We are back in the 90s but thankfully most Oklahoma gardens and farms were blessed with some nice soaking rains over the past two weeks. We can water our trees, shrubs, vegetables and lawns and witness the color and renewed life the water provides to the plant world. Good rains are even more nourishing and satisfying to our plants. It is fun to witness them turn greener almost overnight, to see the flush of new growth and flowers that follow a good rain. Some rains and the cooler temperatures they bring stimulate such new vigor you can almost watch your tomatoes, begonias and other plants grow.
We are likely to be entering a period of warmer temperatures and may even see hot, dry winds with some regularity so watering and mulching will grow in importance over the next few months.
You can still plant most all kinds of annuals, perennials, herbs, warm season vegetables, trees, shrubs and summer lawns as long as you are prepared to water them after planting and regularly as needed as we confront the challenges of summer. Many plants actually grow well in the heat and bright light as long as they get adequate moisture. Many cities and towns in central and western Oklahoma are on water rationing so you do need to pay attention to the odd-even days or other water rationing rules.
There are many things we gardeners can do to reduce water use and well established shade trees and other plantings actually reduce home energy use, help lower summer temperatures, provide cover for the earth to prevent blowing dirt and dust while they slow storm water and help moisture soak into the soil.
Adding peat moss, compost or other organic matter to the soil before planting will dramatically increase your soil water holding capacity and reduce how often you have to water and the amount of water needed. Mulching the top of the soil in your flowerbeds, containers or hanging baskets with natural mulch like cottonseed, pecan or cocoa hulls or a layer of pine, oak or fir bark will act like a comforter for your plantings to reduce water evaporation from the soil, to cool the soil and hold moisture from rains or watering in the root zone of your soil. A 1 1/2-inch- to 3-inch-thick layer of one of the many bark or hull mulches will often reduce your water by half or more. A bonus is that a good cover of mulch does more to reduce and limit weed competition than most any other gardening practice. Another bonus is the additional organic matter it adds to the soil as it decomposes or as you turn it over into the soil.
Most plants need about 1 inch of water per week during the growing season to grow and fruit to their potential. If Mother Nature provides that in rain, you don’t have to water that week. If Mother Nature is stingy with the rain, you may need to help out with hand watering, sprinklers or drip irrigation. Hand watering affords you, as the gardener, with the most control as you can water some plants more and some less depending on the plant, soil type, heat and wind intensity. Sprinklers many times work well, but waste water as more is lost to evaporation and wind, and on some plants or walkways sprinkler water is wasted. A drip system takes more work to install in the beginning but often uses half to two thirds less water.
I hope you will make time to get outside to plant, mulch, and water as you enjoy the food and beauty in your own yard and our community.
Rodd Moesel serves on the Oklahoma State University Agriculture Dean's Advisory Committee. He is a former president of the Oklahoma Greenhouse Growers Association. Email garden and landscape questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.