Water and Prune with Care to Protect the Health and Beauty of Your Landscape

After days of hard work to plant trees, shrubs and flowers it probably seems like watering and pruning are the easy parts. Physically, that’s true since most of us can hold a hose in one hand and a mug of coffee, a glass of Savignon Blanc and garden shears in the other. But you actually need to be very thoughtful about the whole process to ensure your garden thrives.

Start with the right equipment. While it’s nice to have a long, kink-free hose that reaches all the way to the Arborvitaes at the edge of your property, you need an attachment that enables you to deliver water in a variety of strengths, from showers, to mists, to a spray. And if you’ve just put down sod or seeds you’ll need to set up a sprinkler that pulses across the entire area since high-arching sprinklers usually won’t provide enough water.

Recognize that each plant requires a unique watering time. This is a challenge most amateur gardeners don’t think about too carefully. Here’s a quick checklist for Spring and early Summer, when plants typically require the most watering.

  • Trees – aim for 10 minutes per tree, every 5 days.
  • Shrubs – 5 minutes per shrub, every 5 days, again assuming normal rainfall. The exceptions are Hydrangea and Spirea, which need to be watered every 3 days.
  • Perennials – 1 minute per plant, every 3 days.
  • Annuals – 1 minute per plant every day unless it rained for a long period of time.
  • Sod – water immediately after laying it down, then 30 minutes a day for the first 2 weeks, but 30 minutes twice a day if the temperature hits 85 degrees. During the third week, water once every third day. Once the grass has rooted, water infrequently but deeply.
  • Seed – dampen the ground surface 2 to 3 times a day. As the grass begins growing, water once a day for a longer period.

Water in the morning. Rain doesn’t replace watering unless it’s a full day of soaking rain.

Watch out for wilting. It means the root system is having trouble. If it happens, give the plant’s root system a day or so to dry out.

Pay attention to pruning. This is another area that can be more complicated than people realize given the different needs of different plants. Here’s an overall guide:

  • Flowing trees and shrubs. Prune flowering trees after they bloom, and shrubs as soon as they flower. One exception is hydrangea, which don’t need regular pruning, although the dead wood at the very tips of the plant can be cut back, and spent flowers should be trimmed off. Be careful – any other pruning can damage this plant. Another exception is rose bushes. After the first year the stems for regular roses should be cut back to 18” when the weather is cold and the flower is dormant, and the stems for miniature and drift roses should be cut back to 6 to 8”.
  • Evergreen trees and shrubs. Non-flowering and evergreen trees should be pruned after they leaf out, as needed. Prune evergreen shrubs any time after new growth has finished flushing out. The new growth will usually be lighter in color but will eventually match the rest of the shrub. You can also prune the shrubs from December through March before they flush out the new growth if you don’t want the cut marks to be noticeable.
  • If your evergreen shrubs produce flowers, prune them as soon as they flower.
  • Perennials. Many perennial plants can be cut back to 4 to 6 inches after they bloom, and most should be cut back in late winter or early spring once they’ve browned or been killed by frost.

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