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Water Wisely

Applying the right amount of water to plants is important both for water conservation and plant health. Over watered plants often suffer from root rot, while drought stressed plants are more frequently attacked by insect pests. The following tips will help you conserve water and keep your plants healthy.


Water Deep for Healthier Plants When you water, help your plants become more drought resistant by encouraging them to grow deep, strong root systems. Plant roots grow where there is water, air and nutrients. Frequent, shallow applications of water (less than ½”) that do not soak deeply into the soil promote shallow, weak root systems. When watering, apply enough water to soak the top several inches of soil to encourage roots to grow deep.  On sandy soils, this equals around ½” of water per application, while heavier soils require ¾” to 1” of water to soak into the top 1’ of the soil.


Apply the Right Amount Most annuals, vegetables, and lawns require around 1” of water each week throughout the growing season to remain vigorous and healthy. This is also true for varieties of perennials, trees and shrubs that are not drought tolerant. If rainfall doesn’t supply this needed water, gardeners may need to irrigate. When applying water through an irrigation system or sprinklers, place rain gauges around the yard to measure how much water is actually being applied so you will know when to turn the water off. In sandy soils, water applications are best split into two ½” applications spaced three to four days apart. If water starts to run off your yard or landscape beds before you apply your target amount, turn the water off and apply the rest a few hours later. Avoid watering during the middle of the day, when much of the water applied will be lost to evaporation.

For beds of newly planted or established annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, and vegetables consider using soaker hoses to keep them watered. Soaker hoses are an efficient way to water because very little moisture is lost through evaporation. In addition, they help reduce plant diseases because they apply water directly to the soil and do not wet plant leaves. When planning new plantings, consider using drought tolerant plants to reduce your landscape’s long term irrigation needs. Also, match plant selections to your soil type, and use only drought tolerant species in sandy soils. Planting trees, shrubs and perennials in fall will reduce the amount of extra watering they require their first year by giving them extra time to grow roots before summer.


Mulch and Amend Applying 2” to 3” of mulch will help your soil hold water longer by reducing evaporation and keeping the soil cooler. Adding organic matter, such as compost or soil conditioner, to the soil before planting will increase the amount of water the soil can hold and make it available to plants over a longer period of time. This is particularly recommended for very sandy soils that can hold very little water on their own. Organic mulches such as pine bark, shredded hardwood or pine straw, break down over time and slowly add organic matter to the soil.


Match Your Irrigation System to Your Plantings Lawns generally require more water than established trees and shrubs, yet many irrigation systems water everything the same. Watering efficiently and effectively requires that plants with similar water needs are grown together and the irrigation system providing them water is divided into zones that allow water to be applied to each area separately in appropriate amounts and frequencies. If your irrigation system sprays everything the same, have an irrigation professional take a look and suggest changes that will make it more efficient. Also, make sure to attach a rain sensor to your irrigation system. This will prevent your system from applying water during or right after it has rained.

Written by: Charlotte Glen, Horticulture Agent


Learn More! If you have questions about efficient irrigation, drought tolerant plants, or water wise landscaping contact your local Cooperative Extension office. In Pender County call 259-1235, visit our office at 801 S. Walker Street in Burgaw (office hours: Mon – Fri, 8am – 5pm), or post your questions online using our ‘Ask an Expert’ widget available at

Many great tips for saving water outdoors can be found online at

Lists of recommended plants for our area are available here - drought tolerant plants are underlined - - scroll down to the section titled 'Recommended Plants for Pender County'. Scroll down further to the section titled 'Water Wise Landscaping' to learn more about reducing your landscape's water use!