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Down the Garden Path

Now We Need to Water

A Note to Readers: This summer, we are excited to announce we will be joining our two horticulture blogs – "Down the Garden Path" and "Over the Fence" into one convenient place. "Over the Garden Fence" will still feature timely topics and helpful hints you expect from expert Richard Hentschel, and you can sign up for email alerts so you won't miss a post. Just click over to and add your email to the list (see the blue box in the upper right corner of that page). Thank you for following U of I Extension!


What a difference just a few days can make in what we need to be doing in the home landscape. Since the rain shut off or slowed, the first part of the landscape with symptoms of water stress is the lawn (even the lawn weeds). If you planned for it, go ahead and let the lawn go dormant even though it is early in the summer for that to happen. If your fertilizer program is to feed all summer, then plan to water to take advantage of your fertilizing efforts.

It will take 680 gallons of water to put down 1 inch of water per 1000 square feet, if you are using your meter reading to know when to move the sprinkler to the next section of your lawn. Using any straight-sided container, such as a tuna can, is a good alternative for measuring water output. Be sure to check with your local authorities for any water restrictions. Most often are those rules guiding you on which days of week you can water using the homes address, even or odd numbers. Often, watering is allowed early in the morning and in the evening. That is 6 hours every other day, way more water than you are going to need to keep your lawn well hydrated.

When it comes to watering your landscape plants, consider any new plantings done in the last two years as a starting point. Those plants are not yet established, and they greatly benefit from water during droughts, even if they are brief. If the watering berm is still in place, continue to use that. If a berm is not an option, leaving the hose at a slow rate of flow around what used to be the berm works too.

The next set of landscape plants to consider would be those large established trees and evergreens. We do not think of a tree wilting, yet next years' potential growth is dependent on how well it does this year. The best "zone" to water is just inside to just outside the canopy drip line. This is where the tree has a lot of roots to absorb the moisture during a natural rain event. Big evergreen trees have a similar set of roots as well. A more effective way to water these big trees is to use the open hose, moving it around under the drip line area at a rate of flow that puts on a lot of water without running off.

A preferred strategy would be to use those permitted hours to water the lawn and garden or flower beds in the morning. Watering early morning will allow foliage to dry off before any disease has a chance to develop. Use the evening hours to water the trees and evergreens where the water is only on the ground.

If you have to choose between watering the lawn and those established big trees and evergreens, chose the big plants over the lawn. Lawns can be repaired, renovated and can naturally recover from a drought. You cannot replace the big guys.