The Garden Patch: Make the most of every water drop

Well, we’ve had a pretty good spring (with plenty of moisture) and now it’s the beginning of summer. Let’s hope the rain continues in reasonable amounts and that our gardens and crops continue to do well!

Today, let’s visit a little about watering and soil types. The soil you have influences the way you water because different soils hold different amounts of water in different ways. By the way – do you remember the difference between soil and dirt? Soil is what you work with and amend to grow plants that you want – dirt is what you track in the house when you’re done! Soil is composed of small particles with the largest particles classified as sand; medium sized particles as silt; and the fine particles as clay. Varying amounts of each sized particles in any soil influences its texture.

Some soils may have different textures at different depths. A layer of clay or hardpan beneath a loamy soil can restrict drainage into the soil. In many garden situations there has been considerable disturbance of the present soil by construction or hauling fill soil into an area.

There are two factors that influence the general practice of watering: 1.The water supply available to the plant in the soil environment. 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 special characteristics of plants to retard water use, and, more importantly, on the weather conditions such as temperature, wind and humidity.

Garden plants use water as part of the photosynthetic process and to move nutrients from the soil environment to upper parts of the plant – remember – feed the roots, the rest of the plant will take care of itself. There is a continuous flow of water from the root up through the plant where water is evaporated into the atmosphere. Thus, in hot, dry conditions (did I say summertime in Kansas?) the loss of water to the air is greater than in cooler, more humid conditions. In addition, as the plant grows, there is a greater need for water as the size and complexity of the plant increases.

In contrast to landscape plants, some garden plants need adequate water to encourage rapid, vigorous growth. GARDEN CROPS SHOULD NEVER BE UNDER PROLONGED WATER STRESS since yield, quality and pest resistance may be sacrificed.

Young seedling plants with a shallow, poorly developed root system may require regular, shallow watering, while a more mature plant with its extensive root development can withstand longer periods between waterings.

Reducing home water use has become a major concern for many people today (especially in our area). Since outdoor water use often comprises more than half the water consumed by the average household, it is an area where many significant improvements can be made. Careful planning, proper soil preparation, efficient watering and use of mulches can all be combined to make the most out of every available drop of water.

When looking for ways to save water in the garden, most attention is usually focused on irrigation systems, mulches and other visible improvements. One less visible, but equally important way to reduce water consumption is the addition of organic matter to the soil.

Organic matter is derived from living or once living plants or animals. Microorganisms break down those residues into a fine, black, water-absorbing substance called humus. Adding humus to your garden is almost like adding a sponge to your soil!

All types of soil found in Kansas can benefit from the addition of organic matter. In sandy soil, organic matter binds the soil particles, increasing its water holding capacity and therefore making more water available to the plant roots. In clay soil, organic matter loosens the soil by improving its structure which also increases water availability.

Sunshine, high temperatures and dryness all work to oxidize or “burn up” organic matter, so it needs to be added each year. In the garden, this can be accomplished by the addition of compost, manure or other types of similar material when preparing the soil in the fall or in the spring. In most permanent plantings such as fruit, asparagus or rhubarb, the soil should be amended with organic matter before the plants are set out. Mulches can be used afterwards to supply additional organic matter.

HOW MUCH OF DIS STUFF DO I USE? The amount of organic matter to add will depend on the type used. A rough estimate is a layer 1 to 4 inches deep, applied to the soil and turned under. Concentrated material such as manure will require the smaller amount, while a looser material such as peat moss will require the larger amount.

Well, that’s it for this week, folks. We’ve got our peas all harvested for this year, the lettuce has been cut three times and everything else is looking great – so far! The little onions are out and the big ones are growing like crazy! Oh, by the way, the things I’ve written about above I use every year – so I know they work. Wouldn’t try to feed you malarkey! Have a great garden and we can visit again next week! ‘Til then!

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.

Contact us: Osage County News | P.O. Box 62, Lyndon, KS 66451 | [email protected] | 785-828-4994 | Powered by Osage County, Kansas