A rain gauge is a helpful tool
to determine how much water
your plants have received. See
more pictures of garden ideas.
At least 90 percent of every plant is composed of water, which should give you some idea of how important this substance is. No plant can live without some moisture, and certain plants use it in amazing ways.
Orchids and bromeliads that live on tropical trees absorb rainwater through their foliage. Succulent plants and cacti store reservoirs of water in their swollen stem tissues so they can go for a month or more without rain. Prairie flowers such as butterfly weed store water in their fleshy taproots. And daffodils store water in their bulbs.
Without water, plants wilt and die. But too much water can be as bad for plants as not enough. If land plants are submerged in water for too long -- even if just their roots are submerged -- they may rot or drown from lack of oxygen.
Here are some tips to ensure you water your garden properly.
- Balancing plants' water needs is like having a healthful diet. Everything should be consumed in moderation. Provide your plants with enough water for good health, but don't flood them with it.
- Apply water in the cool of the morning or evening when the wind is calm, the sun is less hot, and water loss through evaporation is minimal.
- Avoid watering disease-susceptible plants at night. If water sits on plant foliage for hours, it can encourage fungal diseases to attack leaves, buds, flowers, and fruit. Plants susceptible to leaf spots, fruit rots, and flower blights are best watered in the morning, when the warming sun will quickly dry off the leaves and discourage fungus development.
- Provide an inch of water a week for many plants and lawn grasses. The idea is to keep the soil lightly moist and to prevent it from drying out completely, which would be damaging to most plants. But because plants don't always follow the rules, there are exceptions to this general guidelines: 1) Hot weather, dry sandy soil, or crowded intensive plantings or containers may make more than an inch of water a week necessary. 2) When the weather is cool, the plants are widely spaced, or the soil is heavy and moisture-retentive, less water may be required. 3) Young or new plantings require more moisture at the soil surface to help their budding roots get started. You should water lightly and more frequently to accommodate their needs. 4. Mature plantings with large root systems can be watered heavily and less often than younger plants. The moisture soaks deep into the soil and encourages the roots to thrive.
Become the master of your garden hose with help from the suggestions in the next section.
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Using a Garden HoseIf not used and stored properly, garden hoses can be cumbersome to use and will not last as long as they should. Be sure to follow the helpful guidelines outlined below to get the maximum benefit from your garden hose.
- You can tap every downspout around your house for maximum water yield or, if you prefer, just use the downspouts in the private parts of the landscape, the back and side yards.
Spray heads make quick work
of watering a garden with a hose
- Stretch soaker hoses through the garden to provide water directly on plant roots. Soaker hoses are made of water-permeable fabrics, perforated recycled rubber, or other porous materials. When attached to a hose with the water turned on low or medium, moisture droplets weep out along the length of the hose. Very little evaporates and none sprays on plant foliage, helping discourage diseases. But it may take an hour or more to moisten nearby areas of the garden thoroughly.
Soaker hoses require a little special attention in order to work properly. Here are some hints:
1) Run soaker hoses straight through the garden. If set to turn or curve too sharply, they will kink and won't fill with water.
2) Expect more water to be released from the end closest to the hose and less to be released from the far end.
3) If the hose is moistening only one side of a plant root system, move the hose to water the dry side before you consider the job done.
4) To determine if the soil has been watered enough, dig into the soil beside the hose. If the water has seeped 12 inches down, it's about time to turn the hose off. Remember how long this took for the next time around.
5) For faster results, look for flat hoses that are peppered with small holes. Of course there's a trade-off: These hoses do provide water more quickly, but they are not as gentle on the soil.
6) If you like soaker hose results, you can upgrade to permanent or semi-permanent drip irrigation systems. Although more expensive, these systems are custom designed for varying soil types and individual plant water needs. They also don't require shuffling around the garden..
Or, look for spray heads developed specifically for garden use. Some are set on angled bases, making it easy to reach in between plants. Others are on long poles for watering hanging baskets.
Water breakers should be put on watering cans, too, especially when watering young plants such as seedlings, which can be broken or uprooted with a strong drenching.
Turning on a garden hose isn't the only -- or necessarily the best -- way to water your garden. Check out the next section for tips on alternative water sources.
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Other Water Sources for Your GardenUsing a garden hose is one way to water your garden. Alternative sources are available, however, that are often more economical and better for your plants. Read on to learn about them.
Capture downspout runoff by
placing a container at the
bottom of the downspout.
- Use gray water on potted plants or small gardens to reduce water use. Gray water is the leftover tap water from activities such as rinsing vegetables at the kitchen sink. However, avoid water contaminated with water-softener salts, harsh detergents, fats, oils, or other extras that would harm plants.
Gray water has been used successfully in arid parts of the United States and is well worth taking advantage of anywhere. It helps prevent stress on wells during drought and lowers utility bills for people with municipal water lines.
Capture gray water in a basin stored close to the sink, where it will be handy to pull out and use. Transfer the gray water to a watering can before watering potted plants or new plantings. A little moisture in a time of need will make a big difference.
- Catch water from a downspout into a container. This unfluoridated, unchlorinated water is ideal for watering plants. It comes at an ambient temperature, not shockingly cold from the tap -- which is hard on warmth-loving plants. And perhaps best of all -- at least from the gardener's perspective -- it's free!
The easiest way to collect downspout runoff is to put a container at the bottom of the downspout. A topless bucket or barrel with a sturdy spigot at the bottom can be set in place permanently. Simply drain the water from the spigot into your watering can. To handle larger quantities of water, look for a 30- to 50-gallon barrel or drum. It's helpful to keep a large cup or other dipper on hand for transferring the water into a watering can.
- Redirect runoff from downspouts into flower beds or lawn areas to give plants extra water every time it rains. Flexible tubing could be connected to the end of the downspout and directed into nearby plantings around the foundation of the house or to flower or vegetable gardens. For maximum benefits, shape beds like a shallow bowl to collect the water and give it time to soak in.
Or, as an alternative, the garden could be made fairly level with lower, moisture-gathering saucers made around newly planted trees or shrubs or plants with high moisture needs.
In dry climates, the tubing could be covered with soil or mulch and kept connected all the time. In climates with periods of overly wet weather, the tubing should be disconnected during soggy seasons to prevent oversaturation of the soil, which causes plants to rot.
- Drop the soil level in the boulevard strip, the row of grass between the sidewalk and the street, so it will collect runoff rainwater that otherwise would be lost to street sewers or roadside ditches. A small 1- to 2-inch drop in soil level will be enough to do the job. If planting sod, make the soil level even lower to account for the extra height of sod roots. In cold climates, you may have to remove sand or grit that can accumulate after winter snowplowing to maintain an appropriate height.
As you can see, watering your garden is often not as simple as just turning on a hose or pulling out a watering can. The tips in this article will save you time and money and, most important, give your plants the water they need.
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