Watering is the single most important thing that you can do for your plants. Without water, they will die, to put it bluntly. And with weather patterns becoming more and more erratic these days, it is up to us to make sure that they are getting enough, because you can’t necessarily count on Mother Nature to do it for you any more.
But how? When? For the gardener, watering can be a daunting task. And it’s true, it’s not as simple as just dragging a hose around. Any nursery owner will tell you that a good waterer is worth their weight in gold. But the fact remains that plants need water to be happy, and when plants are happy, they give us flowers and vegetables and that, in turn, makes us happy… Even watering badly is better than not watering at all. So get started on your road to happiness with these tips on how to water properly!
HOW CAN I TELL IF MY PLANTS NEED WATER?
1) Touch the soil. Is it dry and powdery? What does it feel like three inches below the surface?Properly moist soil should be moist (but not soggy) several inches down, not just on the surface. If the soil is really dry, you will need to water it several times over the course of a few minutes to get the water to absorb into the soil, because it will repel it at first. Keep checking and you’ll soon know when you have added enough.
2) Play the memory game. Do you remember when you last watered or when it last rained? If you don’t, then chances are it’s time to water.
3) Look at the plants. Are they wilting? That’s a sure sign of your plants screaming for your attention. It’s called “incipient plasmolysis” and means that your plants are on their last legs… er… roots. Are the leaves yellow? Ironically, that’s both a sign of not enough water and of too much water, so if your plants leaves are yellow and you have been watering, stop for a few days. If they remain yellow, then it may be a nutrient issue and you may want to seek advice from your local garden center. If the leaves are yellow and you haven’t been watering, then water away!
HOW LONG SHOULD I WATER?
1) The magic inch. A very general guideline for watering says established plants require an inch of water per week to thrive. You can get a rain gauge if it helps to have something visual to determine how much water you have gotten over the course of the week. Place it in the ground, and use a sprinkler for an hour or two and see how much the gauge fills. You will soon get a feel for how long it takes to water that inch. It also helps keep track of what the rain is providing.
** NEW PLANTS** New plants require a little more water because they are in the process of getting established. We usually recommend watering once a day for a week after a plant is planted, then every two days for the second week, every three days for the third week, every four days for the fourth week, and then once a week for the rest of the growing season.
WHEN SHOULD I WATER?
Water in the morning if possible. Ideally, watering should be done on a rising temperature, which is usually in the early morning. Second best is in the evening. Least helpful is in the middle of the day, because you lose a lot of water to evaporation.
HOW DO I WATER?
There are many delivery systems for water; irrigation systems, sprinklers with and without timers, and hand watering with a hose or watering can. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but the advice is largely the same:
1) Water deeply. Simply wetting the soil surface can actually cause more harm than good as it often results in a shallow root system and thus a weak plant. Make sure you water long enough so that the water makes it down several inches into the soil.
2) Water the base of the plant and not the leaves, if you can. Plants take water in through their roots, thus water on the leaves doesn’t help, and can actually help spread disease. If you are using a sprinkler there isn’t much that can be done about this, and that’s ok. It’s better to get water on the leaves than not water at all! But if you can keep it near the roots, all the better.
And finally, a tip about a product that can give you a little peace of mind when it comes to watering. Hydrophylic polymer granules like Soil Moist can be mixed into the soil when planting, and their crystals will absorb water, releasing it to the plants in an emergency. But be warned, and we have learned this from experience – more is not better. Too much of this product and the plants will be ejected from the soil when the crystals swell! So follow the instructions on the label carefully.
Provide your plants with water, and they will thank you all season long. Plus, spending time seeing to their needs is a way to connect with your garden and to make sure you don’t miss anything lovely that’s happening out there. for as they say, “Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes!”