The Garden Patch: When do we water this thang? – Osage County Online | Osage County News

The Garden Patch: When do we water this thang?

There are two things to consider when watering your garden: the water available in the soil and the amount of water the plants are using. Water availability relies on the soil’s ability to retain water and the plant’s root mass. The other factor relies on the ability of the plant’s roots to retard water use and, of course, the weather conditions. Is it gonna rain?

Reducing water use is a major concern because we don’t know what this Kansas weather is going to produce. Believe it or not, outdoor water use usually amounts to more than half of the water we consume in an average household. We could make many improvements in this area! Careful planning, proper soil preparation, efficient watering, and use of mulches combine to make every drop of water count!

The type of soil you have (eastern Kansas = heavy clay) influences the soil’s ability to hold water. Do you know the difference between soil and dirt? Soil is what you work with, amend and plant plants in – dirt is what you track in the house when you’re done!

Soil consists of particles – the largest being classified as sand, medium as silt, and fine particles as clay. The amount of each determines the soil’s texture.

Most soils have different textures and different depths. Needless to say, a layer of hardpan or clay beneath regular soil can create drainage problems. Many of our garden areas have had the texture of the soil altered due to construction or the addition of fill soil.

We’ve all heard of photosynthesis. Right? Well, just in case – plants use this process to move nutrients from the soil to the upper parts of the plant. (Remember – feed the roots, the rest of the plant will take care of itself? Told you about that last week). A constant flow of water moves nutrients from the root system up through the plant where it evaporates into the atmosphere. In hot, dry conditions such as our summers, the loss of water to the air is greater than in cooler, more humid conditions. Also, as the size and complexity of the plant increases, so does the need for water.

Landscape plants and garden plants have different needs. Garden plants need adequate water to ensure rapid, vigorous growth. They should never be under a lengthy period of water stress because yield, quality and pest resistance may be sacrificed.

Important for this time of year – new seedling plants with poorly developed and shallow root systems require regular and shallow watering. A mature plant with an extensive root system can use water from a larger area of the soil profile.

All crops in the garden differ in the size and complexity of their root systems. Consider what you have, then determine the watering system that’s right for you and your plants.

Some vegetables, such as lettuce and corn, have especially sparse, less developed root systems. Other crops, such as peppers and tomatoes, have fibrous root systems that more effectively remove water from a given area of the soil. Cool system vegetables, those planted in the spring or in the fall, generally root to a shallower depth than warm season crops. They may need watering more frequently in periods of stress. Watering during the spring and fall is affected by cooler temperatures and more rainfall – causing less worry for you!

In most directly seeded crops, be sure that adequate water is available in the root zone to encourage germination of seeds and to allow for initial growth and development. Sometimes it is necessary to provide frequent, shallow watering during dry spells until the crop develops. This is especially true for fall crops.

Got transplants? Providing water at transplanting time is absolutely essential to support the plant until it is able to take water from the surrounding soil. The general rule is to apply ½ to 1 cup water very slowly to each transplanted vegetable. Water slowly so the water has time to “soak in” to the area near the plant or water at the bottom of the transplant hole.

“Water, water everywhere and nary a drop to drink” so says the shipwrecked sailor and likewise a garden plant needs water throughout its life cycle to survive and grow. There are several periods, however, when adequate water is critical. A plant may change (irreversible) from a lack of water for the rest of its life. And not for the better!

OK! Now we all know how and when to water, what signs to look for and how to care for the drinking needs of our plants in general! Whew! We learned a lot today!

Next week we’ll tackle the different ways of water application to plants plus some practical and timely applications for mulch. Much ground to cover (no pun intended) and so little time!

Have a good week in the garden (and out)!

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.”

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