06.24.11Dana Seelig

How Much Water Do Your Plants Really Need?

Old man watering lawnSee, this guy feels good! Australian Dendrobium Rock OrchidThis orchid requires several months without water in order to bloom My OrchidCheck back next Spring to see if I got any blooms

This is something that’s not easy to agree on. In California, we have WUCOLS (Water Use Classification of Landscape Species) to determine the plant factor (crop coefficient); however there is still exposure, climate zone, soils, slope, soil interface between clay, loam (sand nursery soil) and the native site soil.

I have found that a majority of our landscape plants can survive with very little supplemental water once established. We have all seen areas where plants survive with very little supplemental water.

Plants need to be grouped in hydrozones so plants that need water, get water.

I think we tend to water because it makes us feel good – but it’s becoming a very expensive habit – not because the plants need water.

I live in Orange, California and every Fall I turn off my irrigation system after the first significant rain and keep it off as long as possible. My lawn tends to gets stressed in the Spring long before my shrubs ever show signs of stress. I start by hand watering the stressed areas (difference in soils, sun shade, tree roots taking various amounts of water out of the soil) and I restrain from turning on my Irrigation system as long as possible.

Recently I attended an Orchid Society meeting last month and listened to a presentation on Australian Dendrobium “Rock Orchids.” They grow on rocks and in trees the east coast of Australia. During our Winter (their Summer) they go for several months with out water.

I happen to have a Dendrobium Orchid that I bought when it was blooming and it hasn’t bloomed since. And that was over 10 years ago! I would always water it in the Winter, because plants need water but this year I am going to move it out of the rain. I am going to make sure it does not get any water this Winter. So wish me luck on blooms this Spring!

How much water do your plants really need?

Maybe a lot less then you think!

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Dana Seelig

Irrigation design expert, Dana Seelig has studied and experimented with various approaches to irrigation design over his 30+ years in the profession of landscape architecture. In addition to overseeing the design division’s irrigation system design and development, Dana is responsible for frontend project due diligence, design development and production quality control, agency approvals and field observation services. At the leading edge of irrigation design innovation, Dana has tested new approaches that challenge the typical requirement for time-based irrigation calculations.


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  1. Saturday, 7:14 Alan Harris

    Couldn’t agree more. Next spring try turning you irrigation on one zone at a time starting with the zone for the lawn. Along with your hand watering of your “thirsty” plants this approach may help you delay the start of the rest of the irrigation zones for another month or even longer.

  2. Wednesday, 4:11 Caroline Weilert

    Dana, nice to see your first blog post. Welcome to ValleyCrestTakesOn. Such an interesting read.

  3. Thursday, 9:21 Martha Golea

    People always freak out when they hear how long we leave their irrigation off in the cooler months, until they look around and see that all the plants look fine. Then they think we’re magicians. It really takes a lot of education and ‘living’ proof to convince homeowners/property managers that it’s actually beneficial to put the hose down for a few months!

    I can’t wait to see how your orchid turns out in the spring. Best of luck!

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