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Gardens and flowerbeds are at full throttle in August, often requiring supplemental watering. David Samson / Forum News Service

August watering is crucial for gardening success

Were your parents or grandparents raised during the Great Depression? My mom and dad were teenagers during the extreme drought decade of the 1930s, a lesson never forgotten, and even in their 90s treated water like a precious elixir.

When I was a child growing up on the banks of the Sheyenne River in Lisbon, N.D., we pumped river water on our flower and vegetable gardens. Using "city water" for outdoor watering wasn't even a concept. After all, city water cost money.

But city water is all I have now. As much as I hate watching money pour out of the garden hose while it slowly sinks away into the ground, Mother Nature rarely gives us a totally maintenance-free growing season, and much of the region could use a good August rain.

Adequate moisture is especially important three times during the growing season: in spring so seeds will sprout and grow; in autumn so trees, shrubs, evergreens and perennials are well-hydrated for best winter survival; and in high summer, when gardens and flower beds are heavy with growth.

By August, most plants in yards and gardens are at full throttle and close to the year's maximum size. Imagine a plant's root system trying to pump water up out of the soil and into the plant to keep all the foliage, flowers, fruit and vegetables growing and hydrated. If the soil moisture isn't there, leaves wilt, growth suffers and flowers and fruit diminish.

Importance of August watering

• Preventing foliage wilting is an obvious goal, but if plants are moisture-stressed, flowers and fruits are often the most-affected plant parts.

• Research indicates evergreens might have increased resistance to winter injury or winter burn if moisture is adequate throughout mid- and late summer instead of only a one-time autumn soaking before soil freeze-up.

• Most perennial flowers are now building energy and food reserves in their underground root systems for winter survival and next year's growth, and adequate moisture is needed.

August watering tips

• The age-old rule of thumb, 1 inch of rain per week, keeps gardens, flower beds and landscape plants happy and healthy. When it's lacking, we should supplement.

• On heavy soil, 1 inch per week is best delivered in a single watering. On light, sandy soils, twice per week is often best.

• Watering deeply and less frequently creates deep, robust root systems. Frequent light sprinklings foster shallow, less-healthy roots.

• If possible, water only the soil in flower beds and vegetable gardens, instead of overhead sprinkling, to reduce blights and mildews.

• Trees, shrubs and perennials planted during this growing season are especially dependent on our care, as the roots are still mostly in the original soil ball and are just beginning to grow outward. Check moisture by brushing aside a little soil in the original rootball region. If soil is wet below the top several inches, don't water, as soil kept soggy can kill a young tree or shrub.

• When watering individual trees, shrubs or perennials, gauging how much water we're applying is difficult with a sprinkler or hand-held wand. Using the hose to fill a 5-gallon bucket from which to water is an easy method to be sure we're giving the proper amount.

• Quantity recommendations vary from about 2 to 4 gallons for every inch of tree trunk caliper (diameter). I've found that most younger trees benefit from a 5-gallon bucket of water slowly poured over the root system. Young shrubs need about 3 gallons slowly added, perennials a gallon or two.

• If not using the bucket method, it takes at least 35 seconds, counting "one thousand one, one thousand two," to apply 5 gallons of water from a hand-held nozzle or open hose. We're often impatient and don't hold the hose in place long enough to water thoroughly.