It rained today. Rain is the best watering system of all, assuming it comes often enough so your soil hasn’t already turned to concrete and repels any moisture. We had more than a metre of rain in an hour, on January 1, 1983, and the drought-hard soil was so dry that the water all slid away – finally – leaving only a millimetre or so of damp behind.
But then it rained again, softly, and this time, with far less rain, it soaked in. Which is the lesson when it comes to watering: as little as possible, as often as possible. Twice a day watering is perfect because the soil stays moist both on top and deep below.
‘Twice a day’ is possible if you have an automatic watering system, preferably with drippers, or if you combine watering with your daily meditation or exercise program.
But if you’re not so deeply organised and nor is there time, how much DO you need to water?
First of all – when you water, does it all sink in, or run off? After many years of mulch and green manure, our soil finally drinks in whatever we or the sky pours on it. If the water pours off, mulch or at least water with the gentlest spray possible or, even better, with that one small drip every few seconds, so the soil slowly becomes less water resistant.
Or cheat. Buy water spikes, small doovers where you pour water in and they slowly let it out deep in the soil. You can make your own, with plastic bottles with their ends cut off but with tops in place, minus their lids, or with their lids on and some tiny holes poked into them, half buried in the soil. Fill them with water every few days and let it seep out.
If you’re planting trees in a drought, consider buying a good big length of polypipe and burying it vertically next to the new tree and about half a metre deeper than you’re planting the roots. Once a week, or twice, fill the pipe with water, and it will go down not to root level, but below it, where you want the roots to grow.
Now get yourself an empty jar, with a wide mouth lid, or an ice cream container - exact measurements don’t matter, as this is scarcely an exact science.
If you’re watering lawns, keep going until the water in the container is about as deep as your thumb. For veg or flowers, go half full. For small trees, the water in the container should be running over. And for big trees, water as long as you can, even if it’s just a dribble, preferably on the uphill side if there’s a slope. You also need to water wider than the ‘drip line’ – the place where drips fall from the leaves – and deeper than the roots, so they keep going down.
Beware of any trees grown in lawn or a garden bed that is regularly shallow watered – the roots may have grown smugly outwards and the tree may fall down when severe wind arrives or the leaves are wet and the tree is suddenly top heavy.
I love watering. Anyone who has lived through droughts loves water, the abundance of it coming from a hose or sprinkler or even a drip system. Or, even better, falling from the sky.
This week I am:
- Rejoicing in bougainvillea, red and yellow striped wild gladioli, the first hydrangea flowers and a climbing Albertine that has bloomed almost a month late, so there may still be some roses for Christmas.
- Thinking unfriendly thoughts about the possum who nightly performs acrobatics to eat nearly every shoot on every climbing rose we have – something no other possum has managed to achieve, or bothered with.
- Thinking similar mutters at the wallaby who is eating the young date tree leaves, pulling them down to eat the softer tops – date palms! Wallabies do not eat date palms - but this one does!
- Hoping the potatoes are grow tubers down below for the kids to dig up in a couple of weeks.
- Watching the radar hoping for more rain.
- Saying farewell to our Christmas melaleuca. It was one of the first shrubs I ever planted and possibly the first ever bought from a nursery, not planted from seeds or cuttings given by a friend. It’s bloomed white for 36 years, all through mid-summer. But last night, after the heavy rain – and full of heavy blossom – it fell, leaving only a broken trunk behind.
- The trunk may still shoot, though it will probably rot. And I will plant another melaleuca, for the honey scent in summer, though not there as it’s too shady for a small melaleuca to thrive there now.