“Rain, rain, come and play, keep coming back for many a day!” We all need to be shouting this and dancing as many rain dances as we can. This dry heat has been brutal on us AND all of our plants! Hopefully many of you have chosen to plant native plants or plants that have been adapted to our climate, because those are the ones that appear to have a fighting chance right now! The stress of a prolonged drought weakens plants immensely and even those that are considered “drought-tolerant”, need some rescue moisture in the soil to help alleviate the stress. 


For the most part we’ve been dry as a bone during this summer drought and any rainfall we have received just hasn’t been able to keep up with the water a tree, shrub or woody vine needs. Especially if the tree, shrub or woody perennial is in its first year of being established.


Stressed out plants are more susceptible to disease, insect infestations and to simply put it death. Under watered trees, shrubs and woody perennials will begin to decline and this could end up being a decline that lasts a long time. Tree canopies begin to die back, leaf margins begin to brown in color and the symptoms may last for a while, even once the soil begins to receive moisture again.

Garden hose for deep watering during drought.

Drought and Rescue Watering


The key to correct watering for trees, shrubs and woody perennials is to always offer a deep watering. Shallow waterings are not beneficial. They make your plant rely heavily on water from you rather than natural rainfall. Roots on trees, shrubs, and woody perennials tend to grow where soil is moist, so shallow watering equals a shallow root system. Not what you want when it comes to these plants. Shallow watering also has you running to the hose more often than you should have to. Deep waterings allow for longer periods of time between irrigation and a deep root system. 


Rescue watering your established plants may be something you might want to try when we’ve gone several weeks without rain. A long, slow soak where you water the entire root system and extend the watering out to just beyond the canopy or spread of the tree, shrub or woody perennial can perk up your established plants quickly.

Plumbago is drought tolerant.
For example, my established plumbago is currently stretching out about 5 feet wide. I would need to be watering directly under the plant where the rootball is and about 2 ½ feet out on all sides of the plant. It takes a good 1-2 inches of water to thoroughly wet the soil. Position your garden hose under the plant and allow it to release a slow flow of water, moving it around to deeply soak the area. 


Even though my plumbago is a native perennial that has been established and can generally survive a drought with hardly any watering, with this string of high 100° days, it was looking pretty sad and pathetic. I gave it a rescue watering and it popped back up to life and even pushed out another flush of blooms shortly after. This just goes to show that even our native plants enjoy and appreciate an extra drink when drought is prolonged as it is now. 


Older trees, shrubs and woody perennials that have been around for years and are well established will probably only need this type of rescue watering a couple of times this summer. For woody plants that were planted last fall through spring, once a week rescue watering is a general recommendation until the drought has broken and rainfall comes again. Newer, younger, and smaller plants will generally need more frequent watering since their roots haven’t been completely established. 


Another help to get through drought is a 3” layer of mulch around the base of trees, shrubs and woody perennials. (DON’T PILE MULCH AGAINST THE TRUNKS OF TREES! Make a doughnut, not a volcano.) Mulch will conserve moisture and prevent weeds that compete for water. 


Water smart, and water well and your plants just might make it out of this summer drought hell!

~ The Happy (but the weather is testing me) Gardener, Lisa Mulroy