I know this sounds unbelievable, but there have been years in my lifetime when the only plants we watered were newly transplanted seeds and seedlings in the vegetable garden, newly planted shrubs, perennials and annuals in the flower beds, and potted plants and window boxes. But we’ve not been that carefree about watering for a decade or so. Gardening means watering, especially now that droughts and “abnormally dry conditions” have become more common in Maine.

All plants – trees, shrubs, vegetable and flower seedlings and seeds – need watering when you plant them. I water them with watering pails, getting the water from our rain barrels – if they aren’t empty. I water newly planted trees and shrubs every day for the first month, the rest every two or three days, depending on how hot and dry it is.

Once established, the gardens need an inch of water each week, more in heat waves. The vegetable gardens need more water than the perennial beds, probably 1½ inches a week, because their roots haven’t been in place over the winter. Get a rain gauge and check it every time it rains. Make up the difference between what has fallen and what is recommended by watering. And have a gauge, too, that measures how much you have watered with your sprinkler. Ours, rotating 360 degrees in the vegetable garden, takes at least four hours to put down just one inch of water.

Drip irrigation – where purposely leaky hoses are placed right on or just under the soil – is ideal because it wastes less water (there’s no evaporation), but it should be installed when the garden goes in. The plants don’t care how the water is delivered. If you use an overhead sprinkler, water in the morning, because plants that are wet overnight are more susceptible to funguses. But plants don’t reject evening showers, so if that is when you have time to water, do it then. And you can wander the garden with a hose, watering each plant individually, if you have the time and need the exercise.

— TOM ATWELL

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