NGA Articles: Watering Wisdom

Watering Wisdom

By: National Gardening Association Editors

Garden plants need water, and if nature doesn't supply it in the form of gentle, soaking rains then gardeners will need to do so. However, according to the National Weather Service much of the United States is in a current state of drought, with continued dry conditions expected. And homeowners who rely on municipal water supplies are seeing costs rise dramatically. So it just makes sense to conserve water and use this precious resource wisely.

How can gardeners maintain healthy plants while minimizing water usage? We've all seen sprinklers running on a rainy day, or a misdirected stream of water saturating pavement instead of plants. These obvious wastes of water are the first to remedy. But there are many more was to conserve. Here are some watering basics.

Watering Systems

Above-ground sprinklers are popular for covering large areas, such as lawns. They are easy to use and can be moved around to cover all areas of the yard. Drip irrigation systems allow you to situate emitters so they apply water to the soil around plants, making them excellent for conserving water. Likewise, soaker hoses allow water to seep slowly into garden beds. Unless you are very patient, your yard is very small, or you are watering container plants, hand-watering is less than ideal. You'd be surprised at how long it takes to apply enough water to soak plants' root zones!

Timing Your Watering

You may be surprised at how much water is lost to evaporation when you water on a warm, sunny afternoon -- estimates put the amount at up to 30%. The best time to water is early morning or evening because much less water will be lost to evaporation than when you water in the midday heat.. If you are using an overhead sprinkler water in the morning so foliage can dry quickly, minimizing disease problems, such as black spot on roses, that thrive on moist leaves. During drought conditions, some municipalities mandate that watering be done after dark. A programmable timer that turns water on and off at set times is especially handy in this situation.

Most plants prefer a thorough soaking followed by a period where the soil is allowed to dry out a bit. By watering infrequently, but thoroughly, you'll encourage plants to develop strong, deep root systems. A daily light sprinkle, on the other hand, causes plants to develop shallow surface roots that are prone to drying out if their daily water fix is missed.

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