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It was a scorching-hot day, and some of the neighborhood children were prancing around a spurting lawn sprinkler.

"It's a rain dance," the kids explained.

To which I replied, "I hope it works!"

One of the greatest challenges I face during the dog days of summer is keeping plants watered, especially young transplants and fast-growing annuals.

Most plants require a gallon of water each week. But since some plants prefer drier soil, it's important to learn the moisture requirements of your plants.

So what do I do when our plants require water and it hasn't rained for a week?

Conserving water

Keeping plants mulched is an easy and cost-effective way to conserve moisture that's already in the soil. Depending upon the plant, though, certain mulches are better suited than others. So it's also important to learn the pH requirements of your plants.

For instance, acid-loving plants -- such as azaleas -- should be mulched with materials made from bark. On the other hand, alkaline-loving plants -- such as clematis -- prefer stone-based mulches.

The best mulch for a vegetable garden is straw. Similar to other mulches, straw conserves soil moisture and smothers weeds. Plus, straw doesn't act as a vector for fruit and vegetable diseases.

Removing weeds also reduces the competition between plants for water.

Cultivating soil around plants makes it easier for rainfall to soak into soil.

You can also save and store rainwater by capturing it in rain barrels. I use a pair of plastic, 40-gallon, heavy-duty, garbage cans to collect and store rainwater that would otherwise be wasted. Even though the roof's area is only about 400 square feet, our rain barrels fill to capacity during 1/8-inch drizzles.

Making water from thin air

It's amazing how much water can be collected from dehumidifiers and air conditioners.

I've collected up to 90 gallons a week of condensed water from a central air conditioner. Yet plenty of condensed water from room-size and window-size units can be collected, too.

Thankfully, running out of plant water has never posed a problem. But if I ever did run out of water, I would give serious consideration to doing a rain dance.

This week in the garden

I'm making certain that all of our plants are receiving their fair share of water rations, especially when it fails to rain within seven days.

Lou Boulmetis is a certified master gardener who lives in Littlestown, Pa. Call him at 1-888-727-4287.


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