Watering your plants is one of those tasks that seems so simple everyone thinks they know how to do it. But the fact is that most casual gardeners water their plants incorrectly. Improper watering can waste water, leave plants prone to sickness, and make it difficult for root systems to get the water then need to thrive. The following are the best watering techniques to make sure your garden stays green and beautiful.
Before You Water
There are several factors you need to take into account before you turn on your sprinkler. The season and the weather have a strong influence on what water does to your plants. Early in the growing season the soil can be too cool for good seedling growth, so it’s best to avoid using cold water.
Later, as the weather warms up, you will want to water in the morning before the sun gets too hot. This lets the water soak into the soil before the heat can evaporate it. Watering in the cool morning also prevents water droplets on the leaves from boiling and scalding the plant. If the weather is hot and dry, it will take more water to keep the soil hydrated. Likewise cool and moist weather requires less water.
Soil type is also a factor. Soil that is rich in clay is dense and will trap any water you put onto it. This means you need less water, but also makes it easier to over water. Soil that has a lot of sand in it will let much more water trickle through, so you’ll need more to make sure the roots of your plants get enough to drink.
Careful monitoring of soil conditions before you water can save you heartache, and disappointing vegetables, down the line.
How Much to Water
Different types of plants require different amounts of water, so it’s best to tailor your watering to your plants’ needs. Fortunately, most of the vegetables and flowers that are likely to be in your garden have similar requirements, so some rules of thumb apply. These plants require about about one inch of water per week. The amount of water you need to give your plants will depend on the rainfall. If there is an inch of rain that week you won’t need to water your plants at all.
To tell if you’ve watered enough, check the soil. It should be damp, but not soaking, 5 or six inches down, to ensure the roots of your plants can reach the water. Since the roots will grow wherever they find water, deep watering ensures a deep and healthy root system.
To Spray or to Drip
The two most common methods of watering are to spray—with a hose, watering can, or sprinkler—or to use drip irrigation through a hose or pipes along the ground. Spraying gets water directly to the plants, so it is fast and you can control exactly where the water goes. Drip allows you to place your pipes under a layer of mulch, which reduces evaporation and the growth of mold on leaves. Both methods can achieve good results. Which you use depends on your preferences and needs.
How To Tell if You Are Watering Enough
Over and under-watering are easy to do, but they are also easy to identify by the signs your plants will give you.
The leaves of under-watered plants will start to dry out and turn yellow, and then brown, near the bottom of the plant. The roots of these plants will appear near the surface as the plant struggles to find water wherever it can. The soil will look dry and cracked. Under-watering is particularly bad for vegetables, as vegetable plants will give as much water as they can to their stems and roots and let extremities like leaves and vegetables die.
Over-watering prevents root systems from getting enough oxygen, and sodden leaves are far more susceptible to disease. One sign that you are over watering is mold or fungi growing on the soil near your plants’ roots. Also, sometimes both young and old leaves will fall off at the same time, and roots will become mushy and soft.
Add Mulch and Compost To Get the Most Out of Your Watering
Mulch and compost do a great deal to lesson all of the problems described above. A layer of organic mulch helps to keep your soil moist, as well as fight off weeds and some soil-born diseases. Organic compost added to the soil will increase it’s ability to retain both moisture and nutrients. Compost can also lessen the negative effects of both sandy and clay-heavy soil.
Watering your garden may be more complex than most casual gardeners believe, but that doesn’t mean it is difficult. Armed with the best watering techniques, you can confidently spray your garden knowing you are giving your plants their best chance to flourish.