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  To Water or Not To Water – That is The Question
  November 4th, 2005

How Much Should I Water?

One of the most frequently asked garden questions is, “how often do I water?” We would love to give you a schedule to go by, but in actual fact, it’s a very difficult question to answer.

The only real correct answer is “water as needed” – and even that is difficult to define.

How much water a plant needs depends on the weather, of course, and also the conditions in which it is growing. Is your soil clay or sandy, is the area hot and sunny with maybe some wind, or shady and cool? Many things enter into a plant’s watering needs.

Watering should be done thoroughly but infrequently, Watering too lightly will prevent the roots from growing deeply enough, and too much heavy watering can drown them!

A plant’s roots need air as well as water and nutrients. It’s important to wet the entire root zone. This would mean any where from a few inches for small plants to several feet for large trees. Most lawn grass roots will be in the top 6″ – 8″, shrubs about 18″, and trees 30″ or more. You can dig down after watering to check. The water should penetrate to the depth that the roots should be. The goal is to water often enough for the roots to be moist – not water logged. Remember they need air as well.

Sprinkling is the most like natural rainfall. You can use an inexpensive hose attachment or have a system installed.

To soak trees and shrubs it may help to form a berm at the drip line. Fill and let the water soak in, or lay a hose about one foot from the trunk and let it just barely trickle for several hours.

If a plant starts yellowing and losing leaves within the first month (especially the first week) it is usually because water is not penetrating the root ball. Check new plantings daily until they become established. Remember, new plantings need more frequent watering that established plants.

When a plant is under stress, it’s usually way too wet or way too dry. One extreme or the other, the symptoms can be the same. That’s where digging a little hole and checking the root zone is a simple way to find out. Just dig in and look!

Garden Terms:

  • Run-off: The soil is unable to absorb water as fast as it is applied – much like a “down pour” compared to a gentle rain.
  • Percolation: A term for how water moves or “percolates” down through the soil.

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