How to Water and Care for Your New Garden
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 garden in the first year:
Focus on deep watering over frequent watering
Avoid getting water on foliage
Water in the early morning when possible
Use an abundant but gentle flow of water on the soil or mulch around each plant
Adjust water amounts for trees, shrubs and perennials, for how much rain has fallen and how long the plant has been in the ground
Overwatering can be as deadly as underwatering
Test the soil moisture if you aren’t sure
Install soaker hoses, timers or other tools as supports to ensure watering is done
Remove leaf litter 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.
The next step is to ensure your 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 contribute to your environment by improving air quality, reducing noise pollution, moderating temperatures and providing habitat for wildlife. Perennial flowering plants also improve not only the appearance of your home but also 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 soils 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 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; in light of our short season this can result in the plant being unable to recover by fall and enter its first winter in a healthy condition.
Geotextile landscape fabric used around your plants may reduce the water flow under and around each plant; you may need to water closer to the base of the plant to ensure that adequate water is getting under the fabric and into the soil.
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 heavy 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 and heat.
Water that stays on leaves becomes heated by mid-day sun and can lead to leaf burn; while this is an undesirable outcome on all plants, evergreens in particular are unable to regrow dead leaves which can result in an unattractive plant for the long term.
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. 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 (if it is very hot and you are not sure that your watering is deep enough, you may want to increase watering to daily for that week)
Third week and beyond; every three days
Continue this cycle until Thanksgiving
Generally, we recommend watering as follows:
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 or foliage
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
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 can live for decades
Water each perennial for 15 seconds
Too much or too little water can result in injury; in fact, more trees die from overwatering than underwatering.
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 the water and retain it.
Signs of overwatering
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 overwatering and reduce watering of those plants.
Leaves that are yellow or brown on the tips
Limp, soggy foliage
Signs of rot
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 sided hose that is easier on plants and when empty is lightweight and takes up less space.
Hose end sprayers: try a spray nozzle with variable settings to avoid a harsh spray on plants or consider wand hoses with 3 foot extensions that allow you to reach deep beds or window boxes.
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.
Programmable timers: these tools allow you to set a watering schedule that automates the time and length of watering.
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.
Once frost hits many perennials, they will die back to the ground…clean this debris up in fall and dispose of it. Some perennials like ornamental grass or Joe Pye weed retain their structure and may be left standing for winter interest; they may be cut back in spring to allow for new growth to begin.
Fall and spring clean up
Remove leaf litter and twigs from mulched garden beds and lawns in spring and fall to prevent debris from suffocating tender nursery plants and young grass seedlings.
If you need assistance generally or during vacation absences, consider hiring a garden maintenance company to assist you in ensuring your garden gets well established in the first year and stays looking great over time.