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How to Water Well

Here is a scene that plays out pretty frequently at the nursery: A gardener comes in to ask about his or her dying outdoor garden – trees, shrubs, veggies or flowerbeds.

In the course of conversation, it will become apparent that the problem is the plants simply aren’t getting enough water.

The gardener is shocked.

“But I water my plants all the time,” he or she will insist.

While we don’t doubt our customers’ sincerity – it really might feel like they are watering all the time – we suspect one of two things might be happening.

One is that the plants need water more frequently than anticipated. For example, a plant in a container outside should be watered two or three times a day, and for hanging plants, that might be more in really hot or windy weather.

More often, the issue is that the plant is being watered incorrectly. So here are some tips on how to make sure your plants are getting enough moisture:

First of all, always water your plant before putting it in a container or in the ground because otherwise, the root ball might harden. If it does, that means every time you think you are watering your plant, the water is actually going around the root ball and saturating the surrounding soil. It looks like it’s wet, but the root ball – the part that really needs the water – could be bone dry.

How much water is enough? A handy rule of thumb for new plants is that the bigger the plant and its leaves, the more water it will need on a regular basis to maintain itself. New plantings should be watered up to two times a day and, like container plants, should be watered more frequently if it is excessively hot or windy.

The bottom line is that new plants cannot be left for days without water; most won’t even last a single day without it.

Another thing that trips people up is when to water during cold weather. Bottom line: you still have to do it.

Even if the plant has gone dormant, it cannot survive more than a couple of weeks without water. Setting a schedule for winter watering the first three years is imperative. This is when your plant establishes itself, meaning its roots move out into the native soil.

All of which is why drip irrigation is probably best for your gardens.

Drip irrigation teaches the roots of your plant to grow deep and ensures that the entire root ball is saturated every time you water.

It saves both money and water. When you water with a hose, something like 400 gallons per hour can come out, but a lot of that water is being wasted. It rushes out at such a high rate that only the surface of the soil is reached; it never penetrates more than an inch or two and certainly not down to where the roots need it.

It is far more efficient than the alternatives. Drip irrigation has an efficiency of 95%, compared to 50% from overhead sprinklers or hand watering.

It lets your plants “breathe.” In addition to water, roots need air. Most garden plants will drown if the roots are submerged in water for a long period of time. Sprinklers and hand watering produce puddles that can displace air in the soil. If the puddles do not have a chance to drain quickly, any plants with their roots under water can be stressed or die. Because drip irrigation works slowly, drop by drop, it never displaces the air in the soil.

Drip irrigation is not as expensive as many people think. For 100 feet of watering, it will cost you a few hundred dollars to have a system professionally installed, or you could do it yourself for about $100. With the gallons of water saved and the plants gardeners don’t have to replace because they have dried out, the cost can be recouped very quickly.

Please stop by or give us a call if you have any questions about drip irrigation or how you can better water your plants to keep your garden lush this summer.

Happy gardening! FBN

By Misti Warner-Andersen

Misti Warner-Andersen is the manager of  Warner’s Nursery & Landscape Co., located at 1101 E. Butler Ave. in Flagstaff. To contact Warner’s Nursery, call 928-774-1983.


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