WATERING A GARDEN
All living things are composed of water but did you know that as much as 95% of the weight of some plants is because of the amount of water they contain. Water is also an important substance that plants need to grow. Water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom and plants get hydrogen and oxygen by absorbing water through their roots. No plant can survive without some amount of moisture or they will wilt and die, and while most people know that too little water can kill a plant, you also have to be careful not to over water because too much water can cause a plants roots to rot or drown from lack of oxygen. Plants breath through their roots and when you water too much the roots cannot take in gases and slowly start suffocating.
Signs of Over-watering
Whether you are growing your plants in containers or in the ground, you have to pay attention to their watering needs such as soil and the weather. It can be difficult at times to know whether or not you are watering them too much or too little so it is important to know the signs.
- Lower leaves are yellow or wilting
The first sign of over-watering is that your plants leaves will begin to turn yellow, start to wilt, and look sickly. If your soil is saturated with water, the plant can die from a lack of air and if your soil is constantly wet, this also leaves your plants susceptible to diseases and pest attacks.
If a plant has absorbed too much water, it can cause the plant’s cells to expand to the point of rupturing. If you are noticing any blisters or lesions on the plant, this is a sign of burst cells. These lesions will begin to turn dark or leave white scar tissue on your leaves.
- Roots will be rotting or stunted
Rotted roots appear grey, brownish or slimy and if severe enough it might kill roots outright or make them more susceptible to invasion by root rotting organisms. Prolonged periods of excessive soil moisture will increase the growth of many root-rotting pathogens. If a plant has root rot it is best to remove it from your garden bed so it cannot spread disease.
- Young leaves will turn brown
If your plants are not growing or your leaves are turning brown, it might be an indication of over-watering. It is important to remember that sign of slow plant growth or browning leaves can also be a sign of under-watering so it is important to pay attention to both.
- Soil will appear green and fuzzy (mold and algae)
Fuzz growing on your plant or greenish-looking soil are signs of mold and algae. This is a very common consequence of over-watering because mold and algae thrive in prolonged periods of wetness with poor air circulation. Make sure your plants have proper drainage and let your soil dry out.
- No new growth
If your plants have stopped growing and you are not getting any new growth, this can be an indication of over-watering. Over-watering deprives roots of oxygen, which they need to function properly. When the roots are continuously deprived of oxygen, the root fibers die which will prevent your plants from getting moisture or nutrients from the soil.
TIRED OF MUD WRESTLING
When is the best time to water your garden? How much water does your garden actually need? Does soil matter? Unless you are going through a drought, there is no need to water your garden everyday. One of the biggest mistakes a new gardener makes is water way too much. Most gardeners are told that their vegetable gardens should be getting an inch of water a week. This old rule of thumb for watering has proven to be false and dangerous to some your plants. Soil matters and it is important to know what type of soil you have; clay-based soils hold more water than sandier soils, so an inch of water a week could result in over-watering. Determining what type of soil you are working with will help you determine how the soil will hold water.
- Sandy Soil
Sandy soil is dry and gritty to the touch, and because the particles have huge spaces between them, it does not hold water well. Water will drain quickly and and plants do not have a chance to absorb nutrients. Because of the rapid runoff, your garden need to be water more frequently.
2. Silty Soil
Silty soil feels soft to the touch but feels soapy when wet, it has much smaller particles and retains water longer, but it can’t hold on to as much nutrients, the soil is cold and drains poorly. Silty soil compacts easily too and it can become poorly aerated (effect air circulation). Silty soil usually requires mixing in composted organic matter to improve drainage and structure while adding nutrients.
3. Clay Soil
Clay soil has the smallest particles among the three and feels lumpy and sticky when wet but it is rock hard when dry. It holds water well but it has poor drainage and poor air circulation. It can be rich in nutrients and if the soil drainage is enhanced it can allow for good plant growth because of the high nutrient content. The downside to clay is that when it is dry it becomes compact and it is very difficult to work with and turn.
