All plants need water and if the elements don’t provide it in sufficient quantities then we have to step in. Summer is probably the busiest time for us with watering being an essential task most days – especially during dry weather. With sunshine and warm weather, plants grow fast and draw heavily on soils for moisture. Well-watered salads are sweet and succulent but if deprived of water they can turn chewy and bitter. Productive plants like tomatoes need regular and constant moisture, as they grow, to deliver an abundant, healthy and tasty harvest. Young seedlings are especially sensitive to drying out as they have very shallow roots that can only draw moisture from the soil’s surface. One hot sunny day without moisture can bring an abrupt end to weeks of successful sowing and growing. Watering is also high on the maintenance list in gardens where plants are being grown in containers. Even in winter weather can be dry for weeks so it pays to check regularly and keep an eye on the weather.
Your plants need water as soon as the soil is dry. To test the moisture levels within your soil push your forefinger its full length into the soil. Wiggle it about, you should feel moisture, if not then its time to give things a drink. Don’t wait until plants wilt before attending to them as this causes them stress that can affect health, flavour and yield. Large, established shrubs and small trees are less likely to need regular watering as they should have established root systems that draw widely on soil for moisture. However, in really dry spells they may need a top up.
Generally plants are watered by drenching the soil at their base and in the area immediately beneath their foliage.
Watering can Usually watering cans hold about 5 litres of water but you can get them smaller, a 5 litre can is too heavy for a child to use when it is full. Watering cans should come with a rose attachment – this turns a jet of water coming from the nozzle into a delicate shower. Use the jet when there is a large area of soil to soak and you are watering beneath large and established plants like climbing beans, sweetcorn and fruit bushes. The rose attachment creates a soft shower of water that is ideal for young seedlings and shallow rooted plants like lettuces, rocket and basil.
Hose A hose is very handy for getting water to a wide area of garden – especially if it is a kink-free hose. These are definitely worth the money as they make watering efficient and hassle free. You can get a shower – or soaker – attachment for a garden hose that allows you to select different jets, sprays, showers and drenches.
Irrigation system After an initial investment, an irrigation system can be a very effective way of providing constant moisture to plants in containers and raised beds. Irrigation systems run pipes about as thick as your little finger along beds and between containers. You can choose leaky pipes that trickle water slowly into the soil or spray emitters that cast a fine mist of water over plants and soil. Spray emitters should not be used on large leafy plants like zucchini, tomatoes, melons and cucumbers that are susceptible to fungal diseases like mildew and blight that are spread by moisture. An irrigation system is a very efficient way of getting water into your garden. With a computerized controller you can relax – even take a holiday – knowing that your plants are getting the right amount of water at the right time.
The best time to water is in the early morning so that the soil absorbs moisture before it all evaporates. Ideally water should pool temporarily on top of the soil before it disappears – this is a good sign that you have given a particular area enough moisture for plants to remain hydrated through the day.
The trick to making your watering most effective is to mulch around plants – this will help hold in that valuable moisture.