How to water and care for your new garden

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A new garden landscape requires time, effort and expense during the first year that pays off in reduced overall maintenance in the long term.

These are the 10 most important things you need to do care for your new garden in its first year:

1.    Focus on deep watering over frequent watering

2.   Avoid getting water on foliage

3.   Water in the early morning when possible

4.   Use an abundant but gentle flow of water on the soil or mulch around each plant

5.   Adjust water amounts for the different needs of trees, shrubs and perennials, for how much rain has fallen and how long the plant has been in the ground

6.   Over-watering can be as deadly as under-watering

7.   Test the soil moisture if you aren’t sure

8.   Install soaker hoses, timers or other tools as supports to ensure watering is done

9.   Deadhead perennials

10.  Remove leaf litter and debris from garden beds (and lawns) in fall and spring

We design gardens to reduce long term maintenance by using healthy plants suited to our climate zone and the light conditions where they will be planted. When planting, we use bone meal in the root zone for its slow release of nutrition to build healthy root systems, a thick application of high-quality bark mulch to insulate the soil against fluctuating temperatures and retain moisture, and we ensure your plants are well watered before we leave.

Your next step is to ensure that new plants develop healthy roots in their first year to support long term beauty and vibrancy. Proper watering is the single most important factor in the care of new plantings. In our city, water is abundant, affordable and wisely used it will enable trees to add value to your home while contributing to your environment by improving air quality, reducing noise pollution, moderating temperatures and providing habitat for wildlife. Perennial flowering plants also improve the appearance of your home and provide food for pollinators, birds and other wildlife.

Whether you’ve invested in a small planting or transformed your entire lawn into a new garden landscape, we offer the following detailed recommendations to ensure your new plants get off to a strong start.

Deep watering over frequent watering

  • Generally, deep watering means that water is able to soak at least eight inches below the surface of the soil where it will stay moist longer to allow your roots to access water to hydrate the plant.

  • Deep watering trains your plants to grow its roots deeper into the ground rather than growing close to the soil surface which dries out quickly. Dry soil can cause the death of small roots and reduce the plant’s ability to absorb water even after the soil is remoistened.

  • Plants that get frequent shallow watering will not develop the deep root system needed for the plant to survive dry periods; if you water daily and miss a few days this can lead to long term problems or even plant death. Water-stressed plants can take weeks or months to recover.

  • If your ground slopes, water may run off the surface and you may need to adapt your technique accordingly.

Avoid the foliage

  • Deep water the soil around the base of each plant and not on the plant itself; this places water in the soil where the roots are.

  • Avoid overhead watering and instead water near the base of each plant; plants used soil-based nutrition and fertilizers that are transported through moisture into the plant through its roots.

  • Keep plant foliage and blooms dry when watering your garden; wet foliage is more susceptible to fungal damage and disease.

How and when to water

  • Use an abundant but gentle flow of water on the soil or mulch area around your plants; avoid strong, piercing water streams.

  • The best time of day to water is early morning before 9 am; after 4 pm is the next best time to water.

  • Avoid watering between 10 am and 3 pm to avoid plant damage and water evaporation due to sun; water that stays on leaves becomes heated by mid-day sun and can burn foliage.

Trees, shrubs, perennials, containers

  • Generally, the roots of new plants should receive 1 inch of water per week. During periods of rain you need not water at all while during periods of drought you may need to water daily. If soil is dry and cracked you should water; if it’s muddy you can likely hold off for a day or two. Generally, depending on your soil, elevation and factors such as shade cover and rain, we recommend new plants be watered:

    • First week: every day (unless it rains; a light shower is not adequate),

    • Second week: every two days (unless it rains heavily),

    • Third week and beyond; every three days (unless it rains),

    • Continue this cycle until Thanksgiving (approximately when plants begin to enter dormancy).

  • Generally, we recommend watering as follows:

    • Trees

      • Newly planted trees draw most of their moisture from the root ball directly under the tree so the area can dry out quickly even through the area around it is moist.

      • Water each tree 7-10 minutes.

      • Don’t water the trunk.

    • Shrubs

      • Shrubs may be evergreen (keep their leaves year-round) or deciduous (lose their leaves in fall and regrow them in the spring).

      • Water each shrub 2-3 minutes.

      • Don’t water foliage or blossoms.

    • Perennials

      • Perennial plants die back each fall and regrow each spring.

      • They are the most tender of the plants yet properly cared for they will become lush mature plants that will live for decades.

      • Water each perennials 15 seconds.

o   Too much or too little water can result in injury; in fact, more trees die from over-watering than under-watering.

Test if you aren’t sure

  • A simple test to see if your garden is getting enough water can be done by watering using your usual method and then waiting a half hour. Then, push back the mulch and carefully dig into the soil with a trowel. If it’s not wet eight inches or more below the surface, you may not have watered enough or it may be that you watered too fast and the water ran off elsewhere. Or both.

  • Try a gentler stream of water for a longer period of time because it prepares the soil to absorb and hold the water.

Signs of over watering

  • Plants that get too much water are as likely to die as those that are under-watered. Watch for these signs that you may be over watering and reduce watering of those plants.

    • Leaves that are yellow or brown on the tips.

    • Limp, soggy foliage.

    • Signs of rot.

Tools

  • Choose watering devices that are best for you and the size of your garden. If you have a large garden with daily watering needs you might want to consider using soaker hoses and an automatic timer.

  • Water hose: old style rubber hoses kink during use and are rough on plants they hit while being moved around the garden. Invest in a soft flexible hose that is easier on plants, light when empty and takes up less space.

  • Soaker hose: soaker hoses can reduce labour and water by directly watering the soil; they can be placed in the specific areas you want to water, secured with landscape staples and installed under or on top of mulch. A splitter can be used to run several hoses at one time through your garden bed.

  • Programmable timers: these tools allow you to set a watering schedule that automates the time and length of watering.

  • Watering can: while the hose is watering a tree, use a watering can to hand water perennials.

Deadhead perennials

  • Once blossoms on perennials are spent, remove them to allow the plant to focus its energy on developing roots; some plants will rebloom once deadheaded for long lasting garden color.

  • Deadheading can be done while the hose is deep watering trees; for most plants this means pinching the bloom back to just above the first set of healthy leaves.

  • Don’t be alarmed if you’re not seeing too much new growth or flowers the first year. Peonies, for example, routinely take a growing season to establish themselves before they’ll reward you with new blooms. 

Fall and spring clean up

  • Remove leaf litter and twigs from mulched garden beds and lawns in spring and fall to prevent debris from holding moisture and increasing the potential for disease in tender nursery plants and suffocating young grass seedlings.

Longer term, regardless of how established your garden is, it is best not to leave the hydration of your plants up to Mother Nature. In the heat of the summer we recommend a good watering a couple of times a week for even well-established plants: always in the cool of the day with a focus on the surrounding soil to avoid foliage sunburn from water pooling on leaves.

If you need assistance generally or during vacation absences, consider hiring a garden maintenance company to install soaker hoses or assist you in ensuring your garden gets well established in the first year and stays looking great over time.