Gardening: What do plants need? This year, water

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

Hot and dry – that’s the weather forecast for southeastern Michigan this growing season. That means I’ll be toting watering cans and hauling hoses for much of the summer.

We use mostly annuals in the Rochester OPC display garden beds because they pump out color all season long. And their roots are shallow, so without rain, I’ve had to water the newly planted beds daily. After a couple of weeks, I will drop back to every other day and see how they do.

Newly planted shrubs will also be watered daily for a couple of weeks.

Plants within reach of the hose are watered with a watering wand, which allows me to direct the flow on and around the root ball. The root balls dry out more quickly than the surrounding soil because they are made up of potting soil, which dries out faster.

After planting, mulching trees and shrubs with 2 to 3 inches of pine bark will hold moisture in the soil and prevents a stream of water from washing the soil away from the surface of the root ball.

Folks who have irrigation systems installed to water their lawns often mistakenly think newly planted trees and shrubs within the perimeter of the area watered get enough moisture but that’s often not the case, especially during high heat and drought-like weather. So these shrubs and trees need extra water. Bubbler soakers, fist-sized metal can shaped nozzles perforated with holes to mix air with water producing a gentle flow, can be placed where water is needed and are great for watering large trees and shrubs.

Just because plants are labeled drought-tolerant does not mean you can plant, water and forget them. These plants are deeply rooted, but it take time for those roots to become established, says David Salman, head horticulturist and founder of High Country Gardens in New Mexico, So the first year, they, too, need to be watered regularly.

Timely tip: If you planted a hardy hibiscus last year and it now looks dead as a doornail, don’t despair. These shrubs usually die back to the ground in winter and take their own sweet time to emerge the following year. This week in the OPC garden, we discovered tiny dark green shoots emerging from the base of the bleached white cluster of sticks we left intact during spring cleanup. Our patience paid off.

Appearances: Join me at 1 p.m. Saturday at American Tree’s Perennial Party, 3903 Van Dyke, Almont, (810) 798-2525, for my talk on “Tips and Trouble Shooting in the Garden.”

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.