Tips on get­ting wa­ter down to the roots

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE & ARTS - By linda lehmusvirta

Al­though not na­tive to Cen­tral Texas, the heat-hardy crinum does well this time of year. Part of the amaryl­lis or lily fam­i­lies (USDA says amaryl­lis, but the Austin-based Lady Bird John­son Wild­flower Cen­ter says lily), the showy blooms love sun, but the bulb-prop­a­gat­ing plants also love wa­ter (thus the com­mon name of swamp or river lilies.) Blog­ger and KLRU’s ‘Cen­tral Texas Gar­dener’ pro­ducer Linda Lehmusvirta rev­els this month in her blooms and talks about soil and wa­ter­ing tips.

Typ­i­cally, my crinums bloom the first week of July. This year, “Ellen Bosan­quet” jumped the gun in June but re­turned this week to avoid con­fus­ing the gar­den diary too much.

I know some of you won­der, “Is my crinum ever go­ing to bloom?” Be­lieve me, they take their sweet time. The pink one waited seven years or so to make its de­but. Sev­eral oth­ers are pay­ing their rent with lovely fo­liage for a few more years.

We’re all re­joic­ing with the rain that’s spared us last sum­mer’s mis­ery. For sure, rain is the se­cret in­gre­di­ent that we can’t pro­vide on de­mand. But the first best in­gre­di­ent is the soil. We can’t con­trol rain­fall, but we can im­prove our soil. Ul­ti­mate- ly, our suc­cess starts un­der­ground.

And, what is the dif­fer­ence be­tween soil, com­post and mulch, and how do they work to­gether? How does that re­late to our plants?

Be­cause these are ques­tions I of­ten get, last week on “Cen­tral Texas Gar­dener” Ge­orge Alt­gelt from Geo Grow­ers con­nected the dots with host Tom Spencer. (To view the episode, go to www.klru.org/ ctg. To­day’s TV episode at noon and 4 p.m. will deal with use­ful wild plants.)

It’s per­fect tim­ing be­cause now is when we need to re­new our beds for fall’s veg­eta­bles and or­na­men­tals. Our soil needs a lit­tle boost af­ter its de­ple­tion from spring’s en­ergy and sum­mer’s heat.

You’ll see why Julie Donie and Alexa Vil­lalo­bos from the Fer­tile Ground Gar­dens land­scape com­pany are con­firmed soil-hug­gers. Com­post is their se­cret in­gre­di­ent for thriv­ing old roses and even camel­lias that frame a ren­o­vated his­toric home.

Be­cause we’re back into a dry spell, Daphne Richards of the Texas AgriLife Ex­ten­sion Ser­vice ex­plains how to wa­ter. Sounds sim­ple, huh? Nope. Even ex­pe­ri­enced gar­den­ers make this mis­take.

Here are some tips for how to know when you’ve wa­tered enough from “Cen­tral Texas Gar­dener”:

The key to know­ing how much to wa­ter is know­ing your soil. If you have heavy clay soil, you wa­ter less of­ten. If you have sandy or rocky soil, you will need to wa­ter more of­ten.

But what­ever your soil, when you wa­ter by hand, let the wa­ter pool up (or bub­ble up) around each of the ar­eas that you’re wa­ter­ing. Move on to an­other area, and wa­ter it un­til it bub­bles up. Then come back and wa­ter your first plants again. Go back to the sec­ond area. You might need to do this three times.

You want the wa­ter to soak into the soil. If it’s just wa­ter­ing the top, it won’t make it to the roots you want to nour­ish.

Larger plants, such as new shrubs, will take more time than small young plants.

The best test: Stick your fin­ger in the soil to see how deep it is wet. You want to get the wa­ter deep into the soil to en­cour­age roots to grow deep. Also, the wa­ter on top will evap­o­rate quickly. Spend a lit­tle time to get the wa­ter deep into the soil.

And get to know your plants. Just be­cause they wilt at 4 p.m. doesn’t mean they need wa­ter. Check the soil to see if it’s still moist. Some plants are es­pe­cially sen­si­tive to too much wa­ter and will rot.

In the morn­ing, check to see if they are still wilt­ing. If so, give them a deep drink, again al­low­ing the wa­ter to pool or bub­ble and set­tle in.

linda lehmusvirta

Crinum ‘Ellen Bosan­quet’ bloomed early this year for ‘Cen­tral Texas Gar­dener’ pro­ducer Linda Lehmusvirta.

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