watering gardens

oscillating garden sprinkler fan shaped spray watering

A Strange Start to Fall

Here on southern Vancouver Island, fall has been cancelled and summer continues.

Our normal temperatures for early October are a low of 8C and a high of 16C (46 to 61F). The past week has seen highs topping out in the low 20s (low 70sF), and this trend is forecast to continue for at least the next week. This after above average warmth in August and September.

And it hasn’t rained since early July.

On the plus side, these dry, windless, not-too-warm days are great for gardening and other outdoor activities. On the minus side is the giant water bill I’m anticipating later in the year, and the continuing drudgery of hauling watering cans and hoses around. Ironically, our routine summer watering restrictions ended on September 30th, which means we can now water whenever it pleases us, for as long as we want (keeping the bill in mind, of course).

pink watering can

More seriously, the long rainless period has adversely affected entire ecosystems. Salmon are dying in dried-up rivers. Forest trees, already stressed by the “heat dome” of June 2021, are struggling. These are quiet disasters, unlike intense and dramatic ones like floods and fires. But the effects are potentially dire. Fewer salmon means fewer killer whales and fewer bears.

Returning to the garden, it is true that with shorter days and cooler nights, plants are preparing for dormancy. It’s not like May, when everything is making new growth and setting buds. Plants don’t need as much water now, but they usually enter dormancy with several good soaking rains. So I’ve kept up my watering program, hoping to send the little green dudes into their off-season in at least a dampish state.

Because of last winter’s copious rain and a cool, wet spring, I didn’t start using my soaker hoses until late July. I expected to stop watering before the end of September. I was wrong. Moreover, I have discovered something about soaker hoses, which I use to irrigate several perennial beds. They’re fine for normal summers, in which the rainless period lasts for two months or less. But when the garden dries out completely, soakers simply don’t have the reach of sprinklers. So even though they’re a less responsible irrigation tool, I’ve been relying on sprinklers for this late-season watering binge.

Old black rubber soaker hose coiled up

Despite the abnormal warmth and dryness, there are the usual signals of the turning year. Heavier dews and occasional foggy mornings. Winter birds—juncos, northern flickers, spotted towhees and others—are back, bopping around the garden and foraging. Hardy cyclamen are in bloom.

Hardy cyclamen blooms with ferns and fallen leaves

But tomatoes are still ripening on the vine.

"Roma" tomatoes ripening on the vine

And asters are in full, glorious bloom.

Light purple asters and geranium "Ann Folkard" in back garden

So is this dahlia.

Pink dahlia in full bloom October 2022
Pink dahlia cut flower on dining nook table

There is a lot to be grateful for on this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

Featured image from Pixabay; other photos by the author.

Weird light at sunset. Orange light due to wildfire smoke.

Hot and Hotter

The western part of North America is experiencing record-breaking temperatures, approaching 40C (100+F) on the south coast of Vancouver Island. This is an unprecedented weather situation caused by a blocked ridge of high pressure that is predicted to hang around until Tuesday.

We have become cellar-dwellers, including Nelly the dog. Newfoundlands don’t like it hot.

Nelly the Newfoundland dog

You can imagine what I’m doing when not lurking in the basement to cool off.

oscillating garden sprinkler fan shaped spray watering
Image from Pixabay
pink watering can

If I’m less visible on the usual blogs for a few days, it’s because I’ve wilted.

Being Aquarius

From now until September, or if I’m lucky, August, I will be the Water-Bearer. Rain is almost unknown here in summer, so for weeks I am the only source of this vital element for the plants in my garden. Many of them are drought-tolerant, but not all, and the overall scene looks better if it gets regular watering.

“Regular” means every two weeks, except for plants confined to pots and certain especially needy individuals, some of which require daily visitations by the person with the watering can. I have divided my garden into seven watering zones, and note down the dates I water each one, to make sure that they all get done on schedule. To complicate things, the regional government allows “lawn watering” with sprinklers only on two specific days per week, either Wednesdays and Saturdays or Thursdays and Sundays, depending on whether your house number is odd or even. Hand watering is allowed any time, even with a device connected to a hose. It’s unclear whether watering perennial beds with sprinklers counts as “lawn watering,” but since most of my beds have adjoining lawn, I just assume it does.

I deliver water in three ways — watering can, hand-held sprinkler and regular sprinkler. The watering can is probably my most heavily used garden tool (if you can call it that) from June (most years) to September. Almost the first thing I do when I get home from work is dip that can in the rain barrel (kept full with the hose!) and race around to all the pots and any plants known to be intolerant of dryness. Relatively small areas can be effectively watered with the hand-held sprinkler, although it is a bit trying to stand there, counting off the seconds with water dripping into your shoe. (I count seconds to make sure I hang in there long enough; otherwise it’s too easy to squirt and run).

I deploy the sprinklers only when the weather gets really dry and warm. It’s a bit of a job to set up the one for the area around the pond. The best place to put it, of course, is right in the middle of the pond, a feat accomplished by laying a special plank across that seven foot wide body of water, and parking the sprinkler on it in precisely the right spot. Once I turn on the water I have to make sure the sprinkler hasn’t shifted and that the setting is correct to deliver water to the entire area. Often a bit of back and forth is needed before it’s right. Then I let it run for the full two hours that I have decided is the minimal effective time required.

People who don’t garden, or who garden in those extraordinary places that get regular summer rain, probably can’t imagine why any gardener would find summer an anxiety-filled season. (Well, maybe they can, but I’ll bet not many do). In July and August I think about watering a lot, I do it a lot, and by the beginning of August I’m sick of it, especially because by that time the garden looks distinctly weary, despite all my efforts and fretting.

Some years we get significant rain in August. This happened in 2010 (if you consider not quite an inch to be “significant” — I do!), but you can’t count on it. Such rain is a gift, no matter how many barbeques and baseball games it ruins. Gardeners rejoice at the week-long reprieve from the toil of the hose and the can.

That’s it for now; I have to go and water.