In the Garden:
Lower South
June, 2007
Regional Report

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Drip irrigation puts water where it is needed, at the plant's roots.

Water Smarter

This spring was a rainy one in most parts of the lower south. But despite the spring and early summer rains, now that temperatures are rising our gardens are getting thirsty fast. Summer watering is a part of gardening no doubt. Rising water bills are not a welcome sight but there is a lot we can do to water smarter and get more out of our irrigation dollar.

Automatic irrigation systems have dramatically increased in popularity over the past few years as homeowners have left the hose end sprinkler for the easy-to-use automatic irrigation timer. I must confess that I am still a committed hose dragger. Dragging hoses is great exercise and offers hours of quiet, mindless opportunities to contemplate life -- or even to just daydream. I move the sprinklers around until I get them "just right". I also like hand watering some of my plants.

Water Therapy
Believe it or not I actually find something therapeutic about standing in the garden with a sprayer pistol in hand, watering the garden. Some of my most intense relaxing and most creative thinking have come at the end of a garden hose. It's even better than a long ride through the countryside! With all those new fangled, multi-nozzle options, who can resist?

Despite these advantages, I realize that some gardeners may not appreciate the summer sport of hand watering as much as I do. Plus, unless you really spend some time at it, hand watering often does not provide the deep soaking that plants need. Water takes some time to soak in and wet the soil deeply. So if you approach watering like some type of "one minute manager", you'd better consider another approach.

Deep Soaking
When we water it is best to give the soil a deep, thorough soaking and then allow it time to dry out a bit before watering again. Light, frequent watering only wets the soil surface and does little to build an extensive root system and strong, drought-resilient plants.

When you hand water it may look like you are really wetting the soil as the water puddles and starts to run off. But try digging down a few inches after you think you are done and you'll usually find the soil is not wet as deeply as you thought. For my recent transplants I build circular berms around the plants for the first summer. This allows me to fill the berm with water and insure a very thorough soaking right were the original root ball is and just beyond that into the surrounding soil.

If you have an irrigation system, run it so that you apply an inch of water at a time. This will help insure a good soaking of the soil. Then allow it to stay off for as long as you can before running it again. The drying out period is important for plant health and water saving too.

Drip Irrigation
The past few years I have been working toward putting more and more of the landscape and garden into drip irrigation. Drip irrigation saves water and reduce leaf wetting which promotes disease. Drip systems, although once novelties, are now commonplace in gardens and landscapes. I found the system I put together quite easy to install and very effective. I plan on adding more lines this summer to convert more of the garden to drip. But don't worry. I'll always keep a little area for hand watering. I'd hate to work myself out of a job!

Microjets and microsprinklers are very similar to drip as they apply coarse droplets down low to the soil, reducing leaf wetting and evaporative losses. The wet a larger area than drip and are just another one of many new irrigation technologies at our disposal.

This summer try watering smarter. Try out some of the new, water-efficient drip and microjet systems. Set your watering schedule for deeper, less frequent watering. And most important of all, have a water hose handy for some important hydrotherapy sessions out in the garden. You can get a lot of relaxing and productive contemplation done at the end of a garden hose!


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