How to give your plants a measured drink

91452a44-df0f-458a-b83b-34231db2e646July is my least favorite month. It’s usually hot, really hot. The outside ­temperature has the electric meter spinning faster due to the air ­conditioner running overtime.

And then there’s the humidity ­approaching ­tropical conditions with dew points just as high. Okay, purely from a profes­sional viewpoint, the ­summer conditions are really good for some plants like orchids and ferns.

Unfortunately, the fact is many plants just seem to tolerate the ­conditions, and that’s it. They sit there like the proverbial bump on the log. Or they turn brown and go dormant, like most of our unwatered lawns. That being said, it’s a good thing for cool-season grasses to move toward dormancy.

Don’t get me wrong. As an intermediary month, there’s always August and September on the horizon with memories of May and June still bouncing around in the brain.

Tomatoes languish on the vine, though most vines are bushes these days. Still, the plants produce oodles of flowers, but the flowers don’t set much fruit when the temperatures exceed 90 degrees F. Other spring-planted vegetables seem to mature overnight into inedible specimens.

Sweet corn does ripen, but quality diminishes quickly in the heat. But you should be eating, preserving or giving it away so it doesn’t go to waste.

And don’t get me started on the zucchinis that are perfect as 1-inch diameter, 6-inch tubes in the ­morning and ginormous baseball bats by nightfall.

Many of the annual flowers bloom but seemingly half-heartedly with flowers bleached out by the sun and only half size due to the heat and lack of moisture. At least the day­lilies appear immune to any conditions. Whether it’s hot or cold, wet or dry, those flowers last one day or one night if you have the night-blooming ­daylilies, which seems oxymoronic but isn’t.

Sure, you can water. And water and water. That’s great if you have a water source, but many have wells and you have to decide whether a shower and clean dishes are on the same or higher level than plants. If you are blessed with a continuous water source, you need to decide if the dollars and time are worth it. And if truth had to be told, I’d probably opt for the plants over the shower and the dishes.

In all honesty, I have a continual water source and the plants get watered through a drip irrigation system during weekly, early morning ­waterings, so the moisture goes to the plant instead of the atmosphere. Early ­morning means 6 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. starts. Mulching also helps ­conserve the water. Container-grown ­specimens get the every-other-day waterings, or daily if the temperatures approach  triple digits.

David Robson is Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety for the University of Illinois.
David Robson is Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety for the University of Illinois.

If you’re going to water make it count, and measure. Most lawns, ­vegetables and flowers need 1-inch per week. To determine water flow rate, set your sprinkler in an open area and turn on the water. Place a small tin, such as a tuna fish or cat food can, approximately three-quarters of the ­distance from the sprinkler to the outer edge of water discharge. Most of these food cans are an inch high. When the can is full, check the time.

To measure drip irrigation or soaker hoses, allow them to soak for a half hour and then test the soil ­surrounding them. An inch of water will wet the soil an average of 6 to 15 inches, depending on soil type. If the soil isn’t moist that deep, continue soaking.