A Guide to Watering
The root zone of every plant requires three things: air, earth and water. Water is essential for the plant’s uptake of soil nutrients. Moisture in the soil also governs how deeply a plant sends its root into the earth, and this in turn is related to its ability to withstand drought. There is more to watering than simply turning on sprinklers. Dwindling resources demand you water efficiently.
How Much to Water
Overdo it and the plant will drown; under-water and it will wilt. Dig a little hole in the ground. If you find black soil and roots that smell badly, you have watered too much. This may indicate you have poor drainage and water is not percolating down and out of the root zone. If it’s dry, water more frequently or for a longer duration.
A Simple Drainage Test
The best way to know how water behaves in your soil is to dig a test hole 1 or 2 feet deep and fill it with water. The speed with which it percolates into the soil is a gauge of its drainage. If it drains away in an hour or two, you have excellent drainage. If it drains overnight, you have adequate drainage. If it stands any longer, you have very poor drainage.
Apply water at a rate that the soil will absorb it without runoff. It must be able to saturate the soil many feet below the surface. This is especially important with new plants. By watering deeply the first season, you’ll help your plants grow deep root systems that are able to access moisture far underground after surface soil has dried out. This quality can be encouraged in more thirsty plants to make them healthy and as water thrifty as possible. The result is you water less often, and the water you do apply is used much more efficiently.
Mulching is the best way to conserve water. Mulch is simply organic material such as ground bark or wood chips that you spread on top of the soil in a layer at least 2 inches deep. Mulches insulate roots, discourage weeds and eliminate surface moisture evaporation.
Water early in the morning when water pressure is high. Avoid watering during the heat of the day and in windy weather. Use a garden hose for extra watering during very hot or windy conditions. Reprogram sprinklers at least four times a year. Utilize drip irrigation to save water by only watering where you need it.