Water Is Essential To Life
Water the garden-not the plants. If we focus on the essential nature of water and understand how our plants access water to live and grow, we will make few errors and build productive gardens. Plants take their water, primarily from the soil and through the roots, by osmosis. The plant’s root hair cells are adapted to this work. The plant absorbs water and nutrients from the soil and transmits them throughout the plant, where they can be utilized as needed for growth.
The quality of the water absorbed is dictated by four factors.
- Length and diameter of the root hairs
- The plant and the soil type
- Quality and quantity of water
- The depth of the water
How The Plant Does It
The phloem and the xylem are the tissues primarily responsible for transporting water and nutrients upward through the plant. Sap (water and minerals) move through the xylem. Carbohydrates move through the phloem. The plant performs photosynthesis in the leaves. The plant creates food from carbohydrates and water in the leaves. It also produces oxygen as a byproduct.
Every day the plant performs transpiration. This means that the water moves through the plant and is evaporated through its aerial parts, such as stems and leaves. A single tomato plant, in its full season of growth, can transpire, or give up, 34 gallons of water! That’s a lot. The plant must take plenty of water to grow, it uses a little bit of it, and it gives most of it back to the atmosphere.
This is the importance of water in the garden. Our task is to maintain an environment in which our plants can always access the water they need. Provide, we must. Please don’t make it too easy but definitely, make it happy.
“Water is the driving force of all nature”-Leonardo Da Vinci
The Master of Water
Leonardo Da Vinci was obsessed with the power of water; he was interested in what it could do, he loved its beauty, how much it looked like a person’s hair. He took municipal commissions not just for art but for construction projects. He was so good that contemporaries called him “the Master of Water.”
Rules Of Thumb and The Power Of Observation
We have all learned garden rules. ” Give the garden one or two inches of water per week.” “water containers every day.” “Water vegetables every day or every other day.”
It is fine to have rules; they give us a framework. If the garden rule is an inch a week, and I need to put down seven inches, something is off. I should try to find out what’s happening.
It is helpful to move beyond rules. Use observation! Gardening is not a simple set of tasks that can be defined by a set of basic rules. Observe what is going on in the garden, and things get a lot easier.
Here Are Some Places To Look
Climate and Weather
Climate conditions are important considerations. The plant’s rate of transpiration varies by climate. In ” transpiration,” the plant is perspiring.
Compare two days in your garden. On the first, it is cool or overcast, and still, the plant will lose water at a slow rate. If, on the second day, it is hot, even more so, hot and windy, the rate of transpiration is fast. You will water on the second day.
Soil is the most critical issue. All the water that plants use in metabolism comes from the soil. Plant metabolism consists of the physical and chemical reactions that allow the plant to live. This is about soil and how to improve it if you need to.
Protect And Develop The Soil
The most important thing to do is to keep the soil healthy. Identify the soil type and use organic matter to improve it.
Organic Matter-What It Is
Organic matter is the partially decomposed remains of soil organisms and plant life, including lichens, mosses, leaves, and grass-any kind of vegetative matter.
What Organic Matter Does For The Soil
Organic matter improves the composition of all kinds of soil, from fast-draining sand to dense clay. It levels the playing field for plant life. With organic material, sandy soil can hold water longer, and the clay version will have better drainage.
Living, organic matter feeds the insects and microorganisms that make up the soil’s ecosystem.
Healthy soil can do its own damage control. If it supports beneficial organisms, they can keep things healthy because they feed on damaging organisms.
There are acids in organic matter that improve the permeability of the plant roots. This makes them more able to access water and nutrients,
The quickest way is to dig the amendments into the soil. Even if you add it as a top dressing, it will eventually work itself into the soil.
What Happens To Field Capacity When We Add Organic Matter To The soil?
Field Capacity is the amount of water the soil can hold after excess water drains away and the rate of downward movement has decreased. This usually takes place 2-3 days after rain or irrigation.
How Does This Work?
The organic plant residue reduces runoff and enhances the infiltration of rainwater. The organic matter makes the soil more porous. It increases the activity of earthworms and other beneficial insects.
Increasing The Percentage Of Rainwater And Irrigation That The Plant Can Actually Employ
If your soil does not retain a reasonable amount of water, a heavy rain or irrigation session does not affect the garden. For example, you experience 8″ of rainfall but your soil can retain only 1/2 inch; that is what your plants get, and you will be rewatering soon. Improving the soil solves that problem.
Steps In Watering
When To Water
Water when the plants have the most time to absorb water and when water will be wasted least. If you need to drag the garden hose, early morning is prime time to do so. Primetime in most climates is about 8-10 am. In my hot, zone 10 climate, it’s about 6-8 in the morning.
Early mornings holding the garden hose is a pleasant experience; the day is comfortable; bring your coffee and enjoy the garden. While you are watering is a perfect time to observe the garden. Look at the leaves and flowers; turn them over. Is there uninvited wildlife? Strange colors? Signs of stress?
Early watering gives the plants all day to dry, avoiding the possibility of fungal damage, which is most likely to happen when the plants are wet at night. By not watering in the heat of the day, less transpiration will take place, and the plant will keep the water it takes in.
If i needed to rank the times of day to water because we are all busy, I would choose late afternoon, after work, as the second choice and evening as a slightly distant third.
Where To Put The Water-Water The Garden Not The Plant
You know the answer, on the soil. Water the garden-not the plant! Avoid watering the foliage as much as possible. It is wasteful, little is absorbed and if it cools while the plant is wet, fungus may result. It takes a little longer, and you will be bending more but aim your hose or irrigation system as much as possible on the soil near the roots.
How Much Pressure To Use?
It is tempting to use higher pressure and get more water out if you are in a hurry. Try not to. We are not washing the car. Use an adjustable spray head, set to produce fine droplets, and a gentle spray. This will avoid damage to the plant material and waste the least water.
When Have I Used Enough Water?
Dig into the soil, plants vary based on the size of the root system, but you should find wetness in the soil for 8 or more inches.
When To Re Water
The finger test is simple and efficient. For most plants, the topsoil should be dry for one to one and one-half inches.
Plants With Shallow Root Systems
- Annual bedding plants
- Most vegetables, corn, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, kale, chard, onion
- Herbs, oregano, parsley, thyme, basil, cilantro, tarragon, summer savory,
- Some perennials, pincushion flower, elephant ears, periwinkle, pachysandra
Plants With Deep Root Systems
I read that a wild Fig Tree in South Africa had a root system of 400 feet. Fortunately, we don’t have to deal with that! For efficient watering, however, it is good to know which plants need the deepest (and longest) watering.
- Vegetables, tomatoes, asparagus, winter squash, pumpkins, parsnips, artichokes
- Perennials, red osier dogwood, pacific ninebark
“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one”-jacques Yves Cousteau
Jacques Cousteau was a sickly child and poor student who became a global explorer and scientific innovator. He co-invented the aqualung and served in the French Resistance in WWll. He used his oceanographic research to reveal an intimate look at life under the sea and, at the same time, explained the damage humans can do and the real significance of water.
When considering the importance of water globally, we realize that we are in this respect, as our plants. Water is essential to our life too!