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Hydrate Those Hydrangeas

Posted on 29 July 2010

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By Paige Patterson


Boy is it hot. Now I’m a summer person. I love the heat, the beach, running around barefoot, feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin. It’s like I’m a vitamin D junkie, the way I thrive in the sun, but this year, I’m a little overwhelmed by the heat. And the thought of gardening, well this is the kind of weather that makes the idea of gardening melt right out of your brain.

But your plants need you.

And what they need from you is water.

The tricky question is how much? And I apologize up front but unfortunately there is no exact answer to that question.

I can’t tell you. Your other gardening friends can’t tell you. Your irrigation man doesn’t even know. And it’s not that we’re being difficult. It’s the fact that every situation is different.

Obviously, everything needs more water then earlier this summer. We haven’t had a good soaking rain in the longest time and the days have been a series of brain stunners one after another, so everything is really suffering, but there are too many variables for a quick and easy answer.

What’s your soil like? Is it sandy? Clay? Loamy? I have both sand and clay which guarantees that some plants are getting too much water while others being hit by the same sprinkler aren’t getting enough. Hideous.

Plus different plants have different needs. Lawns want smaller sips of water daily. Trees want long soaking drinks where the water gets down to their deepest roots. And shrubs, well right now my shrubs want about an hour and a half of water every other day, preferable before the sun hits the high point of the day.

Then what’s your light like and where’s your plant? Stuff in full sun needs much more water then things in the shade, but also living green things that are close to stone (walls, patios, paths, driveways and pool copings) need more moisture to combat the heat that the stone is absorbing and radiating out. And if a plant is growing in a windy spot it’s going to need more water than the same plant in a more sheltered spot in the same yard.

And how are you watering? By hand. By hose? By sprinkler head? By soaker? And how’s your water pressure? And are you watering in the evening or the morning?

I know, I know, it’s too hot for all these questions, but here’s the thing. I’ve had a couple people tell me, proudly, that they’ve just turned the water on and kept it on. And I understand. Last week my husband asked what was the point of having an irrigation system if was just going out and adjusting it three times a day and we had it running constantly? Well it wasn’t running constantly. It was just that I had a few newly planted plants in two areas and I wanted to try and keep them alive. Which I succeeded in doing, but just barely, but then I turned the water back down because unfortunately, you can give plants too much water.

Give a lawn too much water and it’s fungus central. Give a tree or shrub too much water and you’re inviting root rot, fungus and all other fun and sexy things like phytophthora, blight and cankers. And contrary to popular belief you can give a hydrangea too much water.

Granted most hydrangeas are waterholics, but that’s because lots of us, myself included, grow hydrangeas out in the sun. Let’s face it, the flowers are fabulous, the billowing blooms last almost all summer and they fairly basic and simple to grow plants. Who doesn’t love hydrangeas? But they’re really a part sun plant. Let me say that again. Hydrangeas, those pretty, fluffy pink and blue and white flowers we all adore really want to have shade in the afternoon. And when we insist on planting them in masses in the hot blazing sun and then we have a crazy heat wave like we’re having right now, those hydrangeas are most likely going to fry. Or at least be very stressed. But you can give them too much water so please be careful.

You can’t just turn the hose on and hook up a soaker hose and let it run for the rest of this heat wave. You have to give the soil a break and let it breathe. You have to dig around and make sure the roots of your plants are moist but not soggy. You have to do a little tough love and look away when your hydrangeas start to flag between noon and two. You have to get out in the garden and poke about and not just rely on upping the timer on the irrigation clock.

And you have to accept that the best answer I have for how much water to give your plants, is to give your plants as much water as they need and not too much more.

I told you I was sorry ahead of time.

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