Efficient Summer Watering Starts with Roots & Soil

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The stress of dealing with early summer high temperatures can lower a plants immune system and open the door for future problems. What we see above ground is a reflection of what is going on below ground. Understanding plant roots and the surrounding soil can help you water more efficiently and make it to monsoon season.
Roots need both air and water. Like us, roots need to breathe in-between drinks of water. Roots take in water and nutrients closer too the tips of the outer branches than the trunk or the base. Even if the water well does not extend to the outer branches, watering with enough volume at a slow rate will help water get to where the roots are taking it in. The larger the plant the bigger the root system is and the greater capacity to store water. Large root system such as mature trees and shrubs can store a much higher volume of water and needs less frequent watering compared to smaller plants like perennial flowers or tomatoes.
Most native soils in our area drain slow or “poor” taking a long period of time to disperse in the soil. The heat can dry out the top couple of inches as well as cause the plant to look wilted during the hottest part of the day, even if the ground is still moist. Before watering each plant, with your fingers or a small garden tool, dig down a couple inches next to the root ball and check how moist the ground is. During this hot and dry season the frequency of watering may need to be increased. For example, a trees or shrub that is normally watered once a week may need to be increased to twice a week. A tree being watered once a month may need to be increased to twice a month.
Vegetable gardens, lawns and flower beds tend to be planted in amended soil that can dry out much faster than the native soil in the area. Check the moisture level daily, preferably in the morning, after a week or two you will be able to gauge the frequently of water is needed.
Gardening is learning from trial and error. Plants live by their own rules and just observing on a consistent basis is a huge tool in growing a greener thumb.

Tyler Kirckof is an Arizona-certified nursery professional at Prescott Valley Nursery, 6195 Highway 69, Prescott Valley, Arizona, (928) 772-0878.