Keep Your Plants Watered


Leif’s article in the July 15th Northfield News is a must for everyone to read. The severe drought that we are in is very hard on our plants – both newly planted ones or established plants.

Now is the time. Water those landscape plants you’ve invested in with your hard earned dollars. A good deep watering during droughts, heat waves and windy low humidity weather will preserve your significant investment.

Current conditions certainly qualify as both a drought and a heat wave. During these stressful events plants need exactly the same thing they need in spring and fall: adequate but not excessive moisture, soil with proper drainage and balanced nutrients, and the amount of sunlight that best fits each plant variety.

For plants that have been established in the landscape a year or longer, one good watering a week should be enough to prevent stress. Once a month I like to add just a bit of water soluble fertilizer while watering.

All over town I’m seeing trees that are showing signs of stress, with dropping leaves, scorched leaf margins, or wilting. Quite often the first trees to show stress are ones that have problems with the structure and/or health of their root systems, or that are growing in very sandy gravely soils that dry out easily.

If the source of stress is just a soil that is sandy and dries out quickly, the simple end to stress is a good watering. Don’t expect leaves that are already scorched, or have turned color to look better this season. A watering should make wilting go away, but can’t turn brown leaf tissue back to green. If your plant is revived by a through watering, any new growth that occurs the last half of the season should stay nice looking if adequate soil moisture is maintained.

A fairly effective way to make a plant with some scorched leaves look better is to rub the leaves gently on a low humidity day Leaf cells that have dried and turned brown will crumble to a powder when rubbed lightly between your fingers. Sometimes I use my fingers like a rake and am able to knock off dead leaves quite easily. Another trick is to lightly roll foliage between the palms of your two hands. The live parts of the leaves are pliable and accept this treatment, while the dry brittle tissue shatters and fall away. It’s amazing how much better a plant can look after this type of clean-up.

Helping plants through a drought is fairly easy. You don’t need to water every day or even two or three times a week. If plants are well rooted in, once a week is just fine.

New plantings that have not yet established a nice new root system may require several waterings per week. Take care not to over water.

Plant Spotlight: Blue Beech. Carpinus Caroliana. This small to medium sized native tree is one of my favorites, also known by the common name of muscle wood. Crisp clean and deeply furrowed leaves are striking in their texture, and remain free of blemishes throughout the growing season. Growing slowly to 20′ to 30′, Blue Beech develops a smooth grey bark with a hint of blue tinge in certain light and moisture conditions. A notable characteristic is the waviness in the wood which combined with the very smooth bark gives the appearance of the rippling muscles of a well conditioned athlete, hence the common name of muscle wood. This tree is well suited to modest sized spaces and the seed structures provide an outstanding ornamental feature that persists on the tree through most of the winter, being somewhat reminiscent of hops on the vine, only more flared and showy.