The Garden Patch: Use your valuable commodity efficiently

082614--leaking-GARDEN-HOSEThis week we’ll continue from where we left off last week – with watering and how to conserve this commodity in our gardens. Let’s start with:

Watering the home landscape efficiently

There are two factors that influence the general practice off watering:

  1. The water supply available to the plant in the soil environment, and
  2.  The rate of water being used by the plant.

The first depends primarily on the soil water holding capacity as well as the extensiveness of the root system of the plant. The second depends on some of the special characteristics of the plants to retard water use and, more importantly, on the weather conditions such as temperature, wind and humidity.

Soil types

The soil you have influences watering practices since different soil textures hold different quantities of water. Soil is composed of small particles which we have discussed in previous columns.

Deep watering = deep roots

Each plant has a maximum depth to which its roots will grow. Roots will only penetrate to that depth where water, air and nutrients are present. Deep watering encourages deep rooting, increasing the reservoir of water so plants can go longer between waterings. Also, deeply placed water is less subject to water loss by evaporation from the soil surface.

The roots of most small trees and shrubs may reach up to 6 feet deep while smaller shrubs or flowers may root up to 2 to 4 feet deep. Consider grouping plants together that may be shallow rooted and require more frequent watering such as flower beds or a mixed border of small shrubs.

It is important to water only long enough to wet the soil to the depth of the root system and not beyond as that would be a waste of water. A soil probe or thin rod pressed into the soil will go in easily until it reaches the dry zone.

How often to water

The most critical factor in determining water use is weather, which includes temperature, humidity, wind, sunlight and precipitation. There is a constant use of water as it flows through the plant bringing nutrients to the upper plant parts.

Most of the absorption of water and nutrients occurs in the upper half of the root system, as we have discussed before, and water therefore should be applied directly to the soil surface or to the root zone. Water is wasted, especially in hot weather, if it is applied to plant leaves or tops since much of it will simply evaporate.

Most small trees and shrubs should be watered to wet the soil to a depth of 4 feet once a month or every 6 weeks. Plants with shallower roots will require a more frequent soaking, perhaps to a depth of 2 to 3 feet every 2 to 4 weeks.

It should be remembered that supplying only a portion of plants’ water needs in mature landscaping may not be a bad situation. However, on a young newly planted tree or in situations where you want a fuller landscape, greater watering will support greater growth!

Signs of possible water deficiency

  • Grayish, dull or off-color foliage
  • Wilted foliage, especially on new leaves
  • Flowers are short-lived and drop off prematurely
  • Older leaves dry and drop off

Watering systems

There are several ways to apply water to plants. No one way is ideal. A combination of systems may turn out to be the best for your particular situation. Here are some of the options – you can explore then to decide which is best for your garden.

  • Flooding
  • Soaker hoses (my favorite)
  • Sprinklers
  • Underground sprinklers
  • Porous wall hose or pipe
  • Drip or trickle systems

Ask your supplier or landscaper or greenhouse operator which would be best for your special gardening interest.

10 ways to improve water use in the landscape

  1. Water deeply, but no deeper than the root zone of the plant
  2. Water slowly. Turn down the flow.
  3. Water infrequently.
  4. Loosen the soil surface and use mulches.
  5. Avoid runoff by creating “basins” around trees and making use of furrows and ridges to contain water.
  6. Follow directions for operating and maintaining all irrigation systems.
  7. Reduce fertilizer applications.
  8. Keep your landscape well weeded.
  9. When water restrictions are imposed, lower your standards for a perfect landscape.
  10. If water restrictions are severe, save your trees and shrubs first.

Water conserving mulches

Mulches can do much more than cut down on water use. They can also improve soil texture, suppress weeds, lower soil temperature and add ornamental value to the landscape. How well mulch conserves moisture is determined by its composition and how deeply it is applied.

At first glance, it might appear that replacing all lawn, shrubs and trees with a layer of mulch would be the ideal way to save on water bills and maintenance. Without the cooling, evaporative effect of grass and other greenery, though, higher temperatures would result, in addition to problems with dust and erosion.

I am listing here several of the most commonly used landscape mulches:

  • Plastic or polyethylene film.
  • Landscape fabric.
  • Wood or bark material.
  • Stone or gravel.

Most effective depth – 1 to 3 inches.

Well, that’s it for this week and for watering! Remember the climate we dwell in here in eastern Kansas lends itself well to water conservation. Judicious use of water will help your plants thrive and not damage our ecosystem … be careful, have fun and enjoy your beautiful garden! Till next time!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.


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