Watering your garden

Article by: Ted Rosen  |  Picture by: Ted Rosen
Watering your garden
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Knowing when to water and how much to water is important. More than three-quarters of a healthy plant consists of water, and without replenishment the plant will be less productive, wilt or die. This article describes the basics of watering.

Deep watering = deep roots
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Most vegetable plants and small fruits need two-thumb widths of rain a week, an amount that should soak your soil to a depth of two or three fists – the root depth of many vegetable plants. Anything less than that must be made up by you watering. You can set out a rain gauge in your garden to measure rain or check your local weather service.
Deep watering of established plants encourages beneficial deep rooting. Quick, surface watering, on the other hand, leads to surface rooting, which makes the plant more susceptible to drought and being uprooted by wind or strong rain.
To hold water and prevent runoff, you can create saucer-shaped dams with your trowel around individual larger plants.
Keep new plantings moist
Keeping new plants and transplants moist all the time during their first two weeks of growth will get their root systems off to a running start. Water new plants gently using a soft spray and slow the flow so as not to wash away soil from the still fragile roots.
Watering techniques
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1. You can use a watering can for targeted watering of the root system.
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2. If you are using a hose, a good way to water mature plants is to run your hose at a trickle and move it from plant to plant. This works fine when you have the time to watch the water and move the hose.
You can also turn up the water flow and use a water breaker nozzle with a wand the length of an arm. The wand allows easier access to the base of mature plants and less bending saves your back.
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3. For many plants and garden layouts drip and sprinkler hoses will save water and time. Drip hoses drop water in a narrow row depending on water pressure and conditions. A perforated, sprinkler hose is dual purpose: it can provide a controlled sprinkle down a straight line, or it can be turned over and used to water at a trickle. It is easier to leave drip and sprinkler hoses in place for the season but they can be moved around carefully.
Soaker hose won’t release water?
Turn down the pressure. If the pressure is too high, the openings in a soaker hose can be squeezed shut so the hose will not drip.
Ways to conserve water and suppress weeds
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1. Adding mulch to the depth of two or three thumb-widths will conserve water and suppress water-stealing weeds. For more information about mulch, see: Soil, fertiliser, mulch, crop rotation for improved yields.
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2. Black plastic is also used to conserve water and suppress weeds. During the summer the black plastic can dramatically increase soil temperatures. Some plants like higher temperatures, others suffer from it. To cool the plastic, cover it with mulch or foliage. As plants grow, you may need to widen the opening of the plastic to make it easier to water through the openings.
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3. Shading plants that would otherwise wilt from intense summer light conserves water and increases water retention in the plant. When you layout your garden plan consider the shade created by mature plants. You might also plan to use a temporary shade cloth for plants that wilt from summer sun such as lettuce.
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4. Create wind protection. Wind drives out the water from plants, can uproot juvenile plants before they have taken deep root, and uproot or break plants throughout the growing season. Temporary or permanent windbreaks will conserve water and protect against uprooting by wind or strong rainstorms.
Water regularly and at the right time
1. Crucial watering times vary. Each crop has a critical watering time, usually when flower and fruit development is in full swing. Inadequate watering during this critical watering time will stunt or stop growth of your produce and fruits. Within each description of seeds/plants, we include the critical watering time for each crop. Avoid letting a plant dry out until it wilts, which stresses the plant. If a plant shows signs of wilting, water again immediately.
2. Water in the morning. Morning watering is ideal. Avoid watering in the evening, as wet foliage overnight can foster diseases. If you must water late in the day, target the root zone.
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3. Watering very dry soil. Water parched soil twice. Parched, very dry soil initially repels water. If you water your garden fairly quickly once, and then return a second time, you will find the soil will accept the water more quickly.
To make brittle soil accept water more quickly, break up hard soil surfaces with a knife or trowel before watering.
Conserve water
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Collect rainwater from your roof into a large rain barrel. Connect a hose to the turnoff valve. The barrel uses gravity as pressure which means it must be on higher ground than the area you want to water. You can always draw water with a watering can, of course.
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