Ten Neat Things about wa­ter­ing plants

Alberta Gardener Magazine - - Contents -

1. Wa­ter is the staff of plant life. Plants need wa­ter to de­liver nu­tri­ents to their leaves and grow­ing parts, but wa­ter also helps keep them up­right. When a plant wilts, it means there is not enough wa­ter in its ves­sels to pro­vide that “back­bone” needed to keep it strong and up­right.

2. How much wa­ter do plants need? The wa­ter needs of every plant are dif­fer­ent as is the wa­ter con­tent; some plants are 70 per cent wa­ter (turf grass) and others, such as let­tuce and wax be­go­nias, may be as much as 95 per cent wa­ter. A wa­ter­melon and a tomato are about 92 to 93 per cent wa­ter. In gen­eral, though, fleshy-leafed plants re­quire less soil mois­ture – they store wa­ter in their leaves and stems. Thin-leafed plants re­quire more wa­ter. En­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions will also dic­tate how much wa­ter a plant needs. If it’s hot and dry and windy, wa­ter more of­ten. If it’s cool and damp, wa­ter less.

3. But re­ally, how much wa­ter do plants need? Again, it varies, but most plants, ex­cept for wa­ter plants, ap­pre­ci­ate a moist, not wet, soil with good drainage. That’s why com­mer­cial soil and pot­ting mixes have white par­ti­cles of per­lite in them. The per­lite or vermiculite, even gravel, in soil al­lows wa­ter to flow through the soil, wet­ting it just enough to sat­isfy the plant roots as it trav­els down to­wards the bot­tom of the pot or lower in your gar­den soil. Ob­ser­va­tion and feel­ing the soil with your fin­gers are your best in­di­ca­tors of when to wa­ter. In most years, wellestab­lished peren­ni­als will need lit­tle if any wa­ter­ing. In a hot, dry year, a weekly drink of wa­ter (more of­ten if it’s re­ally hot and dry), will be much ap­pre­ci­ated.

4. Wet­ter wa­ter. Ever no­tice how wa­ter will bead up on your newly waxed car? The same thing can hap­pen in cer­tain soil con­di­tions. Some fungi as they break down soils, par­tic­u­larly sandy soils, leave a waxy coat­ing on soil par­ti­cles. This re­pels wa­ter, mak­ing it hard for plant roots to get at nu­tri­ents. Thatch buildup in lawns can shed wa­ter droplets and cer­tain or­ganic pot­ting mixes can be al­most im­pos­si­ble to re-hy­drate. That's be­cause of wa­ter sur­face ten­sion, which is cre­ated by elec­tri­cal charges that hold droplets to­gether. To break this down re­quires a wet­ting agent or sur­fac­tant, in ef­fect mak­ing wa­ter wet­ter.

5. What is a sur­fac­tant? House­hold soaps and de­ter­gents are sur­fac­tants as are fatty acids. Cer­tain plants, such as Saponaria, pro­duce a type of sur­fac­tant, in this case a gly­co­cide which helps break down wa­ter ten­sion. Pi­o­neers used Saponaria for wash­ing and its de­riv­a­tive is still used in prod­ucts for wash­ing del­i­cate fab­rics. If you use de­ter­gent as a wet­ting agent, use it spar­ingly and look for prod­ucts with the fewest ad­di­tives. Com­mer­cial wet­ting agents are avail­able and sug­gest us­ing five ounces per square 1,000 feet once a month.

6. How can I tell if my lawn needs wa­ter­ing? As­sum­ing you haven’t let your lawn dry out to the point of dor­mancy, when it be­gins to turn yel­low, you can get an ear­lier hint if you no­tice that you leave foot­prints on your lawn. If you see foot­prints, it’s time to wa­ter. Wilt­ing grass blades will also roll or fold, so take a close up look. Wa­ter well. You need about an inch of wa­ter to reach down into the top three inches of soil to keep grass roots healthy and pro­tected.

7. When should I wa­ter? Wa­ter in the morn­ing if pos­si­ble. As much as 50 per cent of wa­ter can be lost to evap­o­ra­tion if ap­plied in the hottest part of the day. Wa­ter­ing in the evening can pro­mote the growth of fun­gus and other dis­eases.

8. Can you over wa­ter plants? Plants can be killed by over wa­ter­ing as quickly as by un­der wa­ter­ing. It all de­pends on their abil­ity to ab­sorb oxy­gen and take up nu­tri­ents, both of which ne­ces­si­ties of life de­pend on wa­ter. Too much wa­ter in the soil will cause the plants to drown by cut­ting off oxy­gen. Too lit­tle will suf­fo­cate plants for the same rea­son – they can’t get oxy­gen and nu­tri­tion. Will mist­ing help? A lit­tle, but think of your­self. If you were des­per­ately thirsty, would mist­ing help?

9. Some plants need con­sis­tent wa­ter­ing, others like to dry out a lit­tle. Read the plant tag or at least know the orig­i­nal con­di­tions the plant grew in to get an in­di­ca­tion of what wa­ter needs your plant is likely to have (although many plants can ad­just to your be­hav­iour, the health­i­est ones won’t have to). Toma­toes, for in­stance, which orig­i­nate in South Amer­ica where there’s lots of rain, need con­sis­tently moist, not wet, soil. Dry­ing up even for a short time can cause blos­som end rot to oc­cur on tomato fruit be­cause the sup­ply of cal­cium was in­ter­rupted. (Mulching tomato plants and bury­ing their stems deep in the soil can help keep mois­ture con­tent even). Suc­cu­lents,

which are gen­er­ally desert plants, pre­fer to get a lit­tle dry.

10. Can wa­ter drops on plant

leaves burn the plant? There is a con­tro­versy here, and un­der most cir­cum­stances this is an old wives’ tale; but un­der cer­tain con­di­tions a sus­pended wa­ter droplet can act as a mag­ni­fy­ing lens and in­ten­sify the sun­light to the point of slight leaf burn­ing and even to the point of ig­ni­tion. It is be­lieved that some for­est fires are stated this way. Speak­ing of mag­ni­fi­ca­tion by wa­ter, ap­par­ently if you put a drop of wa­ter on your cell phone photo lens you get a mag­ni­fied im­age (as long as you can hold the cam­era still enough). Hmm— am­a­teur de­tec­tives, take heed.

10 Neat Things is a free weekly news­let­ter of in­ter­est­ing and quirky facts about your gar­den and na­ture. Sign up to­day - visit lo­cal­gar­dener.net.

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