Gardening 101- Watering
Everyone knows that watering is an important part of gardening. It’s the first hurdle most of us have to jump to become successful with plants, and it’s the first stumbling block that cuts short the love of cultivation for many would-be gardeners. Watering can make or break a gardener. Good habits have to be learned, so here are a few watering tips that will help you keep your garden growing strong and healthy while helping to conserve water.
Why We Water
Watering, when you do it consistently the right way, is not aimed at perking up wilted plants. Wilted plants are already stressed and may have sustained permanent damage that can shorten their lifespan. Sometimes an emergency fix is necessary, but when done well, watering is more akin to preventative maintenance. It should be done in a way that maintains the moisture level in the soil, so that the plant can be sustained without wilting until the next rain or scheduled watering. That’s why you should always check the soil to determine watering needs, rather than waiting for the plant to be “thirsty.”
Minimizing The Need
Before you even get to the point of watering, however, there are a couple of planting habits that you should adopt to minimize the need for supplemental water. First, amend your soil. Using generous amounts of organic soil conditioner, manure and compost when preparing the ground for planting aids both clay and sandy soils in their ability to balance water retention and drainage. A three inch layer worked into the area is very helpful. Mulch is another necessity. A three inch layer of mulch keeps the soil temperature cooler in summer, warmer in winter and reduces evaporation.
How To Water Well
Watering well means providing deep, consistent soil moisture. Water regularly if you are not receiving rain during the growing season. Increase frequency and/or duration when it’s especially hot.
In the ground, watering needs vary greatly because of different soil types and weather conditions. Trees and shrubs have deep root systems that are most effectively irrigated using soil soaker hose or irrigation bags (like TreeGators) which allow the water to penetrate well over 12 inches. Lawns, flowers and vegetable gardens can be effectively watered using sprinklers or drip irrigation which penetrates 6-10 inches.
For containers, watering to the point of runoff is a good starting point (you should only plant in pots that have drain holes). Water deeply whenever the soil is dry an inch below the surface. Simply stick your finger into the soil and see if it’s dry. For houseplants, it may be helpful to place them in a sink or basin filled with water: gently hold the pot below water level until air bubbles stop coming up, then allow the container to drain before putting it back in it’s place.
When To Water
The best time to water is early in the morning, beginning an hour or so before sunrise, until around 9 a.m. Watering early ensures that the water soaks into the soil rather than evaporating, giving you the most bang for your buck.
Keeping a watering schedule is a good idea, as long as you factor in rainfall. If you receive an inch of rain within a week, chances are you can skip watering (downpours may be the exception if the water didn’t have a chance to soak in). Check for watering needs on schedule 2, 3 or 4 days a week, as your plants, soil and climate determine.
Enjoy the summer and happy gardening!