Tips on watering the garden during hot months

July 18, 2012
You can fight a drought by watering your garden, lawns and trees.

It’s July, and it is hot and the gardens are dry.  Summer heat can be a garden killer, but lack of water can be a people killer.

Over a thousand years ago in the American Southwest, the Anasazi Indians built spectacular mud brick adobe homes called pueblos.

Pueblo Bonito was five stories high with rooms enclosing a central plaza. All was fine until the Great Drought of the 1200s, when rain just disappeared and things dried up.  The Anasazi abandoned the pueblos.

You can fight a drought by watering your garden, lawns and trees.  To keep the soil temperature cooler and conserve water, add a thick layer of plain black and white newspapers (no colored pages) between the rows, topping them with a good mulch of  three or four inches of bark, straw, leaves, grass clippings or pine needles.  Soak the soil before you apply the mulch and water the mulch afterward.  For best results, water in the morning.  This will keep your plants cooler, and prevent wilting and stress. You will need to water at least two to three inches of water per week.  If you use a hose or sprinkler setout a coffee can and let the water run until the can fills two or three inches deep.

Try not to water in late afternoon or evening, because damp leaves can harbor mildew.  You might need to water your garden every day when it is hot.

Even with the dry weather and high temperatures of July, you can plant for a fall crop of lettuce, beans, radish, carrots, beets, turnips, kale and spinach. Dig a furrow and soak it.  Let the water drain out and soak it again.  The top layer of soil often bakes in dry, hot sun, so plant the seeds deeper than usual. Some gardeners shade their plants with branches, brush or elaborate netting.

If you do not want to waste precious drinking water, collect rainwater or use grey water.  Grey water can be dishwater or rinse water from washing machines, showers, bathtubs, just not sewage.  It is best to use grey water on non-edibles such as flowers or lawns.

Another way to help your garden beat the heat is by clustering large-leafed plants such as squash and pumpkins near smaller plants to shade the ground.  Lettuce will do well under tomatoes; many leafy greens do well on the north side of the rows, and herbs often will grow just about anywhere.

The secret to a successful summer garden is to water long and deep.  Anything less will result in dead plants and puny crops.  I would say just ask the Anasazi, which of course you can’t because they have disappeared with the droughts. If only they had watered their gardens, we might all be living in cliff dwellings.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.