It’s the hottest time of the year and our Northcentral Texas landscape and container plants rely on us for enough water to survive the extreme heat. In the absence of cooling shade in the afternoon and adequate amounts of rainfall, many of our plants can wilt, weaken or die. The science and art of effective watering strikes a balance between under- and over-watering. Observing plant symptoms reveals how well they are coping in conditions of low humidity, wind and extremely high temperatures. Modifying how much and how often to water in response to these cues is essential.
First, remember that the goal is to get water to the roots of the plant so aim accordingly! Watering the plant foliage may seem considerate but it’s doing little to get the water to the intake source. While some plants can absorb moisture through leaves, this is most likely to happen during periods of fog which is hard for us to recreate. In general, the best watering technique is a gentle soaking for an extended period of time.
Whether you use a watering can, garden hose, watering wand or drip irrigation, I believe that effective supplemental watering begins with the soil. The soil must be well-suited to the plant material and in good operating order. If it’s too compacted or hardened clay, the water is less able to seep in or drain off from the root system. If it’s too loose (sandy or gravel), the water will drain too rapidly without allowing the roots’ ability to catch a sip or two.
To determine how your soil is responding to water, head out early in the morning for routine checks using the following techniques. For bedding plants, use a hand trowel near the outer canopy of the plant. If it is particularly hard, soak first and then try to break it up. Take it slow and be gentle to avoid damaging the plant’s root system. Check the top 2 to 3 inches for existing moisture. Adding compost can help reduce summer heat stress. It enriches and cools the soil, comforting your plants. Topping with mulch annually helps hold moisture below the surface as it gradually breaks down to enhance soil content. Just be careful to keep the mulch away from the center base of your trees and plants. For container plants, let your finger be your guide. You should be able to poke your finger 1 to 2 inches down between plants and assess how moist the soil is. This can take a few tries to be certain. Most plants prefer to dry out slightly before taking in more water so check routinely to be sure it’s time. Also check the inner edge of your containers to see if the soil has pulled away creating a gap for water to drain off too quickly missing the roots completely.
Under your watchful eye, plants will offer indicators of water insufficiency or heat stress. Native or adaptive plants may prove to be the comparison plant having the ability to cope and thrive in the brutal heat. Browning of leaf edges is called leaf scorch and is likely due to over exposure to the sun but can also reveal over- or under-watering, root stress or over fertilizing. Yellow leaves may indicate moisture stress reflecting over-watering but can also be a sign of iron, potassium or nitrogen deficiencies in the soil. Leaf wilting can be a sign of water stress or heat stress. Excessive watering may be impairing the roots’ ability to deliver water to the plant. As conditions intensify, moisture loss from the leaves beyond what the root system can readily replace causes plant leaves to droop. Take caution Plant Parents, this is not the time to dowse your plants with additional water! Instead, continue to watch the plant and check the soil. Some plants with adequate moisture may actually wilt in the afternoon as a coping strategy rebounding as the temperatures drop in the evening. Overwatering will stress plants further restricting oxygen to the root system.
The frequency of supplemental watering will be based on your plant needs and your own lifestyle. While some suggest watering daily will discourage larger root system development, I believe that it’s important to consider all variables including actual plant observations. The more established a plant’s root system is, the less often it may require water. It also depends on the plant specimen and where it is located. Container plants will tend to dry out quicker than those in a flower bed simply based on location. Watering frequency should change as the environmental conditions change and ideally, provide water during early morning or evening hours for optimal absorption. As a standard, water deeply, widely and as often as your soil and plants indicate.
If you still feel uncertain about your approach to effective watering technique, err on the side of under-watering and modify your routine based on the results. Our environment is highly dynamic and plants strive to Drink Up and grow as part of our ecosystem. Your role as a responsible Plant Parent is to provide the necessary supplements to support healthy specimens season after season.
Plant Parent blog
Welcome to the Plant Parent blog. This is a place where green parenting skills are sharpened for the benefit of young plants that just want to be cared for and thrive. Our posts will be relative to the season with tips for healthy growth and responsible parenthood reminders.
My name is Carol Arment. My lineage includes a long line of farmers who relied, nurtured and respected the earth for what it could produce. My father was a strategic planner, my mother a teacher, both instilling valuable skills which shaped my abilities. I am a creative thinker, crafter and love to dig in the dirt. I spent many years traveling the country as a corporate executive serving people and their communities. Now I’m returning to my roots to design and install exterior containers for suburban and urban spaces.
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