by Ken Lain, The Mountain Gardener, Watters Garden Center
How often to water is the most asked question at Watters Garden Center. Especially when starting a new flower bed or shallow-rooted vegetables. Without a moisture meter, no one can tell you exactly how often to water, but you can get close.
Good tools make gardening easier. Start with a good moisture meter. Your grandparents used their sense of touch to feel the garden’s moisture.
Touching the soil — Touch with your finger pressing down on the soil a couple inches to test. If it feels dry, it’s time to water. If it’s moist, give it another day or two, and touch it again. The goal is to train plants to go as long as possible before irrigation, then water deeply. This conditions your plants to grow deeper roots and become more robust.
How to water flowers — The general rule for flowers is to water deeply when the soil is dry. Ideally, water flowers at the soil level, reducing the amount of water that sprays on their foliage. This reduces leaf spot and fungal issues during the rainy season.
Check the garden’s moisture before irrigating. Flowers like a rich soil that drains quickly. They need oxygen at their base to thrive.
Location and weather are the most significant determinants of how much water you should give your plants. The hotter seasons require more water as the soil dries out faster.
Some flowers have a better drought tolerance due to the waxy surface, textured leaf or fleshy roots allowing them to conserve more water than others. Zinnia, geranium, potato vine and dahlia are excellent examples of drought-adaptive flowers that need water less often.
Sunburned soil — This is when the sun bakes the garden soil until parched and cracked. This is the equivalent of a gardener’s skin turning lobster red from sunburn. A 2- to 3-inch layer of premium mulch or shredded cedar bark is like SPF 50 for plants. This advice dramatically reduces your plant’s water needs.
Ideal watering time — Hydrated flowers go through the heat of the day healthier. Plants prefer dry foliage as the sun sets. The best time to water flowers is before 8 in the morning through the growing season.
Avoid night watering except for the hottest desert locations. This also reduces parasitic gnats and fungal diseases from forming.