My advice?  Ignore the day temperatures.  Follow the night temperatures.

Overly wet soil under any circumstances, hot or cold,  can result in root rot.  Rotted feeder roots means that no matter how much water is available to absorb, the mechanism for that absorption has been destroyed.  A plant with root rot cannot absorb any water from the soil.  Your worried watering may be killing your plants. Why am I blathering on about the importance of proper watering?  A misguided hose, watering can, or sprinkler system kills more plants than any other factor.  Too much water kills more plants than drought, insects, or disease.  Too much water can sicken and endanger an entire landscape. 

Those gardeners that never water anything are not really gardeners.  Those gardeners that water over and over again given a tough summer season are fearful gardeners.  I understand that fear-I reacted to the steamy heat and dry with my hose, open full blast.  But I see now that my off the top of my head reaction was harmful.  Thoughtful watering makes for a great landscape and garden.  As Buck says, be cool, and assess the situation.  Being cool, and properly assessing the situation-a good thing.   This is my theory.  Cool off.  Observe before you make a move.  Water only when there is a call for water. Do not water solely thinking you will help plants suffering in the heat.  Plants have an extraordinary will to live.  A drink now and then will help them to survive.  An ocean of water -they may drown.   

Consider these simple examples.  Japanese iris love wet ground-during their growing season, that is.  Flooded fall and winter ground will kill them.  Lavender can endure heavy clay-meaning astonishly water retentive soil-over the summer, but winter wet will kill them.  Yews are a snap to grow, unless an overactive irrigation system drags them down, and eventually drowns them.  Established landscape plants rarely need supplemental  irrigation, unless there is a drought.  Overwatered trees and shrubs will go yellow in leaf.  Hydrangeas appreciate a regular source of water-it takes a lot for them to produce prodigious blooms of great size.  Water them regularly.  Smart watering makes the difference between a passable landscape-and a stellar landscape.  Think through the wet and the dry-make a plan to endorse and follow that happy medium. 

Angie supervises one of my crews.  She is of the opinion that containers and plants should be watered first thing in the morning.  This gives them the entire day to soak up, to make use of,  that morning water.  Once dusk comes, the warmth of the day has already absorbed the the day’s watering.  The excess-so much steam.  This is a theory, remember.  This is a garden story that might make no sense scientifically, but could make emotional sense.  Dryer, overnight, given cooler temperatures-a good thing.  Good water during the day feeds the plants.  Dryer at night ensures their survival. I like my summer container plantings to go on into the fall.  Watching the water really carefully now will make a difference in their longevity.

 I usually water my containers after work-this is when I have time.  I load up the corgis at 6:15 most mornings-to go to work.  They fuss if I am late serving breakfast-they really fuss if we do not leave on time.  Given those dogs, I am not a morning waterer.  Tonight I find that all of my containers have just enough moisture to survive until morning.  If I water them tonight, they will be soaking wet in overnight chilly weather.  I make a call – no water tonight.  Tomorrow morning I will water-the corgis loaded up in the Suburban.  I will load them in the car, and water what really needs water.  

I read somewhere long ago that plants do most of their growing in the wee hours of the morning-meaning 4 until 6am.  It makes sense that their roots need to be able to breathe then.  My containers are the most water sensitive of any plants I grow.  As I am interested that they grow on into the fall, I am interested in testing Angie’s theory.  Water in the morning.  Make the daytime evaporation rate work in the interest of enabling  dryer and happier plants overnight-before morning. 

Every gardener needs to carefully observe how their plants react to their care.  Good observation makes for a really good garden.  Great gardens are unquestionably more about care than design.  Make every effort to get the water right.               

 

 

 

 

 

Growing Begonias

growing begonias

Growing begonias-why do so many of my clients feel that no matter how much they love the gorgeous blooms and foliage, prove unwilling to plant them?  Who knows where the idea came from that large flowered begonias like shade, and lots of water.  Herein lies the difficulty.  Popular direction can be anything but accurate. Begonias actually like some light.  A fairly decent amount of light.  And they like a watering regimen that runs on the dry side. 

yellow begonias

The needs of most plants are quite simple.  Plants that thrive in your zone, that is.  Unless you are trying to grow meconopsis, which only thrives in the Himalayans or England- in Michigan-  or if you are trying to grow rhododendrons in the impossibly clay and alkaline soil of the midwest, when what they want is an acidic and instantly draining forest floor type eastern US compost.  Plants happy to live in our midwestern yard to begin with have simple needs.  Are you hoping to make your gardening life more simple?  Learn what those appropriate plants that you so love need, and give.  Plants that do not like your conditions-let someone else grow them.   

apple blossom begonia

Plants not suited to the zone in which you garden will always struggle.  Be prepared to fight a battle you cannot win.  You may take the lead early on, but what plants want will win in the end.   Beginning gardeners place a plant where they want it.  It takes experience and acute observation to realize that plants have a specific environment they like.  Should they not get what makes them prosper, they will pout, then languish, and finally die. Beginning gardeners either understand this and grow, or they give up gardening.      

