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Gardening Patch

Watering the plants

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The job of watering the plants is one of the most important and time consuming tasks that a gardener must regularly do. Plants lose water by evaporation through the leaves. Water is vital to a plants development and without sufficient water levels plants will wilt. If the wilting is severe or happens for a long enough duration then it can do irreversible damage to the plant and it will not be able to recover.

When to water

You should water the plants at specific times of the day, either in the early morning or in the evening. This is because if you water them in the daytime then a lot of water will be lost due to evaporation. Certain plants foliage is also at risk from scorching if watered during hot periods.

Some prefer not to water in the evening during cooler periods as it can contribute to the damp types of conditions that fungal conditions can thrive in. Watering in the evening may also encourage damp loving pests such as snails and slugs to investigate the watered area.

How can I reduce the amount of time needed for watering the plants?

To reduce water evaporation from the soil surface you can add a mulch which protects the soil surface from the suns heat and also helps retain moisture in the soil. Bark chippings are becoming an increasingly popular choice for soil mulch but there are many alternatives including manure, compost, straw etc.

By increasing the organic matter content of your soil you will improve its water retention capabilities. Mulches such as manure are gradually incorporated into the soil by worms and other soil organisms and will help improve the quality of your soil, adding organic matter that will help the water retention properties of the soil.

Plants in containers will need watering more often as there is a smaller area of soil to draw water from. Terracotta pots lose water through their sides via evaporation and so will need watering more often then plastic pots. Hanging baskets are also very prone to losing water through their sides and bottoms through evaporation. Both terracotta pots and hanging baskets can be lined with polythene to help reduce evaporation. If using this technique be sure to leave holes in the polythene at the bottom where the normal drainage channel is so that excess water can drain freely when watering takes place.

If planting in containers then use one large container rather than two small containers.

How often should I water the plants?

This will vary depending on soil type, planting location, plant type and so must be done using your common sense; there are however some pointers which will help you assess when your plants need watering.

Check the compost in containers and hanging baskets. You should check

  • Dampness of the compost. The compost surface should be slightly damp surface to the touch, like a squeezed out sponge. If the compost surface is dry then the container needs watering.
  • Colour of the compost. A compost that is pale in colour needs watering.
  • Has the compost retracted from the container sides? If it has then it needs watering.

Smaller containers will need watering more frequently than larger containers.

When you remove a plant from its pot and plant it in a larger container or open ground you should water it in thoroughly after planting. This is because its roots will not initially have a grasp on the surrounding soil and so it will not be able to utilize the water found in the new soil.

Helpful hints for watering

  • Compost that dries out and ‘bakes’ in the sun can form a very hard ‘crust’. When watering this crust can repel water and the water can run off the surface without penetrating into the soil. If you add a drop of washing up liquid to the water it will alter the waters surface tension properties and the water will find it easier to penetrate the composts surface.
  • Water at the base of plant around its roots as this is where the water will be utilised. Water on foliage is easily lost to evaporation.
  • Invest in a decent watering can with removable rose attachment. Aim for a watering can that you find comfortable to lift when it is full. The larger the watering can the quicker the job will be but the more physical effort and strength is required to manoeuvre it.