Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thursday Gardening Day – Watering

We had at least 5 strong storm cells pass thru here yesterday evening all with tornado warnings, but as far as I know, we are undamaged - I won't have to water the garden for awhile.

Just like we humans, plants cannot survive very long without water and the amount will depend upon the time of year, your weather, your soil, and mulching, so I’ll have to make this about here, where we have clay soil and hot dry days in the summer.

Also, since there are often many ways to achieve good results, in these gardening posts, I will generally be describing how I do it, as with the tomatoes, but in some cases there is clearly a best way and I’ll state it that way.

Most un-mulched plants in this area need 1½ inches of water per week, either from rain or by irrigation – I have an accurate rain gauge to keep up with what Mother Nature provides and I provide the rest. The best test for whether or not you need to water is to use your finger – I just stick my index finger into the soil as far as it will go and if it comes out moist, no water is needed. Another indicator is wilted leaves in early morning – many will look droopy in the heat of the day, but droopy leafs in the early morning is a sign of some type of a problem.

I’ve heard many folks say they water every day, but this is a bad idea as it encourages the roots to stay close to the surface where they can cause plant stress if a few watering days are missed. It is much better to water deeply as few times per week as your soil will allow. This forces the roots to go deep and chase the water as it percolates down into the soil. In dry times, I water twice a week and deliver around ¾ inch each time to get my 1½”.

Supplemental water can be applied in a number of ways – bucket, hose with a wand, overhead sprinkler, soaker hose, drip tape, flooding, etc. In our area, with a high incidence of fungal diseases, overhead watering is the worst choice as it wets the foliage and provides good conditions for fungal growth – warm and moist. If you must water overhead, do it early in the morning so the foliage will have all day to dry. This is especially important for tomatoes where blight and anthracnose are serious issues.

For areas too large to hand-water but too small for drip tape, soaker hoses are a good choice – Bev has many of them meandering around her flower beds - they meander well. Be sure you buy good ones and take care not to over pressure them which will often result in a rupture – just open the water valve enough to get it dripping.

To determine how much water you’re getting from your sprinkler or hose, just set a bucket under the sprinkler or hose and see how long it takes to get ¾ inch or whatever is required for your area. In general, sandy soil requires more frequent watering as it drains out of the soil quicker, but you can just use the finger test to determine what schedule you need to be on.

I water with drip tape which is what the commercial row crop folks around here use. It works similar to a soaker hose but is much cheaper, but it does not like to make curves so it doesn’t work as well in flower beds where plants are growing in other than a straight line. I now have my garden set up to use it in straight runs. I turn the water on and go to bed and since I’m watering only the soil, it is very efficient.  Here are four end-to-end beds in my garden - beans, tomatoes (I have a few more to stake), peppers, and tomatoes with two runs of 1/2" drip tape, 3' apart.

The tape (really a thin wall tubing) requires a pressure regulator and since I use lake water, I also have a strainer on mine.

Finally, consistent access to water is very important and allowing the soil to become too dry then providing a big slug of water can result in such things as split tomatoes where they have been growing at a certain rate based upon the available moisture, but the influx of water can cause the pulp to out-pace the skin and therefore split open.

One of my gardening philosophies – The seeds and plants know what they’re supposed to do and my role is merely to provide them a safe and healthy environment in which to do it.

If at any time you have a gardening question, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email.

All photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Have a great day and thanks for stopping by Almost Heaven South.

One year ago:  Azaleas - The Main Event



  1. Good watering advice Larry, especially about not watering everyday. Last year we put straw around our tomatoes following advice from Vicki Lane, a fine gardener and mystery writer who lives just north of us, and they did much better and didn't require as much water and pampering.

    I thought of you and Bev last night when all three networks out of Chattanooga preempted regular broadcasting all evening to issue nothing but weather warnings. I'm so glad you've reported in and you're fine. Do your dogs handle the storms well? Ours never did.

    As so frequently when the storms get to our mountains right over the NC border from Tenn, they split and go north and south of us. We were very lucky and got only a little wind and rain.

  2. I was at the gym yesterday and watching the subtitled televisions, saw the storms about to reach your area. Glad to hear all is well. After reading your gardening posts, I'm surprised I can even grow a weed. These watering tips are great. Seems like when we're in our heat spells, I'm out there watering everyday. Also, I'm surprised about your soil. We're clay here too. It's a challenge.

  3. You and Bev were on my mind last night. According the the news, Greenback was getting slammed over and over again with the storms. So glad to know you two are fine and didn't suffer any damage.

    Great gardening tips, I'll have to pass these along to the master gardener in our household or maybe I can just show him up and grow something myself!

  4. I'm so glad to hear you guys are okay! I don't have a garden to speak of, but my parents do keep some plants growing so I"m going to send this info to them! Thanks!

  5. These posts are going to be like a bible to me when (if) it warms up around here. We're setting up some sort of irrigation this year, because I don't really like being a "hose dragger".

  6. Great watering advice, Larry. There are days when I'm thankful for our desert landscape...easy to care for, heck, you hardly have to do a thing to it. Other days, when I see how lovely your yard is, I wish I had a lush colorful yard! I need to at least start little window boxes with herbs in it...would be nice to have that right at my fingertips!

  7. Glad you are okay, Larry. We all had a rough day yesterday. AND---guess we won't have to water anything in the yard for awhile!!!!! ha

    Great advice on watering. Thanks.

  8. Larry, I'm grateful that there are people like you who have a love of gardening. Way too much work for me! It's kind of like cooking...I'm more into the eating part! Keep up the good work... Take Care,Big Daddy Dave

  9. Good advice Larry! Most people don't have a clue when it comes to water. Amount and time are crucial. Turning a sprinkler on for 10 minutes does almost nothing! Soaking overnight sets em up nice for almost the whole week!

  10. Some severe storms passed through this morning through North Florida. I am amazed at the sever weather/tornadoes that have erupted these last few days-wow.

    Enjoyed your watering tips but, am totally envious of your garden.

    Stay dry.

  11. Our garden is so small that a watering can will suffice in late July and August! But it's so wet here that my yard is covered in lakes. And that, my friend, is hard to do on a hill!

  12. Thanks for posting all of the watering tips. I keep forgetting alot of them! So nice to remind myself as I read your post! Thank goodness you are all OK up there; including my daughter and her husband. This has been quite a spring tornado season here in the South. Something I never expected as a Midwesterner from tornado alley (Iowa). Phew! I've never experienced so many high wind days IN A ROW as this year.

    Do you water your hanging pots or potted outdoor flowers daily or every other day? We have 5 hanging ferns and four potted geranium arrangements. I water every other day, but in the heat of summer, I water them daily. What do you recommend?

    Thanks, Roz

  13. I'm already learning a lot from these series.


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