Water for Life
It is June and the heat is on. Your garden, potted plants and windowsill greenies are going to need watering on a regular basis. Before you march out with watering can in hand, know that mastering how to properly water is a vital skill in the path toward becoming a garden guru. “How to water” sounds painfully boring. Perhaps you think it is a waste of time to read an article about something seemingly straight forward. However, before you move on to watching cat videos or reading up on the latest Kardashian scandal, consider how much experience you have in gardening. Additionally, think about whether or not any of these gardening experiences have ever ended in the mortality of your beloved plant.
Listed below are the general fundamentals of proper watering practices. These guidelines will help you grow a bountiful culinary oasis and will save some of your beloved little seedlings from a doomed fate.
One of the wacky scientific principles of water is that it evaporates. Furthermore, deep, dark, rich soil attract and incubates heat thereby evaporating at an accelerated rate. As a result, you need to ensure that you are soaking the soil in way that the water doesn’t turn into steam rapidly. You also need to water deep enough to reach the plant’s roots, where they take up water and nutrients.
What happens very often is that people water until the soil’s surface looks wet. This is rarely sufficient, especially in the blaring, mid-summer heat. If you have just planted a new perennial or veggies, stand at each plant and count to ten while watering. And I mean the real counting to ten, not your usual “I’m holding side planks and I hate side planking”. When you are planting newbies or transplanting, you need to ensure that you are penetrating deep down and keeping those babies alive. If shortly into the ten seconds the water is just running off to the sides, go water something else close by and come back. Once the soil has been prepped and wetted, it will absorb better for the next application, just like a sponge. A sponge needs a full soak before it can function properly and clean surfaces like a dream. Soil requires the same hydrating preparation.
DRIP IRRIGATION & SPRINKLERS
Sprinklers are an easy fix to the water issue. But as you may have gathered by now, sprinkling the top of your soil isn’t always the best method to keep a thriving garden. Sprinklers are perfect for seeding. This is because seeds need the surface of the soil to be wet at all times when they are germinating. So if you are seeding, sprinkle away. However, once you have plants established, emitters or drip tape is a great watering method. Emitters are little sprinklers that post up right next to your garden beds and water the area about 3-5’ around it. This alleviates evaporation issues, soaks the soil better and softens some water bill damage. Another option is drip tape - tubing that has little holes poked along it. Lie this ‘tape’ or ‘tubing’ along your garden beds snuggled up right next to your row of plants. The little holes in the tube will let out water right at the base of the plant and soak the area where the roots are. This reduces evaporation and the eliminates the ‘how long to water’ guessing game.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
The best part is that you can set your irrigation emitters or drip tape to a timer and practically forget about it. You are only required to check up on it occasionally to make sure that there are no clogs in the system. Those holes are quite tiny, so debris can reap havoc on them if it gets in the lines. If you run into this issue, just poke it out. Or call your handy irrigation expert.
Watering all willy nilly at any given time of the day is sadly not the most effective way to tend to the health of your garden. The most opportune time to water your plants is early in the morning. This is when they have the best opportunity to absorb all of the watery goodness. Watering early will also prepare your plants for the onslaught of sunbeams that will feed them throughout the day. Water again in the later afternoon when the sun has passed its maximum.It all goes back to evaporation. If you wait to water your plants until noon, they will be parched from the growing morning sun and the water given to them at this part of the day will be short lived. This is why irrigation systems can save you. Set the timer properly so that you won’t have to march out with the watering can early in the morning, well before work.
OVERWATERING & THE FINGER TEST
The take home message about watering is that the soil needs to be penetrated at the root level to give established plants adequate moisture to live. It can be really difficult to gauge if the soil needs water or not as weather patterns and rain varies. In addition, over-watering is a serious issue is often the cause of plant failure rather than. Some plants like more water than others but generally, most plants apart from aquatic varieties, don’t like to have their feet wet. Standing water can be just as detrimental to a plant’s health as dry, parched, dusty soil. A simple method to check whether you have sufficiently watered your plants is the finger test. Dig your index finger in its entirety down into the soil to test the top two inches for moisture content. If it feels soaked, skip watering and check again in a few hours. If the soil is only slightly moist to dry then feel free to give it an extra dose of hydration.
THE GARDENING JOURNEY
These watering guidelines can certainly help a beginning gardener get a better feel for proper watering practices, but that is exactly what gardening is; a feel. Because we are dealing with living systems, there are no real hard fast rules to growing food, just as there aren’t for raising a child or a puppy. You can get some help and advise from the experts, but the most important exercise is spending time with your garden and getting to know who your plants are. That takes time. In your first couple of years, you will inevitably over water or under water some of your plants, and some of them will die and give their nutrients back to the earth. That is a part of the learning curve. However, if you begin with these guidelines, you will eliminate a significant part of the guessing game that we run into at the beginning of any project. This will help you immensely as you begin feeling out your plants’ needs and learning the overall rhythm of your garden. With these guidelines in your watering knowledge basin, you will begin the path to successful gardening and will soon know when to water instinctively. Less questioning means more confidence and as we all know, confidence is the key to success.