Quenching Their Thirst
Once your garden has been planted, nothing is more important to its ability to thrive than water. When provided too little water, plants are unable to develop properly and become more susceptible to damage from pests. Too much water can of course be equally bad. In soil that is kept too moist plants become prone to rots and other diseases.
For Want of a Little Water
In my lifetime of gardening, I have many times been shown plants on death’s door and asked what should they be sprayed with, as if there is some miracle chemical capable of reviving neglected gardens. Nine times out of ten, the answer is water.
It never ceases to amaze me how people can spend hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on a landscape and then watch it gradually die for want of an occasional watering. Proper watering would probably save 75% of the plants that are lost in gardens each year. Even those plants that succumb to pests were usually first weakened by inconsistent watering. Especially after planting until the plant is “rooted” keep it moist!
How Much Is Enough?
In most cases, the gardener needs to supplement natural rain water. The questions of how much and how often are a matter of judgement. The best way to tell when a garden needs watering is to look at it.
If the soil is dry to a depth of a half an inch or so, it’s time to water. How often you need to water varies greatly with the temperature. With high temperatures in the mid-70s (24 C), watering once a week will probably be more than adequate. But when temperatures hit the mid-90s (35 C), you may need to water as often as every other day.
Other factors influencing the frequency of watering are the nature of the soil, the amount of sunlight, how well the garden is mulched and whether the plants are in flower (during flowering plants generally require more
water). But always keep in mind, you can most definitely water too much.
When watering you want to make sure the soil is well moistened. This can be time consuming, but it is better to water thoroughly once a week than to give your garden a brief shower every day.
Never use a spray nozzle on a hose, it delivers either too strong a flow or an inefficient mist. The best way of controlling water flow is to use your thumb. Always try to water the base of the plants, but in times of
meager rainfall you can give the foliage an occasional spray as well.
The best time to water is in the morning, but the warnings against mid-day watering are over done. Late evening is probably the worst time to water, as it leaves the foliage damp at night when molds and fungi are most active. But never let a bone-dry garden go without watering simply because you can’t do it at the optimum time of day.
Automating Your Watering
Irrigation systems can be great time savers for those with large gardens or little time. The best use drip hoses to supply water directly to the base of the plants. This minimizes the loss of water to evaporation that
makes sprinkler systems so inefficient, particularly in hot, dry climates. Sprinkler systems are also much more prone to mechanical failure. And since they are usually set to go off in very early morning, problems can be
difficult to detect.
For some very large landscapes a sprinkler system is a necessity, but bear in mind they are expensive both to install and to maintain. The most economical way of creating an automatic watering system is to use soaker
hoses (porous hoses that allow water to trickle out throughout their length) and a simple timer that fits onto the tap.
Mechanical flow timers (these turn off after a certain amount of water has flowed through) can be found for $10-$15 and more elaborate electronic timers are available for $30-$50. Place the hoses under any mulch and about six inches from the base of your plants. With just a minimum amount of pressure, this hose can be left on for several hours.
Basic Watering Techniques
There are numerous options for applying water to plants, each with its own specific use. A sprinkling can is most valuable as a decorative item around the house. However, it is also useful in the garden for gently
watering young plants when you have only a few. Likewise, it is useful for watering a few container plants on a balcony that does not have access to a faucet. Remembering that water weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon
helps new gardeners decide if they prefer to carry a watering can or drag a hose.
Garden Hose Good for Newly Emerging Seeds
A garden hose with a fan nozzle or spray attachment is valuable for watering newly emerging seed, young transplants, or other plants that need frequent, shallow waterings. Deep penetrating waterings are nearly
impossible to achieve with a hand-held hose.
A portable lawn sprinkler provides slow overhead watering and a wonderful place for kids to play in the hot summer. Unfortunately, much of the water from a sprinkler is lost to evaporation or runoff as it lands on a driveway or street. It is important to select a sprinkler that most nearly fits the size and shape of the area you wish to water.
If Using Sprinkler, Adjust Rate to Half Inch Per Hour
Adjust the rate of water application to about 1/2 inch per hour because a faster rate will cause runoff in most soils. To determine the rate for a sprinkler, place small cans at various places within the sprinkler’s
reach, then check the level of water in the cans at 15-minute intervals.
Wet foliage overnight can encourage diseases, so do not use sprinkle irrigation in the evening. Morning watering is preferred as there will be less water lost to evaporation than in the heat of the day.
A soaker hose may be made of several different materials, but the principle is the same – water is applied slowly and directly to the soil. A soaker hose is simply laid at the base of the plants and can be moved around the garden. Properly used, a soaker hose eliminates many of the problems of the overhead sprinkler, such as loss to evaporation and diseases caused by wet foliage.
Drip Irrigation System Can Be Installed for Long-Term Use
A drip or trickle irrigation system is similar to a soaker hose but is installed for long-term use in one location. Many simple systems are available that are permanently installed and last three to five years
before replacement. There is also the emitter-type system, best used for orchards, container gardens, or separate plants, in which short tubes, or emitters, come off a main water supply hose and go to the roots of
the individual plants. This is generally the most expensive form of irrigation and the most complex to set up.
This type of system is used in combination with a coarse mulch or black plastic. Drip systems can have problems with clogging from soil particles and/or mineral salts suspended in water taken from springs or wells.
New designs take this problem into consideration; some include filters and self-flushing emitters. It is wise to make a complete investigation and comparison before purchasing a drip irrigation system.