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Over the Garden Fence

Watering tips for hot weather

The hot, dry weather we have been getting – and will continue to get – changes how we are going to water the home landscape. Best management practices, or BMP, includes more than just watering (but water is so key to plant survival) and more than just your vegetable plants.

Tips for containers and planters

  • Container soils are designed to drain well so containers and planters need to be checked daily. Large plantings should be checked twice a day.
  • Never let plants wilt, as they come back at the expense of future flowers.
  • If overly dry, the container mix will shrink and pull away from the sides. Water the container a second time to ensure complete water absorption.
  • Deadhead regularly so energy goes to more flower production.

Tips for lawns

  • Water regularly to keep the lawn green and benefiting from any fertilization (following city ordinances) OR allow the lawn to go naturally dormant and reduce mowing.
  • Even when naturally dormant, a ½-inch of water every two weeks is needed to keep the grass plant crowns alive until fall.
  • Wait for the lawn to return to active growth before applying any weed control products.
  • Southern and western exposures will require more frequent watering.
  • Consider more drought-tolerant grasses on those hotter, drier exposures.

Tips for newly planted trees/shrubs/evergreens

  • New plantings will have a limited root system, limiting water availability.
  • When watering, be sure to water the location with the root ball.
  • Container plants will dry out quicker than balled and burlapped plants (see very first bullet).
  • A 2- or 3-inch layer of mulch extending past the planting hole will conserve moisture, moderate extremes in soil temperatures, and act as a weed barrier. (Use proper mulching technique.)
  • Trees, shrubs and evergreens are woody and will not show droughty conditions until it is too late so monitor them often.
  • Do not fertilize the first season as this forces growth the root system cannot support.
  • If the trees, shrubs or evergreens have a watering berm, watering will be much quicker.

Tips for vegetables

  • Any vegetable that produces a fruit will need adequate water from the time the fruit set occurs through harvest.
  • Bulb crops like onions will stop expanding without a constant, even supply of moisture.
  • Without even watering, tomatoes will have blossom end rot or the tomato skin will split.
  • Harvest early in the morning after the plants have been able to catch up overnight on water from a hot day.
  • Season-long vegetables also benefit from an organic mulch just like trees, shrubs and evergreens.
  • To prevent or slow vegetable disease, water the soil, not the plant if watering by hand.

Overall tips

  • Always water early in the day if using a sprinkler so foliage is dry long before nightfall. 
  • DO NOT USE wilting foliage as an indicator that plants need watering.

To get more yard and garden tips from Richard Hentschel, watch his “This Week in the Garden” videos on Facebook and YouTube.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.