Feel your soil!

Those who are blessed with gardening prowess are said to have a “green thumb,” but what about those of us who are adept at watering plants but can’t grow a weed?

A wet thumb? Hose handy? Water whisperer?

These days in May and June are critical for the hose handy everywhere. It is during these crucial months of late spring and early summer when watering can make the difference between color and beauty and shriveled and withering.

Being well-versed in both shriveling and withering, (I’ll even throw in “fading”) I certainly want to avoid those conditions outside my house.

This year is different from most other springs because in late December of 2022, Lafayette County suffered a sudden and debilitating freeze. Temps plunged so quickly that shrubs, ornamentals and perennials were caught with their plants down.

On December 23 of last year, temperatures when from 45 to 25 in less than an hour before plunging all the way down to one degree. We endured 45 mph wind gusts and a light dusting of snow. Trash pick-up was interrupted as was Oxford Transit Service. 

At Kroger, those who could get to the store, performed the usual run on toilet paper and milk and we thank them for their service.

For most of us, it was hunker down time and wait out the freeze.

When citizens finally emerged like dazed prairie dogs from underground bunkers, we were amazed to see the scorched leaves left behind. As spring 2023 began, azaleas, hydrangeas, and gardenias all shared a bombed out brown appearance. 

Some of this damage is due to a condition the scientists call, “longitudinal bark split” but what us down-home hose handlers know by the colloquial, “frost crack.” It’s like a stock market crash for shrubbery – they get shrunk and burned.

The good news is, frost crack, despite the severity of its name, is not always fatal. The experts (OK, Google) say show some patience, don’t prune the dead leaves just yet and watch for new green growth.

Sure enough, ole Farmer Google was right. As we rolled into May, plants I thought were goners showed some surviving green amidst the foreboding brown. 

As noted gardener, jazz pianist and pretty good dancer, Jeff Goldblum, intoned ever so cooly in Jurassic Park: “Life breaks free. Life expands. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.”

Which brings us back to water. When is happy hour for the natural world? When do we reward these hardy soil survivors with a cool drink from the outside faucet?

Unfortunately, the consensus is that early in the morning is the best time to water plants, especially on hot days – and this time of year, is there any other kind?

My ritual on watering days is to drink just enough coffee to make sure I’m alive before stepping out. I have a beloved old rubber hose on a rotting wheel crank that looks like it invented frost crack.

When I sought to replace it, I was assured the new “pocket hose” was the way to go. These are lightweight hoses that coil into themselves, somehow snake-like, as the water is shut off. I fished my old rubber hose out of the garbage after using the pocket variety a time or two. 

It just seems like a lesser hose – and who knew one could develop opinions about such things. We’ve all had the feeling among tools, implements – even potato chips – that the product has shrunk while the price has increased. Less hose, chips and bang for your buck.  

I began to feel, much like my rubber hose, like an old crank myself. “New and improved” often means cheaper to produce and performing at a reduced level. In navigating bold new worlds, it is helpful to keep an open mind while holding on to the tried and true. Give new methods their due but as former actor/statesman Ronald Reagan so coolly intoned, “Trust but verify.”

On the hot-getting-hotter days ahead, I shall keep the old cranker at the ready. I’ll monitor all plants with eye and thumb. (Feel you soil, the experts tell us). Over-watering can be worse than not enough water.

Don’t let the bloggers and experts push you around. I’ve gained my insights thanks to lots of error and error. Your plants will tell you their needs if you can develop the ear to hear. 

In the early morning hours before the sun has a chance to get up to no good, let there be water (and coffee) for man, beast and all life that finds a way.

And in the meantime, that’s right, you can get off my lawn.