You spent a fair amount of time carefully planning and creating a beautiful garden. You chose flowers ideal for cutting and arranging, and vegetables and fruits to fashion your very own version of a farmer’s market, right in your own backyard. Now you just add water. Simple, right? Get out there every day and hose down all the living things and walk away. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy. There are some very good reasons to hone your watering skills, including conserving resources and saving you time. Here are some tips to make you a watering expert.
1. Understand Your Plants
Plants are largely made of water. If you water too little or too much, your plants will show signs of stress. Here’s a basic look at how a plant utilizes its primary life source: Water moves into the air pockets in the soil, and is absorbed by a plant’s roots. The plant then pulls water upward through the stem. The water fills out the cells in tissues and evaporates out through the leaves. When the plant’s cells are full of water, it’s leaves will look open and flat. Less water in the cells cause leaves to droop or wilt. If you notice yellow, curling or dropping leaves, your plant is trying to tell you that it’s very thirsty. The roots of a plant spread wide and often reach 12 to 18 inches deep into the soil. Consistent, deep watering helps develop strong roots, which anchors a plant into the soil.
2. Know Your Soil
The type and quality of your soil will help determine how much watering you will need to do. Sandy soil is going to hold less water and dry out faster than clay soil, which holds on to moisture longer. One or two inches a week of deep, infrequent watering should do the trick, but you’ll also want to utilize your keen observation skills. If soil is dry and cracked, water will run off the surface because it is hard and compacted, meaning it has less air, oxygen and room for roots. Adding organic matter can improve water absorption. If soil is soggy and saturated, you’ll need to hold off on watering until all the water is absorbed. Waterlogging suppresses the breathing air of the roots out of the soil, which causes the root cells to drown due to lack of oxygen. An easy way to check if water is needed? Dig into the soil with your finger. If it feels dry all the way to your second knuckle, it needs water. It can also be helpful to check the soil after watering to see if it is getting to where it needs to be. An inch of water should penetrate about six inches into clay soils, and eight to twelve inches into loamy soil. Don’t forget about the effects of Mother Nature on your watering schedule. Sunny or windy conditions will cause moisture to evaporate more quickly, and you may even get a couple of days off after a nice rain. Want to know exactly how much water your garden is getting? Investing in a rain gauge will take the guesswork out of the equation.
3. Check the Time
Water early in the morning or later in the evening. In the morning, sunlight is weakest, the ground is coolest and wet foliage will have hours to dry before nightfall. Watering in the morning allows the plants tissues to fill out before the heat of the day. Watering in the evening when the soil is cool and you will have less evaporation. Your plants will then be able to supply themselves with water before the heat the next day.
4. Water Deeply
Believe it or not, there are some hard and fast rules when it comes to watering to create the most productive landscape. Deep, infrequent watering is always better than a quick daily drink for your plants. It encourages deeper, stronger root growth and healthier plants. Watering lightly will promote shallow root growth and leave plants susceptible to drought. Always focus on the base of the plant, directing water to reach the roots. That’s where plants need those nutrients most. Watering around the entire plant ensures better nutrient absorption in the soil, so be sure to distribute water over the entire root area. Avoid watering from overhead. If a plant has a lot of foliage, you may just be watering leaves and never hitting the ground. And speaking of foliage, wet leaves may become diseased leaves which invites fungus and bacteria, especially if left overnight. Wet leaves in the sun can also be problematic, as the burning glass effect of water droplets may cause burn marks to appear on foliage. If you have any flowers or vegetables in containers, pay special attention to their need for water, especially during hot, dry spells. Those pots hold heat, so the soil dries out faster than your garden. Stick your finger in the soil. If it feels dry, it’s time for some water.
5. Retain Moisture
Think of mulch as a protective blanket for your plants. Add several inches to beds and containers to protect soil from the elements, keep it cool, retain moisture and deter weeds. There are many options available, such as pine needles, finely ground bark, wheat straw and more. Using a compost made from leaves, grass, garden trimmings and vegetable peelings feeds the soil with much-needed nutrients and provides a barrier between the moist soil and the hot sun. Mulching will save you time watering. Without it, the sun bakes the soil and dries it out. Another tip—placing rocks near or around plants will help soil hold onto its moisture.
Watering your landscape doesn’t need to turn into an extensive science project. Just remembering the basics will ensure a healthy growing season full of lush plants, thick grass and bountiful produce. Get out there and get growing (or contact us and we’ll take care of it for you).