Nancy Brachey

The watering season is here

A watering can or a hose with a nozzle that provides a gentle shower is ideal for watering young plants.
A watering can or a hose with a nozzle that provides a gentle shower is ideal for watering young plants. OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Not so long ago, it seemed like the rain would not stop. So soggy was the soil, it put us behind on many tasks. But May has been quite dry, and now it seems likely that we will resume a pattern of long stretches between rainfall. That means we reach for the hose and sprinkling can to keep flowers blooming and vegetables producing.

Doing this in the best way possible for the plants is just one thing to keep in mind. Another is to use the water most efficiently. Many of us developed good practices during the many years of drought over the past two decades. And even when rainfall is normal or close to it, it is good to remember them.

For gardeners who use a hose to water pots, baskets and beds, three pieces of additional equipment are helpful. One is a breaker nozzle, which has many tiny holes that emit water gently so it does not create such a force that some is lost to runoff. Slow, gentle watering allows water to be absorbed more carefully and without knocking young plants out of position. Some modern nozzles come equipped with this type of breaker action as well as the more spirited full force that emits a strong, steady and narrow stream of water.

The advantage of these combination nozzles is they usually include the second piece of essential equipment, which is a shutoff valve. Gone are the days, I hope, when a hose running water at top speed was left on the ground while the gardener took on another task, such as answering the phone, going for iced tea or chatting with the neighbors. Water is simply too valuable to be wasted.

The third thing that helps is an extension arm to attach between the hose and the nozzle. This stretching mechanism is especially helpful for hanging baskets. This tool is also good for plants on the ground that require special watering attention because they are newly planted, subject to drying out rapidly, and may be just beyond reach of the hose. It also helps you put the water right on the ground instead of on the foliage, where a leaf disease could erupt.

While hoses and nozzles are great for small beds, pots and baskets, a vegetable garden deserves its own watering system in the form of a hose that seeps water into the soil right at root level. These hoses, often black and made of recycled rubber, can attach to your hose and be turned on for a specific amount of time (use a timer or your watch).

There is no runoff, the water goes where it is needed and you don’t causeplant diseases by getting leaves too wet, especially as night approaches. This is an excellent tool and vastly superior to the old-fashioned, above-ground sprinklers. When getting started, check at 15-minute intervals to see how deep the water is going by inserting a trowel into the soil. This will help you judge how long to leave it on in the future based on your water pressure.

All of these tools help make gardening better, and it takes little time and skill to master them. Once you have embraced this ethic of conserving water, the next step could be a rain barrel attached to your downspout to catch and save water.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. Encroaching shade has reduced the bloom on my peonies. Is it safe to move them now?

A. It would be best to wait until September or October, or even later, as the foliage begins to die down and the plant goes fully dormant. But shade is a problem because peonies require full sun. If you feel you must move them now, use a shovel to raise the root system as completely and intact as possible. Then reset the entire plant immediately in a sunny spot and water it well. I know people who have moved heirloom peonies at various times of the year when a home is sold and the plants simply could not be left behind.

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