Gardening: Combat dry season with slow, deep watering for plants

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

If you’ve been planting in the garden and live in southeastern Michigan, you know it’s dry. I get Michigan State University  Extension weather updates that confirm what we already know. The last several weeks have left the surface soil dry as a bone and temperatures are heating up,  so newly planted annuals and vegetables need watering almost on a daily basis. 

Garden centers and nurseries are loaded with gorgeous flowering shrubs and they can be planted now, but regular watering is a must.  

Slow, deep watering is the most effective. A 5-gallon bucket makes slow watering easy and allows for accurate measuring of application amounts. Begin by making a half-inch hole on the outer bottom edge using a drill or hammer and nail. Place the bucket on the outer edge of the canopy of the tree and fill it with water. When it’s empty move it to the opposite side of the tree. To save time, use two buckets, one on either side.  

Plants need extra care during dry spells.

For newly planted trees, place the bucket directly over the root ball with the hole next to the trunk. Newly planted trees should be watered daily for the first one to two weeks unless we get good rains.  Three weeks after planting water every two to three days. After 12 weeks, water weekly throughout the summer.

How much water to give a newly planted tree depends on the size of the trunk. A 1-inch caliper tree should get 1-1.5 gallons of water each application. A 2- inch caliper tree needs two to three gallons of water.  

Use the same method of watering for newly planted shrubs, but adjust the amount of water to 1/3 to ½ the volume of the container the plant was purchased in.

And don’t forget to give those mature trees and shrub a good soaking every couple of weeks to help keep them from becoming stressed.  

So how do we know how much rain fell when that blustery squall blew through the other night? While some folks use tuna or cat food cans, a good quality rain gauge will give you a more accurate measure.    

My choice is the Taylor Jumbo Jr. 20 “Easy-Read Rain Gauge. The 4-inch wide opening allows rain in and a red float provides easy reading even at a distance. It can be mounted on the ground spike or bracket provided. Weighing just 4 ounces, it’s very easy to empty.

The red float, bold clear markings and figure imprints makes for easy reading. Available on Amazon, it’s bargain priced at just $13.99.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. E-mail her at , Ask Nancy.  You can also read her previous columns at