Walker: Simple tricks to help with watering

U of I Master GardenerJune 6, 2013 


The weather in the Treasure Valley has been perfect for gardening (and all outdoor activities) the past few weeks. Those heavy rains we received will keep mature native plants hydrated for at least a month.

However, it didn't take long for soil near the surface to dry out after the rain stopped. The seedlings in my garden needed to be watered soon after the rains because their roots weren't deep enough yet to gather soil moisture more than a few inches down. In a few weeks, they'll be big enough and that problem will be solved.

You may have noticed that when you water an area that is really dry, the water just sits there or runs off if the area has a slope. Our clay soils take a little coaxing to absorb water once they've dried out.

To fix the problem, run your sprinkler for 10 minutes or so and let the water soak in for 10 to 20 minutes. Then run the sprinkler for another 10 minutes and let it soak in again. You may need to repeat a couple more times before the soil readily accepts water again.

Another trick for a smaller area is to add a few drops of liquid dish soap per gallon to your watering can before watering. The soap will break up the surface tension of the water so dry soil will more readily absorb it.

As the summer goes on, things will get hotter and dryer and trees and shrubs may need a good soaking, especially if they've been planted in the past three to four years. It takes several years for trees and shrubs to get fully established and to tolerate short droughts.

To determine if deeper roots are getting the moisture they need, dig down a few inches after a regular watering to see how deep the moisture goes. If only the top few inches are moist, more water will be needed for a good soaking. Tree and shrub roots generally go down about two feet and need moisture for most of those two feet.

The Exhibitor Handbook for the Western Idaho Fair is online at www.idahofair.com/competitive_exhibitors.php (scroll down to see departments listed). Information for home gardeners will be in Department 12 - Agriculture. The fair is Aug. 16-25 this year.

Do you love butterflies? Would you like to participate in the 23rd Annual Boise Front Fourth of July Butterfly Count? The counting event doesn't take place on July 4, but on the following Sunday (July 7). If you just want to learn more about butterflies and how to identify them, there's a free class at the College of Western Idaho in Caldwell on Saturday, July 6 from noon to 2:30 p.m. For more information, contact Paul at 323-7654 or kathpaul@cableone.net or you can email me at the address below and I'll pass along the information I have.

If you have particular questions about gardening you'd like to see addressed in this column, send them to highprairielandscapedesign@yahoo.com.

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