Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Saturday, June 12, 2010



Now that we are entering the hotter days of the season, we need to talk water. Did you know there are right ways and wrong ways to water your plants? I see the wrong way all the time, especially when only walks in the neighborhood. Here goes:

  1. One neighbor broadcast some grass seed and, when he comes home from work, gets out the hose with sprayer attached and sprinkles the area for a few minutes, until things look wet. However, if you dig to just a tiny depth, you will see the that soil is still dry under that wet sheen on the surface. This encourages seedlings to sprout, alright, but does not encourage them to send their roots down in to the soil- after it, it is still dry there! What do you get? Dead or weak grass. So the first rule: water deeply once a week, water grass seedlings and new plantings deeply a few times a week until they are established.
  2. Watering during a drought. This can be a good thing to do, if done well, but is a problem in some cases (especially if you are on water restrictions). Most established lawns, for example, will go dormant during a dry spell, only to perk up with a good rain. Watering that lawn conditions the lawn to need lots of water and, if you are restricted later from watering or go on vacation and do not arrange for the lawn to be watered, it dies. So the rule? Hand water important specimen plants during a drought, but save water and let the lawn go dormant.
  3. Watering poor soils. If your soil is unimproved (and you do not have lovely Pamunkey soil like I do...though I also have pockets of clay) there can be some problems. Sandy soils drain fast and wick water away, so watering will need to be frequent and mineral salts from the water may build up on the surface. If your soil has a lot of clay, water may pond or stand on it, drowning or smothering the roots of trees, shrubs and other plants. If your house is built on a base of construction rubble, which some subdivisions are, you can have a mix of rocky areas that drain fast, some areas that drain slowly, so knowing your soil is important. It is usually a good idea to improve your soil with organic matter- compost, leaf humus, aged grass clippings (too green and fresh and they can burn plants). Organic matter is what holds water in the soil and makes it available to plant roots. It is often the difference between a successful garden and a failed one.
  4. Water in the early morning. There is another problem with scenario #1 above, watering during the afternoon. It is recommended that you water in as early morning as you can- this gives the water time to soak in. Watering in the sunny, hot part of the day means lots of water loss to evaporation, and evaporation doesn’t do those roots much good. Some people like watering in the evening, but that can contribute to problems with molds and fungi, especially in grasses and woody plants.

So water wisely, water well and water smart! And…

Happy gardening!

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