4. Peaty Soil
Peaty soil feels damp and spongy, it is basically formed by the accumulation of dead and decayed organic matter, it naturally contains much more organic matter than most of the soils, but It is an acidic soil which slows down decomposition and leads to the soil having fewer nutrients. Peaty soil requires a blend of rich organic matter, compost and lime to reduce the acidity.
5. Saline Soil
Soil salinity relates to amount of salt in the soil, the soil appears to have a white crust on soil surface because of its high salt content and is extremely dry. As soils become more saline, plants become unable to draw as much water causing drought stress from the soil so if it is less likely for water to enter the roots and it makes it less likely for plants to grow. If your plants are growing poorly, you can identify saline soil by the white coating on the surface of your soil, and your plant leaves will suffer from leaf tip burns.
6. Loam Soil
Loamy soil is a proportionate mixture of the three soils sand, silt and clay and it feels fine, dry, and slightly damp. It is ideal for gardening, lawns, and shrubs to thrive. Loamy soil has great structure to retains nutrients, it has high moisture retention, and air circulation, is rich in minerals, has good drainage, is easy to cultivate, and it warms up quickly in spring, but does not dry out in the quickly in the summer. Loamy soil does require replenishing with organic matter or compost, but it is a great soil for gardening.
HOW TO TEST YOUR SOIL
To have a successful garden, your soil must have proper drainage, air circulation, and nutrients. The three main nutrients are: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK), all vital for growing healthy plants. If you are just starting out and do not know how to identify what type of soil you have, I am going to share some tips with you so you can easily maintain the health of your soil and produce more fresh and healthy foods – fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
Testing your soil means you determine the pH level and nutrient content of your soil. Having a balance of nutrients in your soil is vital because either to little or too much can have a detrimental impact on plant growth. But how does one go about testing there soil? There are a number of soil testing methods you can use, analyzing your soil isn’t complicated and you don’t need to be a plant and soil scientist to do it.
Use a Do-It-Yourself Kit: Dig a 2-4 inch hole, remove some soil from the bottom of the hole and place it in a plastic container or jar. Use a trowel to break up any clumps (don;t use your hands). Let it dry, then again use the trowel to break the soil into tiny particles and remove debris. Scoop soil into the vial with a small plastic spoon and fill to indicated line. Add the testing powder and take one of the kit’s capsules, open it carefully and empty the contents into the vial with the soil. Add distilled water to indicated line with the eyedropper that comes with your kit, put the cap on the vial and shake vigorously until everything is mixed. Let the vial sit for about a minute or two and then compare the color of the water with the color chart along the side of the vial (best to read outside in the sunlight for a more accurate color determination).
Test Probe: Dig a small hole in the soil you want to use approximately 2-4 inches deep. Break up the soil in the hole and remove all debris. Fill the hole with distilled water until there appears to be a muddy pool at the bottom. Insert the clean test probe into the mud for 60 seconds and take your reading. You may want to do this in different spots of your garden plot to make sure the readings around your garden are similar.
Use Paper Test Strips: Test strips, are a quick and easy way to measure the pH of your soil. You can purchase them online at Amazon or at your local garden store. Once you have your test strips, place a handful of soil in a bowl and mix it with distilled water until it is the consistency of a milkshake. Dip the test strip into the mixture for approximately 20-30 seconds (but always refer to directions on your specific test strips to determine the proper dipping time). Dip the strip briefly in distilled water to clean it off and compare the strip to the color code in your pH test kit.
