Survive the Dog Days of Watering

August 21, 2014 | By | Comments (8)
Chilling dog

Photo: rollanb

Woof! It’s hot! It’s dry! And if you’re like Grumpy, you’re SICK TO DEATH of watering all of your plants day after day, only to come back the next day and have them looking wilted and pathetic like you were never were there. Here’s how you can keep them alive and looking presentable without running up a $1,000 watering bill.

The first thing to do is divide your plants into two camps — plants you need to keep growing and plants you just need to keep alive until they go dormant this fall and don’t need any more watering.

Keep ‘Em Growing
1. Veggies and fruits — Obviously if you have tomatoes and watermelons ripening on the vine and apples and pears hanging from the trees, you have to water during hot, dry weather to keep the fruit from shriveling and dropping. Water often enough to keep the soil evenly moist.

2. Plants in containers — Containers dry out much faster than garden beds do, because there is much less soil in them and the soil gets hotter. So unless you get a good summer shower, you’ll proably have to water every day while it’s hot. Going to the beach for a week with no one willing to water your pots for you? Grumpy deals with this by watering them thoroughly and then moving them into a cool garage just before he leaves. (The garage doors have windows.) Out of the heat and direct sun, they survive just fine.

Butterfly bush

Lo and Behold ‘Blue Chip’ butterfly bush. Photo: Steve Bender

3. Roses — Roses that bloom off and on from spring through fall — hybrid teas, floribundas, shrubs, ‘Home Run,’ and ‘Radrazz’ — do so only if they’re actively growing. If you stop watering during hot, dry weather, they’ll stop blooming and go dormant. So water several times a week.

Just Keep ‘Em Alive


Photo: Steve Bender

1. Lawns — More water is used (and wasted) on maintaining the lawn than any other part of the garden. This is usually done by setting a sprinkler system to water every day for  20 minutes, because that’s what shopping malls do. This is totally dumb and, in fact, harmful, because it creates a shallow-rooted water junkie lawn that declines without its daily fix of water.

There is a way to keep your lawn pretty and green in hot weather without daily watering. First, water for an hour once a week in early morning, so that water penetrates more deeply into the soil. Roots will follow it. Second, cut your lawn (I don’t care what kind of grass you have) no shorter than two inches — three inches for tall fescue and St. Augustine. You’ll be surprised how long a tall, unmowed lawn stays green without watering.

2. Spring-planted trees & shrubs — You thought you were home free when you planted them, because it rained regularly and they looked happy. Now it’s hot, hardly raining at all, and they look ragged. Common wisdom says to water them deeply once a week, but I disagree. If you do that, they’ll grow more foliage, which means they’ll need even more water. What you want them to do now is to stop growing and just survive until they go dormant this fall.

How to do this? Simple (and this goes for any outdoor plant). Inspect the foliage early in the morning before the sun hits it. If it’s wilted, water the plant by soaking the soil around it for a minute or so. If it’s not, leave it and inspect it again tomorrow. To keep that moisture you just applied in the ground, apply a 2-inch layer of mulch over the root zone of the plant. Then go reward yourself with a cold adult beverage.


  1. Aspen Bowen

    I didn’t realize you could have a green lawn without having to water every day. It makes sense that doing it early in the morning before the sun comes up would help your soil absorb the water. I will have to try doing this with my lawn from now on so it stays green and I save water.

    October 23, 2015 at 10:29 pm
  2. Michael Charney

    Plant drought resistant plants only or mulch, mulch and a little more mulch i.e. at least 2″ OR consider different coloured and washed stones; emphasis on washed so weeds can not readily grow there. Be sure to lay landscape cloth over your WEED FREE ground first.

    August 29, 2014 at 2:12 pm
  3. Steve Bender

    All you can do is hope that it rains more next year. Or replace plants that demand regular watering with those that don’t need it.

    August 28, 2014 at 12:59 pm
  4. Carla

    Where I live we are in a drought and only allowed to water once every two weeks, I have a huge yard and can’t get the whole yard watered in one day (do not have a sprinkler system). I no longer worry about keeping it green, just trying to keep it alive. We’re just now going into the worst part of the summer – temps in the 100s, so its just going to get worse. I’m hoping I will be able to salvage my yard in the fall. What can I do so I don’t go through this next year?

    August 23, 2014 at 11:21 am
  5. BB

    If I didn’t live in Jefferson County, AL I could water my lawn.

    August 22, 2014 at 5:36 pm
  6. Lee May

    Hey, Steve, your piece resonates greatly, reminding me that all I can hope for during these deep dog days in Georgia is the sound of my long-suffering plants singing that ol Bee Gees song, “Stayin’ Alive.”

    August 21, 2014 at 4:19 pm
  7. Steve Bender

    I think you nailed the answer.

    August 21, 2014 at 2:47 pm
  8. Bonita Holden

    Something is cutting off the keaves on my vinca plants and just leaving lay. I’ve ruled out leaf cutter ants. Only thing I could find online as possible–leaf cutter bees. Do you have a better idea what might be doing this?

    August 21, 2014 at 11:16 am

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