Efficient watering practices can save you a lot of time and money, as well as preserving our planets resources. A bit of planning and a good understanding of your soil will help your plants thrive on less water.
What kind of soil do you have?
The main components of soil are sand, clay and organic matter. A good balance will give you a crumbly, easy-to-dig soil that takes up water easily.
Dig a few small holes around your yard to see your soils structure. A soil with too much sand is grainy and drains very quickly. Sandy soils benefit from adding lots of organic matter to hold in the water.
Clay soils can feel like concrete when theyre dry and will absorb water very slowly. Once clay soil is wet, it can become dense and oversaturated with very little oxygen or space for plant roots. Adding gypsum (calcium sulphate), sand or organic matter will help break up clay soils.
For containers, its best to use commercial potting mixes based on peat moss or coconut fiber. Both of these are organic materials that hold water well and are still light enough for pots and hanging baskets. Soil straight from your garden is usually too heavy.
How to Judge When Your Plants Need Water
1. Container Plants
Lift up your containers or hanging baskets when possible to gauge their water content. If theyre too large to lift, use your finger or a soil probe to check how far down the pot has dried out. Its time to water when the container is dry about half way down.
Add water until it comes out the bottom of the pot. Check back in 5 to 10 minutes to see if the water absorbed. If the container still feels dry, keep adding water in small doses until the soil is saturated.
2. Outdoor Areas
The roots of perennial plants, shrubs and trees generally grow in the top 12 inches (30 centimeters) of soil. The roots of lawns and annual plants, including most vegetables, are typically in the top 6 inches (15 centimeters) of soil.
These are the depths youll need to water to for each type of plant. The actual amount of water you need to apply will vary depending on your soil structure.
When you water an area for the first time, use your finger or a shovel to check the soil every few minutes and see how far down the water has penetrated. Take note of how long it took to reach the needed depth.
Continue to monitor your soil and keep track of how long it takes to dry out again. Drought-tolerant plants will be able to handle drying out to the bottom of their root zone. Whereas, plants with higher water needs should only dry out to around half the depth of their root zone.
This will give you a basic idea of how long you should water each area of your garden and how often.
The last step is to make sure your watering system is as efficient as possible. Try the following tips to get started.
How to Reduce the Amount You Water
Water at cooler times of day. You can lose a lot of water to evaporation when its hot. Morning is often the best time to water because its the coolest time of day. You can also set your automatic irrigation system to run during the night.
Dont panic. Its normal for some of your plants to wilt in the mid-afternoon sun to conserve water. Wait until the sun goes down to check whether or not the wilt is permanent. If your plants dont perk up again by morning, its time to water.
Choose drought-tolerant plants when possible. Many varieties of ornamental annual and perennial plants do well with limited water. You can also get lawn seed mixes designed for dryer conditions.
Group plants by water needs. This can make watering much easier. For instance, you can group drought-tolerant plants together in a difficult-to-access corner of your yard, or plant your most water-demanding veggies at the front of your beds near a hose.
Have a flexible watering schedule. Take advantage of cooler weather periods to reduce how often you water. Also keep in mind that young seedlings or new plantings will have smaller root systems than when mature. These will need shallower, more frequent irrigation until they get established.
Water slowly. Too much water at one time will simply run out of a container or off the soil surface in garden beds. When watering by hand, go over a container or outdoor area a few times rather than trying to do it all at once. Or look for an automatic irrigation system that can deliver smaller amounts of water over longer periods of time.
Make use of technology. Many automatic irrigation systems can make watering more efficient, such as drip irrigation, soaker hoses or overhead sprinklers. Automatic timers are also very useful. You can get simple timers that are battery powered or more complicated systems that are wired into your house.
Track your water. A general recommendation is to apply 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) of water to your garden per week. This is easiest to track with automatic irrigation systems that deliver set amounts of water. You can also check hand watering by attaching a flow meter to the hose spigot. About 60 gallons (227 liters) will provide 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) of water over 100 square feet (9 square meters).
Keep your ground covered. A layer of mulch, ground cloth or rocks will help stop evaporation from the soil and keep it moist. Planting a living ground cover is another great option.
Focus on the roots. Water should be applied as close to the root zone as possible. Water left on the leaves is often lost through evaporation. It can also cause sun damage on a hot day or promote leaf diseases. Try to get underneath the plants when youre hand watering, or choose drip irrigation systems instead of overhead sprayers.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.
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