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This Friday, May 30th, is National Water a Flower Day. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Or maybe it isn’t. Improper watering is probably the number one killer of houseplants—and garden plants, too.
We’re so concerned about keeping plants watered, that we often forget they also need air. Yes, plants do breathe!
During the day, part of photosynthesis involves plants absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and releasing oxygen. At night, they absorb oxygen and release carbon dioxide. This is how they help to “clean” the air.
Leaves “breathe” through tiny little holes, called stomata, in the leaves. Roots get air from tiny air spaces in the soil. Plants that live in water actually have air spaces in the roots. Most plants don’t have air spaces in their roots so rely on air spaces in the soil. Water-logged soil does not have air spaces, hence plants literally drown.
To correctly water requires finding out what a plant needs. As a rule of thumb, plants with thick fleshy stems and/or leaves (most cacti and succulents, etc.) are native to areas that are dry and so should be allowed to go almost, if not completely, dry when grown in pots—or in the ground. Plants with thin delicate foliage (ferns, etc.) should be kept moist, drying out only at the soil surface. Most other plants are somewhere in-between. That said, with the exception of water plants, almost every other plant should at least surface dry before watering.
When you do water, water thoroughly so water gets all the way down to the entire root ball—not just the ones at the top! In pots, water until water trickles out the bottom. If the plant has gone so dry that it has begun to wilt—or if the plant is potbound and the roots have pulled the soil away from the side of the pot, then allow the plant to soak for ten minutes or so to absorb the water they need. DON’T allow soaking longer than that.
Outside, while seedlings and young plants may need water every day or two, most mature plantings need no more than one to two good deep waterings a week (depending on what Mother Nature does). It’s most important to NOT rely on sprinklers to water! Sprinklers put water where we DON’T want it—on the foliage. With our high summer humidity, we’re already at risk of fungal problems. We don’t need to invite problems by keeping the leaves wet, too.
Soaker hoses can be a gardener’s best friend—putting the water at the soil level—and not all over the place! Plus less water evaporates, so it is definitely better for your water bill. The way to tell you’re watering correctly is to place your soaker hose where you want it—then tuck a couple of cereal bowls under it. Turn it on and see how long it takes to fill the bowls with an inch of water. That’s how long you need to leave the sprinkler on when you water. You can also water with a hose, if you want, just be sure to keep the water at the base of the plant.
Watering correctly greatly improves your chances of being successful in whatever you’re growing. Maybe May 30th should really be called Water a Flower Correctly Day…