Tomlinson col: Water: Gardeners and their plants lifeblood

  • Jul. 20, 2017 11:49 p.m.

Moisture is essential to all life including plants. Nature tends to supply moisture randomly using soil as a water reservoir. The larger the plant, the larger the root system and the more chances to access moisture. Younger or smaller plants, annuals and new plantings, have a smaller root structures and need to be watered regularly.

Watering can be done by watering can, hand sprayer, irrigation or sprinklers. Watering cans are labour intensive but it usually insures an accurate placement of water. It also enables the waterer to know exactly how much water is going where. Very little water is wasted using this method.

When using a wand or hose it is hard to gage how much water goes where unless the wand is placed very close to the area that needs to be watered. A quick sweep across the garden freshens the soil and provides minimal water.

Irrigation can work well depending on the system. It should be set up to water depending on the plant’s needs and what stage of development it is in. This is not as odorous as it sounds. A good landscape design groups plants with similar cultural needs. As example in the vegetable garden is to place tomatoes, squash and melons in one area as they all love the heat and need lots of water to develop fruit.

When watering with a sprinkler, look for a sprinkler that has a soft spray. It might cover a smaller area and take longer to water the garden but the water will not pound the earth forming a hard crust. Take time to adjust the sprinkler to insure that it waters the intended area not the sidewalk, road or waste area. Usually watering an area for about an hour a week provides enough moisture to penetrate into deeper areas of the soil sustaining mature growth.

If in doubt as to how much water has soaked into the earth, take a shovel and dig. The goal is to water until the soil is moist at least 6 inches (15 cm) below the surface.

The deeper the water soaks the more likely the roots will grow downwards. When watering, water the plant not just the area where the stem goes into the earth. Wet areas around the plant to encourage the roots to spread outwards seeking moisture. As the roots expand downwards and outwards the plant will become more self-sufficient and less time will be spent watering.

During hot weather lawns are often watered to keep them green. Most commercial grass mixes will thrive on an inch (2.5 cm) of water a week. How long this takes depends upon the time of day and the temperature. Watering in the early morning and evening is quicker as less water evaporates. Setting a water gauge in the path of the sprinkler will take the guess work out of how much water the lawn has received.

Water restrictions come into play as temperatures increase for a long period of time. Watering the lawn is often discouraged or banned. In areas where a wildfire is a risk, lawns that are close to buildings should be kept green as they have proven to be a good fire buffer. In areas where wildfire is not a risk, let the lawn go brown. It will come back with the next soaking rain.

Watering is time consuming but essential during dry spells. It can be minimized by giving plants more water less often.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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