In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
May, 2003
Regional Report

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222

Jean and Heidi prepare to water the dymondia, correctly this time.

Watering 101

When I see novice gardeners watering I just have to cringe. All they seem to do is splash a bit of water on the surface and get the plants wet. I have recently helped my friend Jean put in a new landscape. Jean is new to gardening and is doing quite well, for a beginner. Her lavenders all survived the winter, the dog-proof dymondia ground cover has almost filled in and the grasses are beginning to sprout and dance in the strong South San Francisco breezes.

Jean decided not to put in an irrigation system when we first designed the garden. Now that the rains have stopped, it's time for her to start watering. She likes standing with a hose in her hand, as all gardeners do, but doesn't understand the dynamic of watering.

Water Deeply
To encourage deep root growth, you need to water deeply, especially if you don't have an irrigation system to rely on. In order to get water deep into the soil, you need to hold the hose in one place until it runs off, then come back and water again.

Imagine the water sinking into the soil to a depth of at least 6 to 10 inches, depending on what you have planted and what type of soil you have. I know that Jean has fabulous, fast-draining loam because we made it that way prior to planting. Experience, or a soil probe, will tell you how deep into your soil the water is actually going. Roots follow the water through the soil, and when you water deeply, the young roots follow the water down deep. Plants with deep roots will be more drought-resistant than those with a shallow root system. A prolonged spell of hot weather can kill shallow-rooted plants.

I knew of a beautiful alder tree that lived in a lawn in Menlo Park. The only water it ever received was from the lawn sprinklers. When the building sold and stood vacant for a long while, the tree died because the previous owners had turned off the irrigation system. That tree should have been able to stand on its own, but the roots were only as deep as the turf.

Watering Wands
I stood and watched Jean water her new garden with a hose last night. She attached one of those gun jet things suitable only for washing cars. I suggested that she use a watering wand instead. If you haven't seen this invaluable tool, go to any nursery or garden supply store. It has an on-off valve at the hose end which is attached to a 36-inch-long metal tube. At the end of the tube is a watering head similar to the rosette on a watering can. It delivers water in a gentle flow directly to the base of the plants at the soil, not on the leaves. Water left on foliage overnight tends to cause fungus diseases.

The gentle flow head also prevents the soil from washing away from the base of the plant. In the absence of a watering wand, you can attach a sock to the business end of your hose with a rubber band. The sock will break the force of the water. Just make sure that you hold it near the base of the plant, and let it run long enough so the water sinks into the soil. Class dismissed.


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