Do-It-Yourself: You don’t need to spend money on expensive soil tests. Here is a way to do it yourself for (nearly) free and you can do it anywhere and as often as you like. Jar tests are a quick and a great way to figure out the texture of your soil. Use a glass or plastic jar such as a mason or mayonnaise jar with a tight lid so you can see through it. Fill the jar about half full of garden soil. You can use soil from different areas of the garden to get an overall view or make a test for each garden bed. Fill the jar nearly to the top with water, but leave room for shaking. Put the lid on and shake the vigorously. Let the mixture sit for 24 hours and the particles will settle and separate into clay, silt, and sand layers. Results: if your jar test is 20% clay, 40% silt, and 40% loam you have terrific soil and your garden should be fabulous. Soil that may need some work:
- 30% clay, 60% silt, 10% sand = Silty Clay Loam
- 15% clay, 20% silt, 65% sand = Sandy Loam
- 15% clay, 65% silt, 20% sand = Silty Loam
Household Ingredient Test: Put soil in two small containers, add a little water to the soil to dampen the soil. Add a half cup of baking soda to one of the container, if the soil bubbles, it indicates that the soil is acidic with a pH below 7. Add about a half cup vinegar to the second container and if the soil bubbles, it is an indication that the soil is alkaline with a pH above 7.
Acidity or alkalinity is measured on a scale ranging from 0 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline) with 7 being neutral. Most plants prefer soil in the neutral to slightly acidic range (pH of 6-7).
If your soil doesn’t react to either test, it has a neutral pH, and doesn’t require any tweaking. Just keep adding organic materials, like compost and leaf mold to maintain that balance. Add wood ash, or pulverized hydrated, granules, or pellets lime to your soil if it is too acidic and if your soil indicates alkaline, try adding sulfur, pine needles, or peat moss to improve the health of your soil.
RAIN – RAIN, DON”T GO AWAY – COME AGAIN ANOTHER DAY
Ideally, rainwater for your garden is an excellent source of irrigation for plants. But in reality, you will often have to do extra watering depending on how often it rains. Here are some helpful tips on watering a vegetable garden.
- Water the roots, the roots are the ones that need access to water. Wetting the leaves can promote the development of mold diseases and your plants can also develop slight burn marks the hot sun.
- Water only when needed, pay attention to rainfall so you do not over water and damage your plants.
- Water your garden in the morning, that way if you get moisture on the leaves they have time to dry out, reducing chances of wilting under a scorching sun. Watering cooled soil also promotes less water evaporates compared to hot soil during the day.
- Use mulch to reduce surface runoff and evaporation from the soil.
- Use watering tools at the root zone such as hoses or irrigation systems. Sprinklers are convenient but they soak the leaves as apposed to the roots.
- Let your garden dry out between watering, this will promote root growth of your plants.
- Water your garden thoroughly and evenly. Plants are particularly dependent upon evenly moist soil until harvest time.
- Know your plants needs so you can determine how much to water, seedlings are particularly vulnerable. Read you packet to ensure you are not over or under-watering. Some established plants need more water than others, for example; green beans need less water than watermelon and zucchini.
- Know your areas (zone) temperature and humidity, if your climate is hot and dry you will have to water more frequently.
- Pay attention to drooping leaves, big leave plants will wilt first such as squash, cucumber, or melons because they lose a lot of moisture fast. If you notice they are drooping or wilting it may be an indication that they need water especially in very hot, dry, and sunny weather. If you notice powdery mildew on your large leaves or they are turning yellow and wilting, it is an indication that you are watering too much.
- Place a rain gauge in your garden to measure the actual amount of water your plants are receiving. If your plants have not received an inch of water in a week, you know you know your garden needs additional watering. You can also place a plastic container or bucket in your garden so you can measure how much rain or irrigation water your garden is getting and how long it takes your watering system or a good steady rain to provide an inch of water.
- If at all possible use rain barrels to collect and store rainwater to water your garden. Using rainwater to water your garden is a natural and healthy way to ensure no contaminates and pollutants are absorbed in your soil because rainwater is naturally soft and free of free of chlorine, fluoride, and other chemicals. Harvesting rainwater will also save you money and help the environment at the same time because during the summer months – approximately 60% of our municipal water supply goes directly to watering our gardens and lawns and using rain barrels can lessen water flowing into our storm drains, sewer systems, and ultimately our local waterways.
Watering a garden is not an exact science and as you can see, there are some things to consider that factor in to ensure the health of your plants. With some of these tips in mind, you should be able to help your garden survive those hot long summer days and those cloudy rainy periods.
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