Gardening Tips: Watering Basics

May 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

Remember second grade? Growing tomato plants on the window ledge to prove that plants need three things to survive: water, soil and light. I clearly remember the carton that we did not water never even sprouted (as opposed to the one we kept in the closet to deprive it of light — that one grew like crazy!)

Well, second grade science experiments aside, plants do need three things to survive. And while your plants will most likely grow, if not thrive, once they are in the soil outside, nothing will live long without water. Letting a plant, even a hearty, well-established one, go without water for even a short time can result in severe damage, or even kill it.

Ideally, nature would alleviate our need to water by providing us with 30 minutes of gentle rain six mornings a week. However, since some areas don’t even get 30 minutes of rain all summer, counting on Mother Nature is chancy at best! And, of course, as a responsible gardener, you know that overwatering is unnecessary, unhealthy for the plants, and a waste of a valuable resource. Conserving water should be a goal for all gardeners.

Gardening Tips: Watering Basics

The high heat and low humidity of the summer months causes plants to release much of their water to the air. This process is called transpiring, and I think of it as plants sweating. The more severe the heat and humidity conditions, the more water is lost to the air. It follows that areas that are cooler and moister need fewer supplemental waterings, while areas that are hotter and drier will need more.

The best way to water outside gardens is to use a sprinkler or a trickle irrigation system. Few people have the patience or time to adequately water large swaths of lawn or garden. Your garden’s water requirements may surprise you. While some plants, such as cacti, will grow well in drought conditions, the average plant needs one inch of water per week. When rainfall is sparse, you must supply the extra water yourself.

In general, light sprinklings do more harm then good. The goal is to water deeply, hence the use of a sprinkler. Shallow waterings encourage the roots of plants to grow on the surface in order to maximize the amount of water received by the plant. In hot weather the surface of the soil dries rapidly, quickly denying the plant its water. Deep waterings encourage the plant to send roots down deep into the ground where water is retained more readily. Continued deep waterings will ensure healthy growth.

The following is a partial list of the particulars of watering different types of plants:

Roses: Roses require one inch of water a week. The best method is to use a soaker hose. Lay the hose along a row of bushes and cover with an organic mulch. Turn on the water whenever moisture is needed. If you use a sprinkler, do so in the morning. Water on the leaves will make your plant prone to disease. The sun will cause water on the leaves to evaporate. Do not use a sprinkler at sunset or after dark! The benefits of using a sprinkler include washing off dust and insects and leaving your faucets available.

Bulbs: Bulbs should be watered thoroughly when planted and during dry spells. Try to keep the water off the leaves, instead watering at the base of the plant. Like roses, bulbs should get one inch of water a week.

Shrubs: The water needs of shrubs vary greatly depending on the type of shrub you have. Your best bet is to consult the planting guide that comes with the bush when you purchase it. In general, keep the soil around your shrubs moist.

Annuals: In dry weather, water annuals thoroughly once a week. In very hot weather or climates, or if you have sandy soil, you will need to water more frequently. As with roses, try to water in the morning to minimize the time that water will stand on the foliage.

Trees: New trees should be watered every two weeks for the first two years (every week in dry weather). The amount of water varies, but in general give as much water as the ground will hold. Once the leaves drop in the fall you can stop watering, but give one last thorough watering before the ground freezes.

Vegetables: Vegetables are approximately 90% water. Yes, 90%! Obviously veggie gardens require a LOT of water. If you have an hour to spend holding a hose over your vegetable garden, more power to you! An easier alternative is to use a sprinkler. However, this results in a lot of wasted water. The efficient alternative is to purchase a soaker hose or to install a trickle irrigation system. The initial expense in cash and energy in setting up an irrigation system pays itself back over the course of the season when watering your garden is as easy as turning on the faucet.

There are ways to reduce your watering chore. Weeding is one way. Weeds rob the soil and desirable plants of much needed water. Pull weeds as soon as you notice them, while they are still small. Ten minutes of weeding a day is much more appealing than an hour on Saturday afternoon. If you really don’t have ten minutes a day to pull these nasties from your garden (and let’s be honest, who does?) the chore can be trusted to a child as young as five or six once plants are established and can be easily distinguished from weeds.

Blocking the wind is another way to reduce the need for watering. Wind increases the evaporation of water from the ground surface. Therefore, less water penetrates the soil to get to the roots of your plants. You can create a windbreak with a line of fast-growing evergreen trees, a stone wall, or a stockade-type fence.

Another option is to apply mulch to your garden beds. An organic mulch such as shredded bark, compost, sawdust, pine needles, or grass clippings will act like a sponge, holding water close to the ground surface. And as the matter decays, valuable nutrients will be added back to the soil. Carefully consider before choosing to use grass clippings as mulch. Weed seeds from your lawn can be deposited in your garden beds increasing your weeding chore.

Happy Gardening.

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