A Transplanted Gardener Mar 1996 Lessons in Watering

Lately I've been hearing talk among gardening friends about the stupid mistakes they've made. I firmly believe that no mistake is stupid if you learn from it! So in an effort to make everyone feel good about their mistakes I'm listing my mistakes made - lessons learned. Enjoy.

WATER: I think the hardest lesson to learn is about water. Actually I should say overwatering. I suspect that some of my plants were killed by too much water. Those in question are rosemary (I know it's tough to kill this plant but just give it too much water and you'll see and stop laughing!), lavender, and Mexican bush sage. Further research shows that the lavenders may have died by my mulching methods. I have learned to have a wait, watch, and see attitude. For instance when I transplant Texas rangers they always seem to droop for the next few days and sometimes even drop all of their leaves. I have learned that what they don't need is more water but just time to recover from the shock. When the books say drought tolerant or do not overwater, they mean it.

WHEN DO I NEED TO WATER? During the Master Gardening Course, Rob Call was always pounding into our heads to use a water probe. I wish I had listened because maybe more plants might be with me today. If you are not currently using a soil probe (a soil probe is any long pointed metal rod shaped like a T that can be pushed into the ground 3-5 feet) try this next time you are about to water. Put your finger into the ground to check the soil. It's dry, right? Now go get the shovel or pick ax and dig down a few more inches. Aha - it's moist! I found that using the finger method is an inaccurate way to determine if watering is needed. A soil probe will easily push into the ground if the soil is moist and will not push in the ground at all when it's dry.

WATER METHODS: I have watered by a hand held hose, watering can, and by a soaker hose. Guess which one worked the best. If you said soaker hose you are right! Soaker hoses and drip irrigation set ups are ideal for our climate. They put water where the plants need it, not wasting a drop for the weeds and ensures the soil is watered deeply. It also lessens what I call "make work," no hoses to drag around, sprinklers to set up, and storing all the stuff. Gary Gruenhagen wrote an excellent article on his soaker hose method in the June 1995 MG Newsletter.

MULCH: Two words explain my feelings on mulches. Very Important. Mulches decrease the soil temperature and evaporation which in turn keeps the soil moist and cool, reduces the need for watering, and best of all keeps the weeds down. Trial and error have shown that lavenders do not like the dark mulches (I used bark mulch) that hold moisture as they are prone to fungal diseases. Instead they prefer 'dry' mulches like sand. Sand or gravel mulches are also preferred by cacti, succulents, and yuccas. Check out Mulches - another excellent article written by Barry Bishop in the September 1994 MG Newsletter.

TRANSPLANTING: Short and Sweet: I have found that I should never transplant plants in June. It's just too stressful for me and the plants.

"MAKE WORK": Here's an interesting story on a concept I call "make work." There is a circular driveway in our yard and the previous owners had lined the outside of the drive way with fairly large sized rocks. I thought this looked dorky so I hauled all the rocks to the dog run and stacked them around the outside of the fence. A couple of months later while weeding the area around the base of the house I decided that gravel mulches did have their place in some instances so I ordered 15 tons to be delivered and my dear husband and I proceeded to lay down black plastic and lay the gravel over this. A Good Thing - next year I won't have to weed around the house. (A fine example of less work.") In the meantime I found that laying the rocks around the dog run was not such a great idea as creepy things (i.e. black widows, scorpions, and a snake) liked hiding under these rocks and were dangerously close to the house and dogs. So I hauled all the rocks away into a pile a few feet away and laid down black plastic and gravel around the kennel. (This is called "more-less work.") A few weeks later I decided that I was going to create a Texas Ranger room in the flower garden. I made a circular raised bed and decided to use the rocks to build a border to contain the soil. So I hauled the rocks - you guessed it - back to the circular driveway. Moral of this story: Rocks are very heavy after hauling them around a few times! Take the time to plan things out so you don't "make work" but do "less work."


Cheri Melton
March, 1996