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Don't sweat watering plants

| Friday, June 27, 2014, 8:57 p.m.
Jessica Walliser
A veggie garden being irrigated with an oscillating sprinkler

With summer's official arrival, one of the chores many gardeners will find themselves focused on over the coming months is watering. Whether it arrives via Mother Nature or from a garden hose, most plants require about 1 inch of water per week during periods of active growth and production. Though the task of watering may seem like a no-brainer, it isn't. Here are a handful of tips to simplify the process and help ensure your garden gets all the moisture it requires for optimum growth and yield, while minimizing fungal diseases and other issues.

1: Water all plants during the morning hours — before 10 a.m. is best. This allows ample time for the foliage to dry before nightfall and helps prevent the fungal diseases that can take hold when leaves remain wet for long periods of time, especially overnight. It also staves off water stress during the warmest part of the day. Morning watering also is best for deterring slugs.

2: Buy a rain gauge and check it after each shower to tally the amount of rainfall each week. Recording rainfall makes it easier to keep track and supplement with irrigation whenever necessary. Remember, though, that if plants are well mulched, you'll need to irrigate much less frequently. An easy way to measure the amount of water distributed from overhead watering is to place an empty tuna fish can under the path of your sprinkler. When it fills to the top, you've applied 1 inch of water. It's far better to apply that 1 inch in a single application, once per week, than it is to apply a little water every day. Deep, penetrating water applications promote deeper, more self-sufficient root systems.

3: Whenever possible, choose recycled rainwater to irrigate plants. It is free of chlorine and salt and contains very few dissolved minerals — plus, it's free. Harvest rainwater in cisterns and/or rain barrels. Check with your local municipality for regulations on rain barrel and cistern installation before purchasing any equipment.

4: Drip-irrigation systems make the most efficient use of water by sending it directly to the plant's root zone. Though they are more expensive to purchase and install than a simple hose with a sprinkler, very little water is lost to evaporation, as is the case with overhead watering programs. The upfront cost is quickly lessened by the cost savings of using far less water.

5: Locate plants with similar water requirements close to each other. That way, thirsty plants can be watered more frequently, while more-drought-tolerant varieties can go longer between drenchings. Or, install only drought-tolerant perennials, trees and shrubs in your garden. Pick varieties that can handle long periods without water. Avoid water-guzzling annuals.

6: Develop a watering rotation system for the summer months to help prevent wells from going dry, cisterns from being drained, and water bills from going through the roof. Do a line drawing of your gardens and section off smaller segments to create a rotation plan. If no permanent irrigation system is in place, make sure you have enough hose length to access every area and the right type of sprinkler to reach all plants in the segment. Taller plants necessitate a standing sprinkler while a simple ground-level oscillating model can be used in areas with shorter plants.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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