Plants may not need 8 glasses of water each day, but they appreciate a drink on a fairly regular basis. Listen to learn how best to give them their required dosage of H2O so that they are as fit as a fiddlehead.
This segment of The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Musings podcast series was written by George and Becky Lohmiller and is read by Heidi Stonehill, an Almanac editor.
The art of watering is one of the most difficult skills for gardeners to master. More plants die from improper watering (too much or too little) than from any other reason.
To tend to your plants’ water needs, first look at the soil. For healthy growth, plants must take in both water and oxygen through their roots. Soils containing mostly clay easily become waterlogged and have almost no air space. On the other hand, coarse sandy soils have plenty of space for air but drain water too quickly. Adding organic matter such as compost will improve both of these soils and help maintain the balance of water and air.
Plants grow best when given long, deep, infrequent waterings, which encourage deep rooting. Frequent light waterings encourage roots to grow too close to the soil surface, where they dry out quickly.
Most gardens and lawns need between 1 and 2 inches of water per week to completely saturate their root zones. To see how much water your sprinklers are applying, place cans around the area and measure the depth of water in each after you’ve finished watering. The amount of water that your plants actually need will depend upon weather and the site. Plants growing in shade, and those that are heavily mulched, may go for days without needing a drink; those exposed to wind and sun may require more frequent soakings. Don’t trust what you see on the surface of the soil to determine when to water; dig down 6 inches or more to see if it is moist in the root zone.
Old gardening wisdom tells us to water only in the cool of the evening or in the morning before the wind comes up, but absolutely never in the heat of mid-afternoon. Watering at cool times will conserve water that otherwise might be lost to evaporation, but from the plants’ point of view, a cool shower on a sweltering afternoon is quite beneficial. Studies show that wetting the foliage during the hottest part of the day prevents wilt and encourages stronger turf, larger crop yields, and prolonged bloom on flowering plants. Hopefully, your plants will benefit when you follow a little watering advice that’s not all wet.