Watering Well

By Sharon Harris

I am the waterer in our household & I generally water by hand, or by moving a sprinkler around.   Most of the time I like watering but if we have a long, dry summer I look forward to the shorter days of autumn, even if it is not cooler, I can get away with watering less.

Watering Well is something I am passionate about.  It doesn’t mean using a lot of water, it just means watering correctly.  Watering a garden properly is a conundrum for many people. What is the right time?   And How Much is Enough.

A local gardening club visited our garden today. They were impressed with how healthy the garden looked.  There are many factors which contribute to a healthy garden, but in my mind none so much as watering at the right time.

So many factors affect how often we should water our garden. And to be honest being knowledgeable about your garden is fundamental to watering effectively. Plant type: drought tolerant plants versus water needy plants; are the plants dormant or actively growing. What is the gardens’ microclimate; the gardens’ aspect; soil type: heavy versus sandy; organic matter content; has the garden been mulched; is the garden newly planted; are there new plants amongst old- that is are existing plants/trees competing for water with new plants; is it summer or winter

THE QUESTION THAT I FEEL SHOULD BE ASKED IS, WHAT IS THE ULTIMATE GOAL IN WATERING?  THIS MAY SEEM A STRANGE THING TO ASK, BUT IT IS REALLY THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS.

Watering should not just be about keeping a garden alive.  For me it is far more than that, it is having healthy, thriving plants both individually & collectively = a healthy, thriving garden.

It is a garden that through good growth provides maximum coverage of the ground to reduce evaporation. Watering well creates an environment within the garden promoting maximum plant growth to out compete weeds, as well as healthy plant growth to out compete pests & diseases.  Watering correctly means realising the full potential of all your plants, and in my mind creating a garden that is less time consuming and easy to maintain.

There is a lot of discussion around drought tolerant plants. A well known, and much loved nursery by me, has a drought tolerant garden that they water only a few times, if that, in summer.  But my first thought is (apart from obviously drought tolerant plants) is what is the soil type, do they mulch, have they added organic matter, what are the night temperatures,  day temperatures, what is the annual rainfall etc etc etc.

There are moments in ones life that can change the way one thinks about something. A renowned succulent specialist took me a tour of his garden.  I noticed shade cloth in piles adjacent to garden beds. It was explained to me that when temperatures starting reaching into the mid 30’s they cover all the succulents with shade cloth.  I was amazed….. but this wonderful plant guru’s take on this was, yes succulents are drought tolerant but it is all a mater of degrees & what you want the final outcome to be.  Yes they can withstand adverse conditions, but is withstanding adverse conditions making them look there best, is it promoting their long term survival.  It completely changed how I thought of succulents in particular, but gardens in general. What do we hope to gain by with holding water, or not providing shade.  You will find many of my succulents get only morning to early afternoon sun… some get much more, but then I choose the right plant for the right situation…..that is a whole other blog.

SO ONCE AGAIN HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? 

There is no easy answer to this but my default position is to say that when you do water, water long & deep, don’t water lightly.  When I water in summer I may water an area of the garden for an hour or more.  If I water this way I may not water again for another 10 or so days.  The amount of water I use may be the same as if I water for 20 mins three times a week, but the result is very different.  Deep watering encourages deep rooting of the plants, it promotes a healthy microclimate within the soil profile.  Many people may assume that I use a lot of water on my garden but I would challenge them on that assumption.  I water smart. 

I could talk about different types of irrigation systems here but that is a big topic in its self. I have a drip irrigation system, and a back up spray system for areas I cannot easily reach, but my main method of watering is with a small, inexpensive sprinkler that I move around., or by a hand held wand.  Time consuming it may seem, especially for those people who have a large garden, but it means I can control where the water is applied.   I rarely ‘blanket’ water my entire garden as I have so many different types of plants.

There are so many factors affecting how long to water & when to water.  As we move further into summer I will explore other factors that influence watering.

But now to the question, when is the right time to water.  This one is much easier I think answer than how much water.  Water before you notice that the garden needs it, that is before it gets so dry that the soil becomes hydrophobic.  Once the soil becomes hydrophobic, watering potentially becomes ineffective and  to be frank, more often than not wasteful.  It is not to say that the watering won’t have some benefit but you will generally use just as much water to wet up the soil, so that it penetrates to water effectively, than if you were watering deeply, with what you may perceive more water , but doing so less often.