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As hot, dry days loom, look to the soaker hose

By Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. I have a beautiful mandevilla, the pride of my deck, and it is wilting faster than I can keep it watered. What should I do?

    A. The roots of that plant have filled the pot and you must give it more space in a bigger pot. This is not difficult to do and there are many attractive pots, some quite lightweight and easy to handle. For a plant of this size and vigor, get one at least two inches wider in diameter than the one you now have. Get good soil and reset the plant so that the roots have space to spread out and grow. This will make all the difference. It is still spring and your mandevilla has many months of beauty left.

With summer heat imminent, more attention must be paid to keeping plants, especially young ones, watered. Rainfall may be plentiful, but that’s no help if it falls all at once and you don’t see a drop for another hot week.

The years of serious drought – not so long ago – taught us lessons about watering flower beds and vegetable gardens efficiently. Conserving water should be one of your gardening goals, right up there with growing lots of flowers and getting the first ripe tomato in the neighborhood.

The best way to keep these beds watered is with a soaker hose.

These inexpensive hoses are valuable especially for vegetable gardens where plants grow close together. The hose allows water to seep onto the root zone where it is most beneficial. This avoids wetting foliage unnecessarily, which can invite fungus to develop and harm the plants.

Covered with a light mulch of loose leaves, the hose, typically black, becomes invisible. Once you begin to use the hose, check to see how long it takes for the moisture to seep into the ground to about 6 inches. Use a trowel sunk into the soil to check.

After a few times you will come to understand how long to leave the water on to get the roots watered sufficiently.

Soaker hoses are just as valuable in flower beds, especially ones planted with flowers that demand a steady source of water, such as impatiens. These plants wilt rapidly when dry. But most flowering annuals require a steady moisture to keep them growing and blooming.

Perhaps the exceptions are lantana and bedding begonias, but even those drought-tolerant flowers should get watered regularly for best appearance.

While many gardeners simply know that it is time to turn on the hose, others look for indications.

One is, if you sink your trowel into the bed and it is dry before you reach about 2 inches, it is time to water.

Another is plants wilting in the heat, typically in the late afternoon and evening. This is a strong suggestion that the garden requires watering now. This is, of course, not the time for overhead watering because the foliage will stay wet into the night and invite disease. But with a soaker hose you can turn it on without this risk.

Plants in containers are typically watered by hand. A watering can is best because it wastes less water and you can put the water right onto the soil instead of on top of the flowers and foliage. Containers dry out rapidly in hot weather so you may face doing this morning and night, but it is worth it to keep your container garden looking good. Light applications of fertilizer can be done with the watering, and this will help keep the plants robust and healthy.

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