‘Water’ you doing to keep your plants hydrated?

I think in my version of an ideal world, I would be completely self-sufficient. I was raised by a mom who learned at a very early age that you have to do things for yourself in order to survive.

The reality of my world though, is that I am not completely self-sufficient. There are certain things that I really do depend on my husband and children to do for me. I have no desire to learn how to play a DVD through our television (it involves a gaming device and 3 remote controls – need I say more?), I never take out the garbage or recycling anymore (we have a 16-year-old son), and I don’t ever have to worry if I have water bottles in my truck (it’s more important than you might think). My job involves driving, walking, and talking. About 10 years ago, I showed up at my last appointment completely dehydrated. I remember barely having the ability to walk around the customer’s yard and then drive home. Ever since then, about every 2 weeks, my husband puts a case of water in my truck. It is crucial to my survival.

As simple as it sounds, water is crucial to the survival of not only humans but plants also. Whereas we need water on a regular basis each and every day, correct watering of plants can be a bit trickier.

The amount of water a plant needs varies depending on a number of factors. Those factors include the type of plant, the weather conditions, when the plant was planted, the specific plant needs and the type of soil. Examples of these would include: annual flowers typically need to be watered more frequently than trees, and newly planted shrubs need more supplemental water than shrubs with an established root system. Also, certain specific plants such as the perennial plant sedum, can tolerate a drier condition than willow shrubs. Clay soil tends to hold onto water tightly and sandy soil tends to let the water filter right through out.

Plants need to be watered when the soil around the base of the plant feels dry. Check your plants daily, especially in hot, sunny weather. To check the plants, put your fingers in the dirt, right around the base of the plant. Move away any mulch and fabric if necessary. If the soil feels hot and/or dry, water immediately. If the soil feels moist, check again within the next two days, depending on the weather. When possible, water in the morning. Realistically, though, water as soon as you notice the plant is dry.

Occasional, deep, thorough soakings are much more effective than frequent surface watering. Shrubs and trees typically do not need to be watered every day; what they do need is a lot of water when you do water them. As a professor of mine once said “When you water, water the heck out of the plant!”

To water shrubs, lay the end of a hose at the base of the shrub and allow a low to medium stream of water to run on it for about 15 minutes. The same method applies to watering trees; only trees should be watered longer, perhaps 30 minutes. A soaker hose is an excellent tool for watering flowerbeds; simply wind the hose throughout the flowers and shrubs. When watering, it is vital that the water reaches the entire root zone. This means that the water may need to go down to 12-14” or more.

Perennial and annual flowers, because they have a smaller root system, may need to be watered every other day or even every day in hot weather. The key again, is checking the soil, prior to watering.

Watering is particularly critical during a plant’s first year. In successive years, as the plants roots go down deeper into the soil, they may be watered less frequently.

If you have an irrigation system, please consider checking each zone to see how much water your plants are actually receiving when the system cycles. A good way to do that is by setting an irrigation rain gauge near the base of a plant on the evening before the system is set to go off. Check the rain gauge the next morning. If the plants have received about 1/3 of an inch of water, then that means they will be getting 1 inch per week. For most plants this is sufficient. If there is significantly less or more than 1/3 of an inch, then consider adjusting your system.

Watering plants is a balancing act that requires dedication and observation. Look at the soil, mulch and plant leaves to give you an indication of the plant health. A sign that the plant is not receiving enough water is that the leaves turn brown around the edges or the entire leaf turns brown. The leaves that turned brown as a result of not receiving enough water will drop off. Continue to water the plant, as needed, even if the plant loses all or most of its leaves. The root system is still alive. Plants will often send out a whole new set of leaves even after losing all of their leaves.

Too much water in the soil can lead to not enough oxygen, which can suffocate the roots of a plant. Yellow leaves can be an indication of too much water. They can also be an early indication of too little water. Again, infrequent, but thorough soakings are very beneficial.

Kathleen Carr is the owner of The Growing Scene, Inc., a garden center and landscaping company. She can be reached by calling 815-923-7322 or tgsinc12@msn.com. Have a gardening question? Please contact her. She may address it in an upcoming column.

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