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Watering your California Native Plants

How to water and when to water your California Natives.

- California Natives usually take one to three growing seasons for plants to become established.  They usually triple in size during this time.

- When the roots of a newly planted perennial start to penetrate the surrounding soil, the plant is less likely to wilt and will often require less frequent watering.  This is a sign that the plant is becoming established- it will also start to grow faster.

- You can group together plants with similar water requirements.  By grouping plants together with similar water requirements you will be able to water areas rather than each plant once the plants become established.

Water when needed. Water when you feel that the plants need water.  Water before plants become too stressed. 

- When a plants stems, leaves, and roots are adequately hydrated it will be able to withstand desiccating conditions, which include strong winds.  Plants that are well hydrated will also survive frost better than those that are not. 

- Younger plants need water more often than older, established plants.  Water when the soil near the roots beneath the surface is dry.

- Check plants for early signs of drought stress- slightly wilting leaves or stem tips.  Plants with waxy leaves or stiff stems may not wilt even if they need water.

- Watch the weather forecast.  Water before a hot and dry day.

- Monitor your plants during the first, second, and third growing seasons.  Provide supplemental water during dry winters for young and established plants.  

Water thoroughly.  Make sure that the soil around the roots are thoroughly wet.

- Use a trowel or soil probe to check the soil a few inches down to make sure that you watered deep enough.  Make sure you do not damage the roots during this check.

- Your soil type is also a determining factor to your watering.

- Sandy soils- water penetrates quickly so you will not need to water as long.  You will need to irrigate more frequently because sandy soil dries out quickly.

- Poorly drained heavy soil will require extra watering.  You should lightly water for a long period, wait a while and then water again.  This technique is called interval watering.  Heavy soil takes a while to dry out.  

- Heavy clay soil should not dry out completely.  When clay soil dries out it draws water from the plant roots and becomes hard and difficult to moisten.

Check beneath the mulch.  Check the soil beneath the mulch to make sure it is wet.  If you have wet mulch and dry soil the roots will grow into the mulch and not the surrounding soil.  The roots will become shallow and will not anchor the plant-  when it is hot and dry the soil will desiccate quickly and might rot.

Allow the soil to dry.  Allow soil to moderately dry before you water again.  If Natives roots stay too wet they they are more susceptible to rot and disease.

- If soil is wet do not water wilted plants.  Wilting might be caused by root rot.  Watering will only make this worse.  If a plant has root rot it will probably not bounce back.  

Channel your inner mother nature.  Water in the winter when rains fall short of average, especially during drought years.  Water in the morning when it is cooler during the summer.  If you water when it is hot half of the irrigation will evaporate.  

Young plants need extra care.  Below is a list of extra care that you can give to young plants to ensure their survival.

- Pat the soil- Check plants often when they are becoming established.  Probe the soil with your fingers around the original root ball to determine whether large air pockets have developed.

- Set up sun screens.  Sun screens can help reduce stress on young plants that are likely to wilt during hot days.  Check the weather forecast and screen plants on hot days.

- Remove weeds.  Remove weeds that grow around your new plants.  Weeds will compete for water, nutrients, and light.  They might also attract insect pests and diseases.

- Manage pests.  Aphids are common on young plants and should be removed from the plant immediately.  

- Prune fast growing plants.  Monkeflowers and sages will benefit from early pruning, tipping, or pinching back.  Young trees might need to be pruned to develop a strong structure.

Factors that affect water needs:

- Type of plant- know your plant and their water preferences.  Riparian plants grow along rivers and require water year around.  Some plants grow on drier land and prefer dry summers.

- Age of plant- Young plants require extra water.

- Soil- Sandy soil dries and saturates more rapidly than heavier soils.  Watering sandy soils for long periods is wasteful because water passes through the soil below the root zone. Water takes a while to penetrate clay soils and will need to be watered longer.  

- Mulch- Mulch reduces water loss by slowing evaporation at the surface.

- Exposure- The amount of sun the plant receives- this impacts the water needs.  Observe the sun patterns in your garden at different times of the day.

- Time of year- Watering schedules will need to be adjusted according to the season.

- Climate- Pay attention to the climate conditions specific to your garden.

- Microclimate- Watch for climatic variations within your yard.  This could mean lower sink areas with cooler air or areas in front of west facing walls that experience extreme heat.

- Weather- Check your weather forecast and water accordingly.

- Neighboring plants- Plants that grow under a tree or that are near lawns might require extra irrigation.  These plants are competing for nutrients and water.  

- Irrigation- When gauging how much water a plant needs gets factored into how the plants are watered.  Do you have overhead, drip, rotor or spray?

Runoff, drift, or underground water from a neighbors garden will also affect some plants and watering schedules.