Let’s talk about watering

Published 12:07 am Sunday, July 7, 2013

With the scorching heat here to stay for awhile, it seems like a good time to talk about watering. Your method of watering depends on you as much as it does your plants.

First, let’s talk about the plants. As a general rule, both vegetables and ornamentals require about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water per week. When watering, follow these basic principles:

• Strive to maintain uniform moisture. Dry soil around the root system between waterings causes additional stress on plants.

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• Avoid watering foliage as much as possible. Wet foliage can lead to a variety of fungal diseases. Also, when water is targeted to the root system, less water is wasted.

• Less frequent, deep watering is preferable to frequent, shallow watering. Shallow watering causes the water to stay closer to the surface while deep watering penetrates the soil, encouraging the roots to reach down for water. The result is a healthier root system and therefore a healthier plant.

• Water slowly to increase absorption into the soil. Fast watering leads to more runoff and therefore more wasted water.

Keeping the above principles in mind, there are a variety of watering methods available.

• Sprinklers — Automatic sprinklers and manual sprinklers attached to the end of a hose achieve the same result. An even amount of water is applied over a large area. The advantage is that you turn it on, either manually or through the use of a timer, and leave it. The disadvantages are that all plants are getting the same amount of water regardless of their individual needs and the foliage is getting wet. If you use a sprinkler, water early enough in the day for the foliage to dry by nightfall. Also, make sure the water is not applied faster than the soil can absorb it.

• Drip irrigation — Using a micro-irrigation system, such as drip irrigation, is arguably the most efficient way to water. Drip irrigation systems use up to 70 percent less water than sprinklers. Drip tape is typically hidden by a layer of mulch and adapts to any garden layout. The primary advantage is that water is targeted to the roots, keeping the foliage dry. Another advantage is that you can work in the garden while watering. A timer can be installed to turn the water on and off. Starter kits are relatively inexpensive at most garden centers and the system is easy to install.

• Hand watering — This may seem like the tedious way to water but there are many advantages. You can give each plant the amount of water it needs. You spend more time in the garden, giving you more opportunity to observe your plants and assess their needs and development. You can purchase a wand that attaches to the end of your hose to avoid excessive bending. Most of the wands on the market have multiple settings and a small latch that will allow the water to flow if you release the handle. This permits you to set it down and continue watering as you do other garden chores. As with any method, the slower the better so keep the water pressure low.

Back to our basic principles. Water slowly, avoid shallow watering and avoid wetting the foliage as much as possible. The rest is up to you. Fit watering time into your schedule based on your own preferences.

While you are at it, take time to enjoy your surroundings, watch the butterflies and smell the roses!

For this month’s gardening calendar, see page 3C of the print edition.


Karen O’Neal is an Adams County Master Gardener.