When to Water
For the casual gardener, knowing how to care for plants can be a source of frustration. In no case is this more true than on the question of watering. As too many folks have learned, plants are more likely to be killed by watering too much than too little.
For most gardens, an inch of water per week (a combination of rain and irrigation) should be sufficient. An inch of water will penetrate about six inches of soil.
Make sure you supply ample water to new plants, but lessen the amount once they become established. Providing one inch of water in one deep watering will encourage deep rooting, and leads to strong, healthy plant growth. Check every few days early in new planting to assure a sufficient water supply. For established plantings, deep, infrequent watering is recommended. In most cases, that one inch of water per week should be enough.
To check that your plants are sufficiently watered, poke your finger an inch or two into the soil near the base of the plant, If it comes out sticky with soil, then your plant has sufficient moisture. If your finger remains relatively clean, the soil is dry and needs a drink. A handy low tech device is the terra cotta water sensor that can be placed at a plant’s base. These sensors will appear darker when the plant is sufficiently watered, lighter when it is not.
A best practice is to water in the morning before the temperatures begin to rise. This gives the plants a good supply of water to face the heat of the day. Early morning also tends to be a time with lower winds and less evaporation. Very late afternoon is also satisfactory. If possible, choose watering methods that will not wet the leaves or be sure the leaves have time to dry to avoid mold and fungal disease.
A sprinkler may be good for the lawn, but is not the way to water a vegetable garden. You want to water the soil, not the plant. Soaker hoses have become very popular for watering vegetable gardens and flower beds allowing water to weep over the entire length of the hose. The leaves are never wet, reducing the possibility of diseases; the water goes directly to the root system; little of the water will be lost to evaporation. Soaker hoses should be left on only long enough to water your garden deeply, but not soakingly. Plants take their water through the roots, so make sure there’s enough water to access, but not enough to drown.
Watering properly can also help you to meet the summer watering restrictions that occur in some locales and can save you both time and money.
By eliminating watering practices that are wasteful and inefficient you can reduce your water consumption, make a positive environmental impact, and assure that your plants are healthy and well-nourished.
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