Water is critical for a healthy garden and landscape, but how much water is too much, how much isn’t enough and how much is just right? Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific answer that suits every gardener’s needs. All plants have different water requirements, which change depending on the type of soil, amount of sun, temperature, humidity, season, maturity of the plant and overall growing environment.
All plants, including specimens described as drought tolerant, will require water when first planted. This is because many of the smaller roots responsible for water uptake are usually damaged during shipment and planting. Build a small circular soil wall around the plant to contain water while it percolates into the soil. Watch new plants carefully and keep them well-watered as their roots settle in and they adapt to their new or transplanted location.
Groups Are Good
It’s a good idea to have some knowledge of the plant’s water requirements when determining the location in the garden. It will keep watering simple if you plant a new specimen near other plants with similar water requirements. In this way, there is no need to readjust an irrigation system or watering schedule, since all the plants in the group have similar needs.
Need a Drink?
Because plants’ watering needs can change through the season, how can you tell if a plant needs more water? Most plants will wilt as the soil becomes too dry. The leaves may droop, and if it’s an upright plant, the top ends may become soft and bend over. Glossy plants may begin to look dull, while thick leaves will shrivel. If you notice these signs, it is time to water! Most plants will revive if watered quickly enough, but be sure to water deeply rather than allowing moisture to run off the surface.
How can you tell if you should water? Push your finger into the soil an inch or two from the base of a plant. Perfect soil should feel cool and slightly moist. Some soil should stick to your finger. If none does, it’s too dry. If it’s muddy, don’t water. Overwatering kills plants by depriving the roots of oxygen. Some gardeners use water meters to see the precise amount of moisture. If you’re unsure, this tool can be helpful.
Adjusting Your Watering Schedule
The amount you have to water your plants or landscape can change from day to day. A cool morning will allow more dew to form and drain to the soil, or a sudden afternoon thunderstorm can be enough water to keep your plants hydrated for a few days. An overly hot day, however, can rapidly deplete water resources and extra watering may be required. Check your plants and landscape regularly to be sure they are getting adequate water, and make adjustments as needed to keep them suitably moist without either too much or too little water.
Need help monitoring water? Stop by to see our collection of water gauges, meters and monitors that can help you be sure you are watering your landscape correctly.
How well do you understand your soil? It’s more than just dirt, and the more you learn about soil, the better you’ll be able to care for it to ensure a stunning landscape, healthy lawn and productive garden.
All About Soil
The four elements of soil are minerals, water, air and organic matter. Different combinations of the four elements create the four main categories of soil: sand, silt, clay and loam. Of course, we all want loam – that rich, vibrant soil thriving with beneficial bacteria and with a smooth but crumbly texture ideal for root growth. Unfortunately, true loam soils are rare, especially around homes where topsoil was removed and heavy machines compacted the remaining soil during construction or renovation. Most of us have clay soil, which has finer particles that compact easily into a dense mass. Clay soils also retain more water and can easily become too soggy or waterlogged for healthy plants. But just because your soil may be clay, it doesn’t have to stay that way!
Improving soil is actually quite easy. All soils are improved by adding minerals and organic material that help balance out the overall components of the soil’s structure.
Before adding minerals, test the soil to determine its pH (acidity or alkalinity) and determine any mineral deficiencies. Lime decreases soil acidity, gypsum adds calcium and helps break up heavy clay and sulfur increases acidity. Other soil amendments to add to a clay soil include sand, cottonseed meal and peat moss, all of which will help improve the drainage and structure.
Organic matter refers to plant or animal materials decomposed into compost or “humus.” This residue comes from leaves and other plant materials, as well as certain animal wastes. Grass clippings, paper and certain types of decomposing food can also be ideal compost. The quality depends on the origin of the original biodegradable matter. Many people make their own compost using bins in which materials are mixed until they decompose. Others purchase finished compost. When compost is added to soil, it releases nutrients that are vital for healthy plants, and healthy bacteria and microbes will thrive in organically-rich soil.
The Magic of Mulch
Mulching is a simple way to add biodegradable materials to the soil. Evergreen needles, tree leaves, lawn clippings, chicken manure, etc., can be worked into the soil to decompose. This process improves the air spaces between the soil particles and rearranges the sand, silt and clay to produce optimum soil structure, improving the water retention and drainage balance and making nutrients available to plants.
When soil has proper structure and sufficient nutrients for healthy plants, optimum health has been achieved, and great soil will lead to great landscaping, turf and gardens. Congratulations and keep on growing!
It’s the beginning of a new gardening season. Hopefully you took out last year’s journal in January or February and reviewed your notes on what you wanted to change, improve, experiment with or eliminate from your garden and landscape. Now is the time to begin implementing some of those great ideas, and it starts with having the right tools.
Where Do Your Tools Go?
One common problem in the garden is misplaced tools. We’ve all found hand tools in the spring that were inadvertently thrown in the compost pile or left under a shrub during fall cleanup. Many of us have spent time we didn’t have to spare walking in circles, looking for the shovel that we just had in our hand. It was laid down for a moment and seemed to disappear. Tools can easily disappear on a crowded workbench or in a cluttered shed, or they may even end up in a brush pile or other unlikely location.
When tools are lost, not only are our gardening chores impacted, but the tools can be damaged by exposure or accidental damage if they’re dropped, run over with a mower or otherwise subjected to inadvertent abuse. This can mean we no longer have the tool we need when we need it most, and we have to make a trip to the garden center to replace a tool – using time and money our gardening budget may not have.
Finding Your Tools
Let’s do things differently this year. Let’s save time, money and our precious tools. Resolve to only buy new hand tools with bright colored handles that are easily seen from afar and stand out to be picked up after a long day in the garden. If you already have a good selection of tools that you love and wish to keep track of, simply cover the handle with a bright colored spray paint on a sunny spring day, or wrap the handles with brightly colored tape or other coverings to make them more visible.
Similarly, take the time to clean out and declutter your garden shed, tool boxes and workbenches, making sure there is a safe, appropriate place to store every tool. If each tool has a place, you’ll be able to see at a glance when a tool may be missing and you can find it quickly before you’ve forgotten where you saw or used it last.
You and your garden will be glad you did!