Proper Watering Techniques
Stated as frankly as possible, water is the giver of life. It was the key component in the creation of life on earth and its importance in sustaining all life is insurmountable. This rings as true for the world’s smallest organisms as it does for its largest creatures. Without water, this all ends and the plants we grow are no exception. As plant life on earth evolved, with a little help from the sun, plants adapted to receive mineral sustenance from water. Elemental minerals in their ionic form became dissolved in soil water solution and travelled along with it into a plant’s roots and vascular system. A remarkable task in and of itself: the water acts as currier to the minerals delivering them to the plant to use in its developmental processes. In today’s world, plants are grown utilizing several different methods, which have a common thread, water. However, with each unique method of growing, comes a different way to provide water in the most effective way. The key to success is having an adequate understanding of which watering technique is the most efficient and productive for the style of cultivation being practiced.
After seeds have sprouted and the true leaves begin to form, it is imperative that watering be done in a fashion that promotes strong initial root growth. For seedlings growing in soilless potting mixes, the key is to provide enough water to allow for constant vegetative growth, but not enough that the medium stays to moist for too long. Watering thoroughly each time and letting the medium dry out just enough so it is not constantly wet throughout can achieve this. Keeping the medium perpetually moist will lower oxygen levels around the roots, resulting in poor root development. By allowing the soilless mix to dry out between feedings, it will cause the roots to create more lateral development as it searches for remaining moisture. It is recommended to not let the seedlings sit in standing water after the medium is adequately saturated. Also, try to not let the medium dry out so much that the plants are falling over from lack of water because this can have negative effects on the plants early stages of development.
The proper watering technique for container growing is directly correlated to the type of medium being used. Soilless growing mixes can be used as they come, but they can also be amended in several ways to reach a certain consistency that a grower may desire. Mixes that contain higher levels of organic material, like peat moss or coco-coir, will undoubtedly hold or retain water to a higher capacity when compared to mixes that are fortified with different sized aggregates, like pea gravel or expanded clay pebbles (LICA). The more different sized aggregates a mix has, the faster it will drain and lose moisture. This means the grower will likely have to water and fertilize more often.
Despite the obvious difference in water retention, the technique used to provide water and fertilizer is generally the same for any container plant. The important part is to water thoroughly, saturating the growing medium in its entirety. Allow any excess water to run-off, or drain, from the bottom of the container; making sure the container does not sit in the excess water for too long. Between watering, allow the growing medium to dry out, but not to the point where the plant is wilted. When the plant is wilted this means it has gone into a water conservation mode and the stomata will be closed. Once the stomata are closed, the plant will not perform transpiration and the flow of water and nutrients will be cut off. This can have a negative effect on the nutritional status of the plant, especially in regards to calcium intake.
Plants require a constant, unhindered supply of calcium in order to adequately form all of the various plant structures such as leaves, flowers and fruits. When the plant stomata remain closed and the flow of calcium is hindered, it can result in disorders like “blossom end rot” in tomatoes and peppers. Keeping the growing medium constantly damp, but not waterlogged, will allow for proper nutrient uptake and a rooting environment that can support the healthy growth of both roots and beneficial microorganisms. Never grow in a container that has no drainage holes.
Outdoor Soil Gardens
The composition and consistency of outdoor soils can range drastically depending on one’s region and the history of the soil profile. They range from loamy, sandy soils to dense, hard soils. Though the construct of the soil naturally varies from place to place, the central idea involved when watering is the same. Water slow and deep with as much consistency as possible. When water is applied too quickly to outdoor soil, it tends to puddle up, albeit less so with sandy soils, and collect in the lower parts of the garden. As the water is taken into the soil, it ends up accumulating more in those areas and does not provide an even distribution amongst the plants.
Much like a light, steady rain, when water is distributed slowly and spread consistently over the garden, the better it will be absorbed throughout. This can be done with the average garden hose sprayer attachment, but the most efficient way is with some type of irrigation, such as drip line or sprinkler systems. So, that is the slow and consistent part, and the other part of the equation is to water deeply. This means providing enough water, delivered slowly, to ensure that moisture is reaching 1 to 2 feet into the soil profile. Strong, healthy plants outdoors have nice deep and expansive root systems. Providing moisture at deeper levels will encourage the roots to grow as far as they possibly can. Outdoor soil gardens should be watered in this way about every 1 to 2 weeks, depending on the soil type and environmental conditions.
Regardless which of the fore mentioned growing techniques one prescribes to, there is always this common thread: do not overwater. A simple way to state it is to not allow the soil or growing medium to become waterlogged. Something that is waterlogged is highly saturated or full of water. Soils and soilless mixes have small pores throughout that act like tiny pockets of air. The small amounts of oxygen residing in these pockets are arguably the most important thing roots come into contact with. When too much water stays within the growing medium, it will fill these holes and the oxygen will become depleted. A lack of oxygen in the root zone will certainly lead to root death by suffocation or devastating attack from diseases that thrive in low oxygen environments. Roots aren’t the only things that die in such an anaerobic environment. It will also take the lives of any beneficial microorganisms that have colonized. They too thrive in an oxygen-rich atmosphere. Plants grown in mediums that remain waterlogged for prolonged periods of time are almost certainly destined for failure and loss of yields.
Water is often taken for granted in our world. Yet without it, life itself would not be possible. When a grower is supplying plants with this precious resource, it is important to do so in a cautious and efficient way. By paying close attention to a plant’s overall water requirements a grower can adequately provide enough water at the right times to ensure a healthy productive plant.