Watering Wisely When Rainfall is Scarce
It seems straightforward enough, right? Water your plants and they will grow. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as that, but at the same time it’s not all that complicated either. There is not a handbook for watering, but keep a few simple things in mind and you’ll get the results you are hoping for. Using the right tools: soaker hoses, lightweight hoses, sprinklers, rain barrels and irrigation timers can help make your job easier. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.
The Best Way to Water
• Focus on the root zone. Daily light sprinklings encourage the roots to grow near the surface making them vulnerable to drying out instead of growing a deep, healthy root ball. Remember that it’s the roots that need access to water, not the leaves. Wetting the foliage is a waste of water and can promote the spread of disease. There is no value in watering if the water runs down the outside of the root ball or pot leaving the roots of the plant dry. Slower watering, especially at first, will help make sure the water soaks in to the root ball.
• Water only when needed. If we are in a stretch where we are getting frequent rain, which is not the case in the Lakes Region at the moment, then it’s ok to cut back on watering. Too much water can be just as damaging to plants as too little. Plant roots need a fairly constant supply of both air and water. Too little water and the roots die from lack of moisture. Too much water and the spaces between soil particles remain filled with water, suffocating roots. Both situations reduce a plant’s ability to deliver enough water to stems and leaves, resulting in wilting. The only way to tell if lack of water is causing wilting is to check soil moisture.
• Water deeply and thoroughly. Lawns and annuals don’t need to be watered quite as deeply as perennials, shrubs and trees. Move the soil away with your hand or a garden tool to be sure that the water is actually soaking down to the root system. Watering at the base of the plant instead of from overhead, loses less water to evaporation.
• Water in the morning. If you do get moisture on the leaves, this gives them time to dry out. It’s much more difficult for plant diseases to get a foothold when the foliage is dry.
• Mulch everything. Mulch reduces surface runoff and slows evaporation from the soil.
Use the right tool. For efficient watering at the root zone, use a soaker hose or an even more precise drip irrigation system instead of a sprinkler.