Summer is coming, time to get out the hoses from the Whistling Gardener

This is my annual column on proper watering habits and it is interesting to me that last year I wrote this same column the second week of JULY.
Mr. Lincoln Hybrid Tea Rose. Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo Credit: Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

This is my annual column on proper watering habits and it is interesting to me that last year I wrote this same column the second week of JULY. Hopefully that means that we are going to have a long and hot summer. Here’s the lowdown on proper watering.

1. Most gardeners water too often and not deeply enough. Stick your finger into the soil two inches down (if it will go that far) and see if there is any moisture. If there is then DON’T WATER YET. Wait a few more days. If it is dry then apply some water slowly so it has a chance to soak in.

Here in lies the crux of the problem. Water doesn’t soak into glacial till which is what most of us have.

2. Most of us are trying to garden on two to four inches of topsoil. You can thank your city/county building departments for leaving you in this untenable situation. If they would only just require the builder to leave us with 12-18 of wonderful topsoil they would solve their storm water runoff problems and make every gardener in Puget Sound very happy.

In the meantime about all we can do is to add annual applications of compost and use an appropriate sprinkler to apply our water.

3. Appropriate sprinklers are as follows:

  • Soaker hoses. These are perfect for shrub borders and permanent plantings. Turn them on when you go to work and turn them off that evening or even a couple days later (after you have stuck you finger two inches into the ground to check the moisture penetration). My favorite style is the Gilmour FLAT WEEPER which actually comes with a lifetime replacement policy. All the others are junk.

  • Oscillating or impact sprinklers. Both types work well for large areas and can usually run for 20-40 minutes before you have to move them.

  • For spot watering my favorite sprinkler is the Gilmour Wide Angle Fan Sprinkler. It is perfect for when you don’t want to water the whole yard. For hand watering pots it is hard to beat all the various sprinklers that Dramm manufactures. Again I have a favorite and it is the 1000 WATER BREAKER NOZZLE with over 1000 micro-holes for the absolute gentlest watering you will ever experience.

  • Automatic sprinkler systems are nice and I made a living installing them in California but you still have to monitor things to make sure water is being applied uniformly.

So to summarize, first and foremost, stick your finger two inches into the soil to see if you really need to water. Established shrubs and trees need only a once or twice a month watering, perennials, annuals and lawns only a one-three times a week watering and containers only every day or every other day depending on how root bound they are.

(The more effort we put into improving our soils with compost and mulch the less we will have to water.) Water deeply and infrequently using an appropriate sprinkler and follow whatever direction your municipality gives you on days to and not to water. Water is a precious commodity and it shouldn’t be wasted.

Educational opportunity: don’t miss our summer pruning class this Saturday at 10am here at the nursery. Instructor Trevor Cameron CPH will guide you through the dos and don’ts of pruning this time of year.

Next week I will enlighten you with invaluable knowledge on how to successfully plant in dry summer soils. It’s not rocket science but it is important to know how to make things take root and grow so our investments will appreciate and not crap out.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at


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