Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Garden Basics, Part Two: The Four Commandments of Watering

I've got the This American Life app on my phone and have been going through all the old episodes. I recently listened to one featuring this amazing essay, which had me rolling on the floor in laughter. In light of that essay, today I will pass down to you the Four Commandments of Watering. Proper watering is key to your garden's success and your plants happiness. Following these commandments will ensure that your garden will be fruitful and multiply, bringing peace and prosperity.

Water Deeply & Less Frequently

Often we get so excited about our new plants that we love them too much. I used to think it was best to water my beloved plants daily. Turns out, I was completely misguided in my attempt at loving care.

Plant diseases thrive in moist conditions. If you water your plants every day and don't give them a chance to dry out thoroughly, they will be more susceptible to various bacterial and fungal diseases.

Watering deeply and only occasionally also makes your plants stronger. If you water shallowly on a daily basis, the plant will become lazy and will never extend its roots beyond the surface, where it's getting most of its water. Deep infrequent watering will help "train" the plant to set its roots deep, where it can collect more nutrients from the soil. With deep roots your plants will be able to withstand the harsh summer conditions much better.

Frequency of watering will depend some on the seasons. In the spring and fall, when it is generally cooler, watering once a week should be fine. When it gets hot in the summer and rain is less frequent, three to four times a week will likely be plenty.

I usually keep an eye on the weather. If we get a good soaking rain, I won't water that week. The only things I've watered so far this season are my leek and tomato transplants that needed to be watered well the first few days out in the garden.

Transplants are babies that have spent their young lives indoors in a cozy greenhouse or inside a home. They are vulnerable when they are first planted outside. When transplanting seedlings, you will want to water them very well the first day you plant them. Water them every other day after that for about a week, while they're first getting established. They're babies, so it's okay to baby them a bit. :)

Water at the Right Time

Morning is the best time of day to water your plants. Watering in the heat of the day will lead to evaporation, less water penetration into the soil, and your plant leaves can get burned by sunlight hitting the water droplets. Occasional early evening watering is okay, but not ideal. Letting plants sit overnight in soil that is too damp is again a perfect breeding ground for disease and fungus to attack your plants.

Go Lead-Free

It wasn't until recently that I realized most standard garden hoses contain lead in them. Now, this is okay if you're watering ornamental plants or flowers, but you of course would rather not be spreading lead into your vegetable garden.

The best way to achieve deep watering is to get some good soaker hoses. There are several available that are lead-free, like these options. Your local hardware store should have something like this as well.

1. 50 foot soaker hose, made with recycled rubber
2. 75 foot soaker hose, 7 year guarantee

 I haven't yet gotten any for our garden, but a good soaker hose is at the top of my farming wish list. If you get some, I'd recommend leaving them on for two to three hours at a time.

It's especially good to use soaker hoses if you're growing tomatoes. Tomatoes are especially vulnerable to disease and the main way that disease is transferred to the plant is through splash-up from the soil during watering with a hose. Having a soaker hose can reduce splash-up and disease spread. Adding some sort of mulch around tomatoes (straw, wood chips, etc.) is an extra step of protection.

Now, go forth and water your plants properly, that it might go well with you and your descendants.

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