When October rolls into town, a lot of folks put away the gardening equipment and call it a year. There is good reason for that. Cool temperatures and reduced sunlight markedly slow garden production to a crawl. This fall, we have had the added complication of reduced rainfall, which has also cut into garden yields. Attention often gets diverted to the lawn and picking up leaves.
Despite the scattered rain we had last week, we are still dry. According to the CoCoRaHS.org weather website, the most rainfall anyone in the county received was 0.5 to 0.6 inches of rain over several days. Considering we lose about 0.1 of an inch daily to evaporation and plant use in October, that water is used up by week’s end.
One trend I have noticed over the years is that a dry fall often leads to issues with our perennial plants the next spring and summer. Having your trees, shrubs and other perennial plants well hydrated going into winter helps the plants survive the winter. I would encourage people to water perennials well into late November or even early December if conditions remain dry.
When you water, it is good to apply 1 to 1.5 inches of water at a time. If you do not know how much an inch of water is, or how long it takes to apply that much water, set out some coffee cups at various distances from the sprinkler. When the cup has accumulated 1 to 1.5 inches of water, move the hose to another location, and make note of how long that took.
Most people who have underground sprinklers tell me they run their sprinkler for a certain amount of minutes, which really does not tell you how much water is being delivered by the system. Measuring is the only way to find out. My sense is, most people with underground sprinklers underwater their lawns, because when it gets dry and hot, I see a lot of lawns go dormant, despite being watered frequently.
When watering perennial plants, especially trees, keep in mind the root system of those plants extends well past the dripline, or the outer reaches of the branches. Root systems spread out near the surface, and do not go straight down as is commonly thought. Laying a hose near the base of a tree or shrub does not do much for rehydrating the plant. I often tell callers to water an area at least as large as the plant is tall, which surprises a lot of people.
Jeff Burbrink is a Purdue Extension educator in Elkhart County. He can be reached at 574-533-0554 or at [email protected].