Water, mulch key to happy, healthy plants
By Farmer Bubba Scott
Aloha ya'll. How's your garden grow'n?
Another week's gone by and as you can tell, it's a bit dry out there. But there is no reason you should give up on your garden because of the heat or lack of water. My farm is going well with me maintaining the garden, starting new seeds and plantsporting plants to new garden locations. The dry weather doesn't seem like it's ever going to end. And that's a good thing. Why? It's time to learn how to take care of your garden in Gainesville's during the dry periods of the growing season.
This week I'm going to talk about watering your garden and taking care of it during dry spells. If you already have a watering system set in place, good for you. Enjoy the summer weather. For the gardens without sprinkler systems â€“ going commando I call it â€“ Farmer Bubba has some information on how to help your plants stay green, healthy and hydrated when it gets hot and dry.
Here's an important fact to remember: From seed to compost, every day of a plant's life depends on water.
BUBBA NOTE: How can you tell when a plant needs water? Check your garden an hour after sun has been off the plants. If the leaves look a bit droopy, they need water. If the plant is lying down, they probably had a heat stroke and were wondering where you were in their time of need.
Just like us, plants need air, water and sunlight to stay healthy. In your garden's soil, it's all about water and air. You see, the soil doesn't move the nutrients around in the dirt, distribution of nutrients is what the water does. So having a good watering schedule is important to replenish food and nutrients to the plant.
The garden soil and plants lose the water available to them in different ways. Water evaporates from the dirt and through leaves. I like to think of it as the plant perspiring just like I do. I drink fluids and lose it through my pores. Plants take up water and lose it through their leaves. Is that neat or what? Something I have in common with my tomatoes is --sweating. How neat is that?
The best way to help your plants through dry periods during the Summer is to keep your garden covered, that is, sufficiently mulched with water absorbing mulch.
Here's some things I do on the farm that might be of help to you. In a previous article, I talked about the importance of mulching. I mulch my containers by using old hay to cover the dirt. This helps keep the top of the dirt moist and slows down evaporation.
Six inches of mulch around the base of a plant seems to retain water for a long, appropriate period of time. Yard clippings, straw, old hay or even old compost is a great water absorption magnet. I make my own mulch by combining old hay and some of my compost for a nice recipe of plant mulch. When these two ingredients break down, they feed the plant. So you not only are keeping the dirt covered and moist, you're feeding the plant at the same time.
BUBBA NOTE: Remember all those leaves you raked, bagged up and sat by the curb a few months back? They would have helped in your search for mulch ingredients now.
So how much water does your garden need to survive seriously dry weather? If your dirt is a good mix recipe, you should give your garden a deep watering two times a week during dry spells. An occasional water doesn't hurt the plants. Just don't shallow water too often. Shallow water keeps roots close to the top of the soil and the heat from the sun will do'm in. This will hurt the growth of the plant.
Keep track of how much rain your garden gets and keep your garden wet accordingly. This means you'll have to visit your garden often. When you mulch and water it in, check it after two days. The mulch should be dry. Lift it up and check out the dirt underneath. Dig down a little and the dirt should be moist. The further you go, the wetter it should feel. If you have wet dirt at least 6" down, you've done a good job watering, and composting.
A good mulching will keep your plants refreshed and happy. You want the plant's roots to follow the water deep into the dirt. It takes one drop of water to push one drop of water down is an old saying, and this action moves the roots deeper into the soil.
In the picture to the right, I show two containers which were watered two days earlier. You can see the one on the left is dry and when I pull the compost back on the container on the right, It's still wet. Look at the color of the dirt. The dirt on the left is light in color, dry. The one on the right has that kind of wet look, moist. Now I have one happy plant and one which needs attention. There's a benefit to composting your garden. When your plants go to the compost pile and you re-work your garden, you've already added good compost to the dirt and you're ready for some new plants. Now that's another neat thing to know about mulch.
Your plan's roots will reach out and down in their search for the nutrients they need to supply the above ground growth with the food it needs. When you get thirsty, you find something to drink. That's what a plant does. When rain is unavailable for the plants in your garden it becomes the gardener's job to be the growing team's water boy or girl. I think I just just came up with an idea for a good movies script. Oh well. . .
There are several watering systems available. Soaker hoses, drip tape, spray stakes and the good ole water wand are the most common. I'm not fond of sprinklers. They waste water so I use spray stakes. These are plastic stakes connected to a spaghetti hose, which is connected to a main one-inch supply hose. Drip tape is probably the best for large row gardening. Soaker hoses are good if your plants are real close together. If not, you'll waste water. For small gardens, I would suggest using a water wand. The wand doesn't put out a heavy stream of water, so you can use it on the smaller plants.
BUBBA NOTE: Roots don't have teeth to eat their food. They drink their food. And water turns the soil nutrients into liquid to make it readily available to the roots. This process is the hydration mentioned above.
I also believe in hand watering. Watering your plants this way gives the gardener a chance to check out plants, beds and containers for garden problems. When watering I am able to quickly see things that don't belong in the garden. Weeds, insects and diseased plants are some of the problems things I look for.
Once all the watering steps are in place, it's going to be up to you to get the hang of a good watering schedule. And the only way to get good at watering is to spend time in your garden practicing. Remember, what works for some gardens may not work for you. It all depends on the size of your garden. Just try not to make it complicated, keep your watering program fun so you will keep watering through the summer.
Have a great week in the garden. Take care of your plants, keep them hydrated and your plants will take care of you.
- From the desk, on Farmer Bubba's Farm.
Do you have a gardening question for Farmer Bubba or a photo of your garden you would like to share? Email Bubba or add your question in the comment window below, and Bubba will try to reply as quickly as possible.