How often should I water my native garden?

A: The short answer to this is: The watering schedule that your plants like. The green industry has spent time and money developing plants that will accept a wide range of growing conditions. Many require frequent irrigation throughout their growing season, and in Southern California, this often means all year. Native plants from our region, in contrast, are well-adapted to our dry, hot summers and wet, mild winters. Some dislike summer water, some are adapted to a range of conditions, and some are very particular about when and how much water they want. Keeping this in mind, the following principles will help you understand your plants’ water needs.
  1. Know where your plants grow in the wild.
    Use this information to determine when and how to water. For chaparral and scrub plants, water during the winter, if rains are scarce. Once established, many scrub plants will look better in your garden with an occasional summer soaking. Others are fine with no summer water at all. Desert plants are adapted to an occasional summer deluge, so give them a good soaking every now and again during the summer. You are likely to be rewarded with a flush of new growth and flowers. Avoid watering desert plants during cold weather, especially if you have poorly drained soil.
  2. Roots grow where the water is.
    If you water for 10 minutes every day, your plants -including turf grass- are likely to develop shallow root systems since only the top inch or less of the soil will get wet. If you are using drip emitters, make sure they apply water evenly throughout the root zone. You will probably need to move the emitters out and add more as the plants grow. Remember to apply water where you want the roots to grow.
  3. Watch and get to know your plants and garden.
    This is probably the most important principle. Gardening is a process and plants are living organisms. Get to know your plants and they will tell you when they need water. Wilting, for example, is a sign of water stress. Still the story is more complicated than just water when they wilt. For some plants wilting is a sign of extreme drought stress and they may not recover. Others wilt during the heat of the day and perk up in the evening and morning. These probably do not need water. Others wilt when they have been kept too wet because their roots have rotted and are unable to take up water. Your only hope in this case is to stop watering - let the soil dry out and wait to see if the plant recovers. Only experience with your plants will allow you to understand what they need to be most healthy.

    Watering will become less of a mystery when you get to know your plants as individuals and as part of a whole system. Although this is not a simple or satisfying answer, especially to garden novices, it is the real answer. There is no one watering schedule that will work for every garden. It depends on the type and age of plant, soil type, winds, rain, buildings, topography and the whole community of plants in your garden – just to name a few of the many considerations. Not only will you be more successful by getting to know your plants and garden, but you will benefit from the added tranquility and balance that are the primary purpose of gardens in the first place.