The Garden Life: Manage water during deluge or drought

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In a normal year, my garden begins its summer flower season in the month of June. The fact that my property is in the foothills of Hockinson Heights at an altitude of 1,250 feet is the reason that my garden’s typical bloom time is as much as two weeks behind suburban Vancouver. The Pacific Northwest is known for its on-again, off-again seasonal weather, which begs the question, “Just what is normal anymore, anyway?”

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to predict the Northwest weather two weeks ahead of schedule. Will it continue to rain? Will we go into our traditional summer drought early? Late? I have given up on predictions. Instead, one of my gardening goals is to be prepared for any situation. If I need to water, all systems will be ready to go. Once we head into summer drought, and we will, it’s important to make sure the plants in our gardens receive at least one good inch of water each week.

One key to plant health in beds and borders is consistent watering throughout the growing season. Plants that are weak from lack of water are more susceptible to pests and disease. It’s best to water deeply rather than often. Soaker hoses are most efficient in a mixed border of perennials, shrubs, trees and annuals. Lay a soaker hose in a series of curlicues from one end of the bed to the other. Cover the soaker hose with 2 to 3 inches of mulch. Plant along the hose to ensure water at the roots of each plant.

Vegetable gardens do well with drip irrigation. Usually a vegetable garden is planted in a more orderly manner than a flower border.

Plants are spaced evenly and in rows. With a drip system, each drip outlet takes care of the water needs of an individual plant. Tomatoes and peppers, eggplant and zucchini all love a well-watered root zone. If you have not done it yet, add an organic mulch to hold in moisture and retard the growth of weeds.

If your watering system is not automatic, begin a hand-watering schedule for annuals, perennials and roses. Most trees and shrubs need a couple of years to establish themselves before they can be left to their own for watering needs.

If you are still putting out new plants this year, remember to water long and deep, once a day for a week, once a week for a month, and then as needed throughout the season, depending on our rainfall.

Dutiful deadheading

There are always a few garden tasks that need to be done on a regular basis that are specific to the season. One simple, logical daily garden chore in the height of spring and summer is deadheading perennials. Deadheading keeps the garden looking fresh, keeps the visual focus on those plants in bloom and often encourages perennials to send out a new flush of bloom.

The time spent deadheading also serves as a time to collect flowers for indoor vases and pots or for friendly gifts.

Our gardens are living entities, so there will always be a spate of spontaneous chores. There are the individual weeds that come up one at a time, weeks after we have done major scheduled weeding in perennial and shrub borders. The wayward bramble sneaks its way into a planting of ground cover and must be removed.

Obviously, these jobs can be taken care of without scheduling. Take care of them when you see the need.

Four weeks ago, I sowed nasturtium seeds. They were stunted by chilly, wet weather and never flourished enough to take hold and grow. I tried again two weeks ago and these are just now emerging in some of the flower beds.

I might include one more late planting of nasturtiums to fill the upcoming gap between summer and fall. Their flowers add a bolt of energy to the garden with bright, golden hued yellows, reds and oranges when the last of the summer flower show subsides.

How odd that these long summer days with daylight lasting until nine thirty at night, can pass so quickly. I can’t help but wonder how I get anything done in the winter months, when it grows dark by four-thirty in the afternoon.

Nevertheless, there is too much to do and too many wonderful surprises yet to come to think about anything but summer. The scent of honeysuckle is heavy in the air.

For now, I will wander through the evening garden, looking for one more job to do before calling it a day.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified Master Gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com.