How to Water Smarter!
More water means healthier plants, right? Um, no. The relationship between soil and water is even more important than the quantity of water. The perfect situation for plants is well draining soil and the correct quantity of water…plants grow, roots stay healthy, and all is well. But as we all know, not all soils in Arkansas drain well, natural water is sparse at times, and comes at flood rates other times. What does this mean for you? It’s time to put your landscape to the test!
1. Check your drainage. Dig a hole in the ground about a foot deep, fill it with water, and see how fast it drains. Ideally, the water should drain in five minutes or less. If it takes more than that…eek…that’s poorly drained soil. Years of planting and maintaining landscapes have taught us that we have many such landscapes. In extreme cases, water has sat in freshly dug holes for 10 minutes with no movement at all! We have learned that digging deeper than the rootball, adding a few inches of gravel and packing it down, creates a small french drain under the rootball and can allow the plant to live and roots to become established. Once the roots are established, they will lessen soil compaction and increase drainage. For already established plants, dig a hole nearby about the same size as the rootball of existing plants and perform the same test. Unless you are dealing with aquatic plants, roots cannot survive in water, so the rootball gradually shrinks while the top part keeps growing. Eventually the shrunken root system isn’t able to support the upper growth, and the plant that looked fine last month turns brown and takes it’s last breath. After the soil drainage is known and addressed, what’s next?
2. Water longer and less often. Less frequent, deep waterings are better for establishing roots than shallow, shorter waterings. If the soil is compacted, cycle and soak by watering for 10 minutes, then another 10 minutes, then 20 minutes, allowing 30 minutes between sessions to increase absorption. Find out how much water is getting down into the root zone of plants by using a moisture meter. Moisture meters cost ten dollars and can save you hundreds of dollars… and your entire landscape! How long to water? Every landscape has its’ own issues; shade, sun, the aforementioned drainage considerations, and plant health. The main thing is watch your landscape to see how long it takes to dry out between waterings and adjust the time and days of watering appropriately. Avoid watering between 5:30 am and 6 pm; not only are these the hours of peak usage, but you can also lose up to 30% of your water due to evaporation by watering in the heat of the day!
3. Mulch. This will help the soil, and plant roots, retain moisture in the root zone area. Mulching also reduces weeds which are superb water thieves.
4. Check your system. Like everything else, technology has made great strides in the efficiency of sprinkler systems, including the improvement of rain sensors and the creation of smart systems. Renovating your system to include these features is a perfect way to water smarter. Also, make sure sprinkler heads cover just landscape areas, not driveways and try not to water during windy times. Look for leaks and breaks in the system and address issues quickly.
5. Watch for problems. Stress is accumulated in plants, so water issues paired with pest problems this year will mean more highly stressed plants next year. So water smarter and watch for issues regarding not only water but disease and insects too.
6. Plant smart. Using native plants that are drought tolerant helps reduce the amount of water your landscape will need. Regardless of what you are planting, use Good Earth brand Jump Start at planting. It’s sort of like a root stimulator although it works by creating colonies of mycorrhizae, which can increase the plants’ uptake of water and nutrients by up to 1,000 times!