“Water is King, and he is Knight who uses it successfully to make two blades grow where nature produced none.”
Although J.S. Sherman wrote these words in 1894, Arkansas River valley gardeners can take them to heart since today is the official beginning of summer, and we have been watering and watering for several weeks.
With hardly a cloud in sight and heat indexes above 100 degrees, watering is surely the most important chore to protect our beloved flowers, shrubs and trees as well as those fresh vegetables we look forward to enjoying.
Water well, water wisely, but above all water, water, water.
Some folks look at watering as a chore; others view it as an opportunity to stop and smell the flowers … and inspect for diseases and pests. We all know how to water, but here are some reminders for making the chore more efficient and friendlier for the environment.
The No. 1 rule is to water early in the morning or late in the evening. Many experts say morning (between 5 and 10 a.m.) is better because less water evaporates and fungal diseases and other problems that wet foliage overnight causes are eliminated.
Using drip irrigation or soaker hoses is preferable to overhead sprinklers. They not only save water but also keep plant foliage drier. But if you do use sprinklers, Gilmour has a new sprinkler and a thumb contact watering nozzle with on-off switches that can save many steps to and from the faucet.
A valuable tip about water comes from Greenleaf Nursery guru Mark Andrews. On a recent Master Gardener tour of the wholesale nursery at Park Hill, Okla., I noticed roses with no blackspot. I asked Mark for his secret. Here’s his answer:
“We spray water on the rose bushes early in the morning to remove the dew that can harbor diseases.” He added that this is the same reason golf courses spray water on the greens — not necessarily to water but to wash the dew off the grass.
Deep watering is recommended. Always aim for the roots. Give the water a chance to soak into the soil. Applying water in several shorter bursts is more efficient than one extended period. Soil needs water to a depth of 5 to 6 inches. By deep soaking, you encourage roots to grow deeper. Shallow watering tends to keep roots near the surface. An easy way to check watering depth is to dig into the soil and feel it.
“Oklahoma Gardening” television hostess Casey Hentges was in Fort Smith recently and told Master Gardeners that at home she does all her watering by hand — always repeating it a second time. This is good advice for those of us who like to multitask — water and check out each plant’s wellbeing.
Watering vegetables is vital to produce good quantities and quality, but the method is a little different from flowers. Friend and White County extension agent Sherri Sanders shares this advice on her Facebook page:
“When irrigating your garden thoroughly, wet the soil at least once a week unless there is sufficient rainfall to moisten the soil around the roots. One inch of water usually moistens the soil to a depth of 5 to 6 inches. Light sprinkling of water every day only wets the soil surface and encourages shallow root development, which is undesirable.
“Water can be applied by sprinkling or by running water in furrows near the plant rows, in the center between the rows, or through porous or trickle irrigation hose. Whatever method is used, be careful not to overwater; too much water cuts off oxygen.
“Trickle irrigation systems provide an efficient way to water a garden with a minimum amount of water. Several manufacturers make trickle irrigation tubing suitable for the home garden for a modest cost. A system with a tube down each row is ideal and provides the best performance.
“Since splashing irrigation water can spread plant diseases caused by bacteria and fungi, apply water to the soil surface without wetting the leaves.”
Other helpful tips include:
• When using a soaker hose, first cover the soil in a few layers of newspaper (another use for yesterday’s Times Record) or a layer of cardboard. Then place the hose on top and add a layer of mulch. Watering will be more efficient because the paper will help regulate soil moisture.
• Your containers need daily watering. Here again, a layer of newspaper between the soil and the mulch will regulates moisture. Glazed or ceramic-type planters lose less moisture than unglazed terra-cotta pots.
• A rain barrel is great for collecting and storing free rain water.
• Automatic irrigation systems that cover lots of ground can save time and energy but can be expensive to install.
• Increase the soil’s water absorption by amending your soil regularly with organic matter such as compost and aged manure.
• And, of course, mulching not only saves water but keeps soil temperatures cooler, reduces weeds and prevents fungal diseases from splashing up on the plant.
• When giving your plants and lawn that weekly inch of water, remember that trees also need water.
And finally, unvarnished advice from one-time Sebastian County extension agent Dustin Blakely: “Water thoroughly or not at all.”
This spring has been unusual, to say the least. High temperatures. Very little rainfall in Fort Smith. And yet plants have bloomed prolifically — some that have not flowered in several years. Is there a secret? I credited my good luck to spreading a thick layer of compost from the landfill in late winter. However, my sister Rosemary pointed out that she did not add city compost and hers also are putting on a show. So, fellow gardeners — or “Knights” as J.S. Sherman called us — this is one of those times not to reason why but to enjoy Mother Nature’s goodwill and hope it continues all summer.
Next week, the topic will be: hydrangeas — an old-fashioned charm that is hard to resist.
Lucy Fry of Fort Smith is a level 4 Master Gardener and writes the area Master Gardener newsletter. Her column, Gardening for the Record, runs weekly in the Times Record. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.