Drown or Drought – It's one or the other in the Puget Sound

man watering his backyard garden

Did you know that in the Puget Sound region, only 8% of our annual rain comes in the summer months.

The Northwest is notorious for rain. In the Puget Sound area, we receive approximately 34 inches of rain annually. During most months, watering our lawns and gardens is the last thing we would consider. In fact, it’s the opposite. Our yards drown. We discover standing water on our lawns, flower beds and driveways. CLICK HERE to read a great article that deals with these drowning issues.

When 92% of our rain comes in non-summer seasons, we become lackadaisical when summer comes and the blue sky and sunshine capture our attention. Unfortunately, our summers bring drought conditions and before we know it, our yards begin to wilt and turn brown. We then spend most of the summer trying to heal them. This often leads to over watering which wastes water, increases the chance of disease and, in general, slows the recovery. By the time fall rolls around, our yards are healthy again. And then the rains come.

It doesn’t have to be drown or drought. Change the cycle by building the right soil in the right spots and developing good watering habits.

Soil is the foundation of every lawn and garden. Healthy plants and saving water require the right soil in the right places.

  • Shady Areas  Use sandy soil in the shady areas to prevent drainage problems. Water in shady areas does not evaporate as quickly as water in the sun. Sand allows the water to dissipate quickly. This will help prevent puddling and run-off.
  • Sunny Areas  >Areas that will get more sun should have soil with greater organic material (compost type). This is especially true for west sloping lawns that get hot afternoon sun. The soil will absorb the water, increasing saturation and slowing evaporation.
  • Pour Soil  If you identify areas that do not have the best soil for the location you may need to till in compost or add sand.

Now that we've covered the soil basics, hear are some key watering tips that will keep your plants healthy, green and flowering while saving water throughout the summer.

Water Efficiently

Even when we are careful, it's difficult not to waste water. Here are are few ways to insure you are doing your best.

rl seniorwateringflowers

  • Use a soaker hose  Less water is lost to mist and evaporation then a garden hose and sprinklers.
  • Water in the morning  Mornings tend to be cooler, which helps reduce evaporation, making it prime watering time. The ground tends to be moist with dew which also helps with water absorption.
  • A hot hose means hot water  Don't leave your garden hose in the sun. It heats the water in the hose which distresses plants and evaporates more quickly.
  • Water where your plant drinks  Watering outside a plants root zone, 1 to 3 times the plants canopy diameter, is a waste. Keeping water inside the root zone radius will allow it to soak down to where a plant drinks. It's roots!
  • Run off waste  Watch for puddling or run off. If you see it, stop watering. Areas that run off or puddle require less water over longer periods of time to allow time to soak in.

Water Appropriately

We are lucky. Summer is the only season we need to concern ourselves with watering our plants and lawns. Our Puget Sound rains take care of the other seasons.

rl seniorwateringflowers

  • Water deeply and less frequently  An inch a week is all your lawn needs. On our hottest days, no established lawn should need to be watered more than 2-3 times per week. Or let your lawn go dormant. Yes, it will brown a bit but will quickly bounce back with fall rains.
    If you don't know how long it takes your sprinkler to apply an inch of water, find a shallow pan, mark an inch depth with tape and place it under your sprinkler. Time how long it takes to reach the mark. A tuna or cat food can also make a good 'water catcher' since they are about an inch deep.

  • Water sunny and shady areas separately  Study your yard to discover which areas get mostly sun and which are mostly in the shade. Since water evaporates less quickly in shady areas, water those areas less frequently. This will prevent a lot of water waste as well as being healthier for your plants.
  • Grow higher and grasscycle  Let your lawn grow to 2-3 inches in height. Only cut 1/3 of the grass height each mow and leave the clippings on the lawn (grasscycling/mulching). Grasscycling provides free fertilizer which helps your lawn grow greener and denser. It's also less work because you don't have to dump the clippings.
  • Vegetable and flower gardens  Water twice a week unless temperatures are extremely hot. Make sure to water deep - 1-2 hours for drip systems, 45 minutes - 1 hour for sprinklers. If hand watering, water the entire area twice to ensure deep soaking.
  • For young plants  Young plantings may need more frequent watering -  every other day or even more until they take root - from a few days to a few weeks from seeds or transplant.
  • For Annuals  There is no hard and fast rule. Different plants need different amounts of water. The best guide for annuals is the plant tag which should tell you water requirements. When in doubt, Google it!
  • Newly seeded lawns  A constant moisture level is required - two to three brief waterings a day. Be careful of run off. Your lawn seed will run off with the water!

Follow these tips and you will save water and have a healthy lawn and garden this summer.

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