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Watering Tips for Plants

Planning on planting vegetables, bedding plants or perennials? These are usually have shallow roots because they are small so it's no wonder they have to be watered more often. You want to have a consistent water supply. To check the soil, use a trowel or spade. Push the tool into the soil down to the depth of the expected root zone. This area should be moistened prior to the plant starting to wilt. Wilting a few times will cause subsequent growth to be retarded and yield a reduced harvest. But be careful not to overwater. Use a drip irrigation system to control the amount of water the plant receives.

Any time you have a plant in a container it needs special attention. Both volume of soil and total water available for plant use are limited, so you have to constantly monitor it. Container plants have to be watered more often than plants growing in the ground as a result. For this reason I have a lot of artificial quality plants in my home. I just don't have the time, energy and desire to stay on top of container plants in the manner needed. Begin watering when the soil surface feels dry to the touch, but not before. The frequency and amount of water you give it will depend on media, location, amount of sun, temperature, type of plant, etc. Containers which have been allowed to completely dry out may need to be soaked in water to rewet the soil.

A plant which uses a lot of water (such as a fuschia) or one that is potbound, may have to be watered daily or several times a day. Ugh. This is too much effort for me. It's why my newest acquisition is a preserved bonsai tree. I don't have to water it at all. But for most container grown plants, a thorough watering once or twice a week will be sufficient. You have to learn what is right for each plant. I find the plants that seem to cope well inspite of my eratic schedule and stick with the same type. Plants in plastic or solid containers will have to be watered less often than plants in porous containers or clay pots (which stands to reason). Be very careful not to keep the root system constantly soaking wet. This is not good. Pathological (disease) problems will occur if air is excluded from the soil altogether. You've heard the expression, "killing with kindness". This is my problem. I tend to overwater them out of kindness (or rather fear).

Trees, shrubs, and landscape plants will need to be watered just inside and outside the dripline or outer edge of the plant. In foundation or border plantings, it may be more convenient to water the entire area. You can use a hose, soaker hose, or various kinds of sprinklers for this purpose. For deep-rooted trees, a root needle or fertilizer feeding needle (minus the fertilizer) may be used for deep watering. This is a tedious process but it works. Penetration is important, so let that be your guide.

Shrubs and trees near house foundations, under eaves, and/or in southern, southwestern, or western exposures have to be watered more frequently, so be aware of that. They may get little water from precipitation, and reflected heat from walls leads to increased water and heat stress.

If you have recently transplanted woody plants, they need special attention too. There is a big difference between the soil of balled, burlapped or containerized plants and the soil you use in landscaping. Interfaces are created between the two and water does not move readily between them. So you always want to water the nursery soil AND the surrounding soil during the planting phase and immediately after. Roots will grow only where you have moisture. If the dirt around the nursery ball is not wet too the roots will never leave the nursery soil. In that case the plant may girdle itself and die.

The soil in a container dries out much faster than the surrounding or backfill soils. So you need to thoroughly water all of the soil so the newly installed plants don't get injures or die from drought. Just make sure you don't overwater.

Make sure you mulch to prevent moisture loss as well. Some plants are moisture loving plants: rhododendrons, azaleas, ferns. They need to be watered often during hot, sunny weather.

You don't need to water drought tolerant shrubs and trees. Some of them include: robinia, Quercus, Pinus, Koelreuteria, Juniperus, Genista, Eleangus, Cytisus, Cotoneaster, Ceanothus and Caragana.

Lawns are best watered by overhead sprinklers. The roots will grow deeper depending on the amount of wetting. When your grass plants are deeply rooted they will be better able to withstand drought stress. Water grass when the soil begins to dry out but before the plants actually begin to wilt and definitely before they begin to desiccate. Grass should be watered with it begins to be less resilient and springy - when it does not bounce back after being walked on. Determine the amount of water needed to cover the root zone by the soil type, amount of thatch accumulation among other factors. To know when a sprinkler has sprayed an inch of water, use several coffee cans or jars spaced at intervals to catch the water. This will tell you the sprinkler's watering pattern.

How to Conserve Water
Water is becoming increasingly scarce in the USA. So all of us need to conserve water whereever we can.

Organic matter. Mix some sort of organic matter into your soil to reduce downward drainage (persolation) if done before planting. Do this for vegetable gardens, flower beds and foundation plantings. Organic matter absorbs many times its own weight in water. This helps plant growth.

Mulching materials can be placed over the soil to reduce evaporation from the surface. This may also reduce some of the run-off, give better water penetration into the root mass and help to control weeds. Mulches may be organic (shredded leaves, bark, sawdust) or inorganic (gravel). To limit evaporation from the soil surface, try plastic mulch, however this can limit water absorption.

Spraying. There's not much you can do to stop transpiring. Woody plants, bedding and vegetable plants will benefit by occasionally spraying the foliage durint he day and by keeping the area shaded.

Trickle or drip irrigation allows the slow water penetration into the root zone with just minimum surface wetting. If large areas are to be irrigated, these systems can be useful. You can use plastic tubins, emitters, filtrs and pressure reducers. Attach them to an existing outdoor water supply.

Drip or trickle irrigation allows a steady supply of water to be delivered slowly to the soil around the plant roots. Often a 60 percent or more savings in water usage may be realized using such a system.


Quick Links to July Newsletter
Lighting for House Plants
How to Select House Plants
How to Decorate with House Plants
How to Water Garden and Landscape Plants
How to Water House Plants
Caring for House Plants
Master List of Decorating Tips
July's Newsletter (2005)
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