Efficient Watering

— Written By Peg Godwin and last updated by
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All living things need water to live. Rainfall has been quite variable this year with abundant moisture in some areas and other sections seriously lacking sufficient rain water. Adopting efficient watering practices will conserve the water you must apply to maintain plant health and encourage production.

Water is essential for plants when they are growing vigorously and temperatures soar into the 90’s. Plants use water during the process of photosynthesis. Water is used in transpiration as plants move moisture from roots to stems and leaves. Plants use water for cooling during evaporation and in absorption of nutrients.

What is the best way to apply water to plants? Water is absorbed through plant roots, so the root zone is the best place to apply moisture. Applying water to the foliage wastes water and can lead to fungal disease problems.

The most efficient time of day to water is during the early morning hours. Water applied in the heat of the day is frequently lost through evaporation. Windy conditions also increase water loss. Applying water during the evening can increase disease problems because foliage stays wet for a long period of time.

How much water should be applied? Many factors are involved in determining the moisture requirements of a plant. The plant species, the size and age of the plant, environmental conditions such as the amount of sun, type of soil, competition from weeds and other plants and weather conditions all need to be considered. Good gardeners keep track of the amount of rainfall and the predicted weather conditions to help fine tune plant water needs. It is better to water thoroughly to a depth of 6 inches than to water a small amount every day. A general rule of thumb to follow is to provide 1 inch of water per week.

Soil types help determine how frequently water should be applied. Water drains quickly through sandy soil and moisture is not held for very long. Water must be applied more frequently to sandy soil and can be applied rapidly. Clay soils are slow to drain and absorb water but hold moisture longer. Water should be slowly applied to clay soil but only applied once in a week’s time. Adding compost to the soil improves water penetration and water holding capacity. Organic mulch on top of the soil decreases evaporation, splashing, temperature and weed growth.

The most popular irrigation methods include hand watering, sprinkler irrigation and drip irrigation. Hand watering is usually the least expensive of the three and allows you to water only the plants or areas you choose. Because hand watering is time consuming, it gives you the opportunity to monitor plant and soil conditions as you water. You can also easily adjust the amount of water applied and change the rate of application.

Sprinkler irrigation can be costly and complex if you choose an automatic system. Water can be wasted if heads are not frequently monitored and adjusted. Sprinkler systems can save time unless you use a manual system that must be physically moved and cut off and on. Overhead sprinklers can lead to increased disease because plant foliage is wet.

Drip irrigation equipment is less expensive than installing an underground sprinkler system but more costly than hand watering devices. Drip systems are very efficient in applying water to a general area but are not appropriate for all areas (like turf).

Applying these ideas to your watering should increase plant health and reduce water usage.