Watering Tips for Hot Summer Days

It’s that time of year yet again.  The heat is here.  It’s amazing how it seems that every year I manage to be surprised by how hot it gets.  What’s worse for your plants, it seems like every year the droughts get worse and worse.  These droughts don’t have to devastate your garden, though.

There are two main concerns in choosing when to water: conserving water and growing healthy plants.  Fortunately, the solution for both concerns is the same.  What you need to do is water in a way that maximizes how much of the water is taken into the plants.  There are a few tricks to ensure that this happens.

  • Water in the early morning. This is when the ambient temperature is at its least brutal, meaning less water will evaporate before it gets to where it needs to be.  Some gardening experts also believe that this will help prevent root diseases that can be caused by overnight dampness of the soil, and this may well be, though I tend to think that poor drainage is a more common culprit.  Watering in the evening may contribute to other fungal problems, though, as the leaves will be damp throughout the night.  If you can avoid it, you should never water in the heat of the day.
  • Water more deeply, not more often. Plants that are watered lightly and very often will develop weak, shallow roots.  Watering deeply and less frequently stresses the plants into developing deeper roots to seek more water.  This means that they will take up water more efficiently in the future, as well as being less susceptible to all sorts of other problems.  These tougher plants are also much more likely to survive when you inevitably miss watering them.
  • Water the soil, not the air. Sprinklers are not very good for most watering purposes.  They’re fine for a lawn, which requires more even watering, but for individual plants, it’s best to water at the roots when you can.  That is, after all, where the plants are actually bringing in the water.  Watering leaves does no good (and can actually harm many plants).  A good drip irrigation system can work very well and save you a lot of water.  I prefer to water by hand, though, as it is easier to give each plant exactly what it needs, wasting much less water than automated systems would.

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  • Ted Dillard says:

    This answers the question of “what time of day, and how” very well… but doesn’t address the question “When do I know my garden needs watering?”, or, in other words, how do I know the soil is getting too dry, or too wet?

  • Ted:
    Well, that is a much more difficult question. It depends very much on your soil type and even more on what sorts of plants you’re growing and how much dry or wet they can handle. Some plants do best with drying out completely between waterings, and some prefer to sit in moist soil pretty much all of the time. Try to learn about the plants you have, and from there the best thing to do is keep a close eye on them and try to take cues from them. In the heat of the South, I find that I don’t have many plants that don’t need some water at least once a week when there’s no rain, and some need it every day (especially those in containers).

  • Ted Dillard says:

    One of the sites I found very helpful is this:
    From the Colorado State Extension service.

  • Ted Dillard says:

    Sorry if this is a re-post, I’m not sure my last post made it… feel free to delete!
    I was suspecting as much… I’ve been having some fun looking at the moisture penetration in my garden, that is, how much water soaks how deep, and how fast the soil drys out. Part of that is looking at what you mention, the effects of a short “shower” vs a soaking rain.
    The “ball” method I linked to in a separate post seems pretty good for most common plants, in a good garden soil. That is, if the soil holds a ball shape by itself, it’s ok for most varieties. Do you think that’s a fair statement?

  • Ted:
    I would agree, actually. The ball method does help a great deal with checking the soil levels in a lot of soils. I also sometimes simply stick my middle finger into the soil to the second knuckle to get a feel for soil moisture.

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