Ask Mr. Sage: What Is Average Watering?
Dear Mr. Sage,
I am confused by the watering levels you mention in your catalog's plant descriptions. What is average watering?
Gotta Know About H2O
Dear Gotta Know,
Confusion about watering of plants is understandable, because moisture needs vary so much from one species to another. I'll do my best to explain the differences between our labels -- drought resistant, average water and water loving -- for estimating water needs.
By drought resistant or drought tolerant, we refer to plants that can survive and, in many cases, thrive in extremely dry conditions. The Salvia genus is renowned for many colorful species that do well when water is in short supply.
At the other extreme, the water loving description concerns plants that thrive despite persistently damp roots. A smaller number of Salvias fit into this category. However, almost no sage can grow well in steadily soggy ground, which suffocates roots.
Now to explain the broad middle of this spectrum: Except in math, where its meaning is precise, the concept of average is a bit hazy. I'll use some of our introductions in the past year at Flowers by the Sea to help define average water. It's a term that appears in the Details box of many plant descriptions in our online catalog.
It's not possible to be precise in stating the frequency of average watering or the number of inches of supplemental water it encompasses. Average watering varies from one region of the nation to another depending on local rainfall, humidity and availability of water for irrigation.
Also, what is skimpy for a species such as the violet-flowered, hummingbird favorite Queretaro Sage (Salvia mexicana 'Queretaro') -- it loves plentiful water but is also categorized as growing well with average supplementation -- may be too much for another average water plant, such as Kudos Yellow Anise Hyssop (Agastache 'Kudos Yellow').
Also a hummingbird pick, Kudos Yellow is one of our many plants that is presentable in a dry garden receiving almost no supplemental watering, but prefers a bit of irrigation.
In contrast, some FBTS plants receive the average water label, because they get by on less than the ample H2O they seem to crave.
Water lovers that are also average water plants include the blue flowered Dwarf Bog Sage (S. uliginosa 'Ballon Azul'). Despite its common name, the full-sized Bog Sage species has shown it can also grow well in dry conditions. We'd love to hear about your watering experiences with this dwarf variety.
Red Veined Sage (S. haematodes) is another blue flowered species that favors ample water, but gets by on less. This is characteristic of many types of European sages found in meadows that rely on rainfall rather than irrigation.
We also have plants that suffer when conditions veer either toward drought or deluge. They are more truly in the middle of the spectrum and include species such as the South American hybrid Dark Pink Joy Sage (S. x 'Alegría Dark Pink').
In naturally dry climates or drought and during hot weather when soil moisture evaporates swiftly, average watering may mean irrigating every day. If plants are in containers, twice a day may be better. However, in cooler weather, watering frequency reduces and can change to every other or every third day.
In a normally damp environment, such as in the Southeast, watering may not be necessary for an average water plant from FBTS or it may entail supplementation only once or twice a week.
Also, although a plant is designated as being drought resistant or average it probably needs consistent, daily watering for a few weeks until its roots are established. Strive for moist, not soggy soil, so the roots can breathe well.
Regardless of the level of watering a sage needs, almost all require good drainage. So if you have clay soil, amend it with grit or fine pea gravel to aid the flow.
I hope this helps. Please call or email us if you need more information.
Thanks for your question,