Wise Watering Tips

by Andrea Laine

Welcome to August. It’s hot and it’s dry.  And while our area does receive plentiful rain (we are above average for the year), it may not always fall in your neighborhood or at regular intervals. Your lawn, vegetable garden or landscape plants may be thirsty.

As gardeners we know that water is essential to plant growth.  An ideal soil is composed of 50 percent solid materials, 25 percent air, and 25 percent water. Water dissolves minerals in the soil and transports these nutrients upward from the roots and throughout the plant. Water is responsible for the firmness and fullness of plant tissue. Even drought-tolerant plants need water every now and then to survive.

So, it may be time to water your garden. However, be aware that it is also possible to abuse our plants with water.  One of my “a-ha” moments during Master Gardener training came when I learned that you cannot water a plant too much at one time, yet you can water it too frequently. Yes, we can kill our plants with what we perceive to be kindness!

Frequent watering prevents newly planted lawn grasses or young shrubs and trees from building strong root systems.  And overwatering will eventually cause the roots of any plant to rot as the abundance of water in the soil leaves too little room for oxygen.  Once the roots rot, there’s no saving the plant.  Less frequent, yet longer and slower watering motivates roots to grow deeper, which is very important for new plants. And, watering this way will penetrate the root zone of established plants.

Knowing when to water, how to water, how much, and how often to water can make or break your garden.  Here are a several tips about watering:

  • First, get yourself a rain gauge so you’ll know exactly how much water Mother Nature has contributed before you add more. Rain gauges come in an array of designs and sizes from strictly functional and inexpensive to highly decorative and more expensive. I have an inexpensive plastic one that simply inserts into the ground. When it fills up with water the numbers are magnified which enables me to easily read it from my kitchen window.
  • Early morning hours are the best time to water, especially for lawns. Starting early allows the sun to completely dry the blades of grass before dusk.
  • Water the soil, not the leaves. Leaves do not absorb water. Wet leaves invite rot and a weak plant invites disease and insects.
  • A drip water hose is ideal, but effective watering is still possible by hand.  A drip hose will deliver up to four gallons of water per hour.  A hose will deliver two to five gallons per minute.
  • The goal is to add a total of one inch of water per week to your garden.  One inch of water will soak the soil to between six and 10 inches.
  • When watering by hand stop when the water stops being absorbed into the ground. Wait an hour, then plunge a long screwdriver or space into the ground to check that the soil is moist to a depth of six to 10 inches.
  • Know your plants water requirements and act accordingly.

Cultivate good watering habits and your garden will reward you with healthy plants that live a long time.