 

The journey which could best be described as my gardening education is littered with dead plants.  Dead yews, dead clematis, dead rhododendron, dead begonias-the list is long.  I would be embarrassed to have to own up to the plants I have killed.  It could be that I should be sent to that jail especially reserved for people who have committed horticultural transgressions.  There have been times when I deserved to have my license to plant, grow, and garden- revoked.  But I have made it my business to learn from those dead plants.   As for begonias, they have very large, juicy, and succulent stems.  This I observe – over water them today, those stems will rot off tomorrow.

The tropical plants we treat as annuals only need one season of thoughtful care.  No doubt begonias are not native to my zone.  That said and acknowledged, I so love begonias-all of them.  I like the leaves.  I more than like the flowers.  In late August, our nights can be cool.  Water evaporates more slowly when the temperatures cool off.  I am even more careful to keep my begonias on the dry side now.

My advice is simple.  Give them morning light.  If you need to grow them on the north side, as I do, grow them very dry.  Those thick juicy stems are loaded with water.  They have a water reserve they can draw on, should you be late getting to them with the hose.  Too much water can be deadly.

These silver leaved begonias-I have no idea of their name or origin.  I chose to grow them for their leaf color.  Like any other begonia I grow, I made it my business to check the water in the soil with my finger.  Too much water when it is very hot is an invitation for fungus to move in.

cultivating begonias

I am always putting my finger in the dirt  .  This means I put a finger to the rootball of a yew, a dogwood, a begonia – barely moist soil makes most plants happy.  Should your finger in the soil result in sticky soil-don’t water.  Wait.  If you put your finger down deep in the soil only to have that soil slide off your finger-water.  Hoping to grow great begonias? Learn what they like.  Pass by those plants that you will not be able to make happy under any circumstances.  Most of all, monitor the water. 

 

Too Much Water

My garden is beginning to get that weary look.  Late August, there are usually subtle signs of the garden winding down.  Evergreens in my zone routinely slow down and eventually quit growing in August.  They take a long time, preparing for the dormant winter season.  This year, the extreme heat and drought have taken a special toll.  The landscape has taken on a yellow cast. 

Lindens lacking water-yellow interior leaves are a sure sign.  Many trees will shed leaves in an effort to reduce the individual leaf demand for water when water is at a premium.  But lots of the late summer yellow am seeing now is from overwater.  No amount of water mitigates the effects of heat.  The plants that thrive in my zone would not necessarily be so happy in Georgia-but Georgia summer weather is what we have had.  My dogwoods resent the heat.  The curled and droopy leaves say so.  My plants can tolerate a lot, but extended and high heat exhausts them.  More water does not help.  Too much water can make for too much trouble.

People cool off under the hose, in the fountain, or in the pool.  Not so the plants.  Yesterday I saw a landscape that was so overwatered during our heat that I fear for the lives of the plants.  The roots of the trees and shrubs are gasping for air.  Too much water rots roots.  Once roots rot, a plant cannot take up the nutrients and water it needs.  The road is washed out. The trees in this landscape-I could shake them; they rocked back and forth.  The trunk of a tree that is firmly rooted will not move, if you shake it.  If the trunk of a tree moves when you push on it, the roots may be compromised.

I will say again that water does not change the fact of very high heat.  I do understand what it is to agonize over a situation, and be determined to intervene.  Some intervention works.  Other intervention compounds the misery.  The fact of the matter is that plants are highly adaptable.  They have built in mechanisms to deal with terrible conditions.  Sometimes the best thing to do is sit on the sidelines, and wring your hands.  There are those times when doing nothing is the best thing you could do.

I have seen some gardens that had too little water when they needed it, and now too much water.  Belated compensation only adds insult to injury.  We pulled out a pair of crispy leaved shrubs yesterday whose roots had rotted and completely decomposed from an onslaught of over water, after the damage from the drought had already been done.  The smell of these rooted roots-strong.  The impulse to be better late than never applies to birthdays, wedding gifts, vacations, thank you notes, revelations, mammograms, contributions and electric bills, but not so much to water.  This planting has been overwatered, but we caught it in time. 

 The ability to water properly is a skill.    Those gardeners who have irrigation systems should know that a mechanical system is nothing more than that-a system.  The irrigation box is a mechanism fueled by electricity.  A gardener is a person who knows when and how much to water.  A gardener who handwaters as needed-a great gardener.  A gardener flips the switch when the switch needs to be flipped-an equally great gardener who has figured out how to reduce their maintenance.  This landscape-right next door to the shop-has not, to my knowledge, been watered for the past 3 or 4 years.  What it would cost to turn on the irrigation system is but a fraction of what it will cost to replace the entire landscape. 

Proper watering.  It can help you cover a lot of ground.