I’m not moaning, but this summer has really not been what you imagine summer to be. It has been cold and miserable and I have done nothing but complain about it for weeks. And then we had the storm. But the thing is, while I was busy being busy with the festive season and all of the holiday stuff, it changed… by stealth. Not being in my garden as much as I would have liked, I failed to notice that it had changed for the better. In the 26 days between the last most significant rainfall which was a doozy at 11mm and the storm, there were 21 days without so much as a drop of rain.
The temperatures haven’t really been up there though and have averaged a high of only 23°C in the those 26 days, which is hardly warm enough to lure me for a summer swim in the ocean. Along with the less than ideal temperature, the endless blue skies that are the quintessential picture of summer have also been mostly absent, hidden behind bleak and gloomy clouds. All of these things conspire to slow everything down for the season, which explains why I have had to wait longer for my tomatoes to ripen.
And then after days of nothing, it rained. Only for a bit, but we ended up with a whopping 13mm, before the sun came out briefly and began to dry things out again. However, it wasn’t enough to begin to repair the deep cracks appearing in the ground.
It is just as well my poor old garden has continued to be watered well throughout the growing season – either by the rain in the early months or by the hose more recently. Sometimes a good thirst quenching rain is the best kind of watering as it tends to cover the garden far better than the hose can. But even then, it shouldn’t be relied upon and you may still need to water after the rain. The leaves of the plants themselves can divert the water away from the root zone or it may be enough for the surface, but it won’t have gone down deep. The best way to tell how well the rain or the hose for that matter has restored the soil to a moist state is to dig a hole and just see for yourself.
As you can see from my small hole after that day’s rain that it really wasn’t enough and would only serve to encourage roots near the surface, making them vulnerable in days to come when it dries out again. You really need to water deeply to encourage the plants to send down roots deep into the soil to seek out the moisture that will be found there long after the surface layer has dried out under the warmth of the summer sun. This makes it easier for the soil in the root zone to stay evenly moist.
That is generally what you are after – the elusive prize of consistently moist soil, and not just in the top layer, so just sprinkling the hose about the place as you race past your plants isn’t going to cut it. Just because the soil looks wet doesn’t mean it is. Watering deeply every 2 – 3 days is much better than a squirt daily. Having said that – it helps to know your soil. A sandy soil will need more frequent deep watering as it is so free draining, all the water will drain away. I’m blessed. My soil used to be a swamp so it holds onto the water well and I can get away with a deep watering once a week.
Between watering however, the surface can dry out and crust over, which can actually act like a kind of mulch as it retains moisture in the soil below it. In order to get the water to penetrate this crust you should water in stages – firstly a gentle burst from the sprayer and allow the water to seep into this layer and open the pores in the soil to allow more water to enter. If you don’t do this, then the water will just roll away from where you need it to be. Then come back and water some more – generously this time, but if it starts to pool on the soil, take a break and then once it has soaked in come back and do it again. A nursery man I was once helped out, told me to water the plants in his greenhouses three times for the most efficient watering.
You can only do what you can only do, but watering first thing in the morning before the day heats up is the best time. This gives the plants a chance to have a good drink before the sun heats up and starts to evaporate any spare moisture lying around. If you can’t do mornings, then unwinding with a glass of your favourite chilled beverage in one hand and a hose in the other is a great way to end the day. Although, don’t leave it too late, you want the warmth of the late summer sun to dry off some of the water to avoid plants hanging around in humid conditions overnight as this can just invite disease and no one wants that.
If you have no choice, then during the day will have to do, but you will end up wasting more water than necessary as the hot midday sun can almost evaporate the water as it comes out the hose – well not quite, but if you are paying for your water or have a precious source in a tank collected from what little rain summer brings, then you want to water intelligently.
This also means – water where the plant actually wants it – at the soil near the roots. Most of the plants water uptake is through the roots, so watering the leaves, while rinsing off dust and debris and making the energy producing photosynthesis more efficient, it can also promote fungal diseases like powdery mildew and blight. It can also cause the water to run away from where it is actually needed.
Getting the watering right over the summer months will ensure plants stay healthy, so I shall head out into my garden in spite of the recent rain, check the soil and give them a proper drink if needed.
Come again soon – the kids are going back to school next week – maybe the sun will come out properly!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
For more information about getting the most out of watering your garden check out this great advice from the good people at Gardena: > 10 Golden Rules for Watering <
And if you want to learn a cool trick to find out how to stop your new hose from kinking and twisting and being difficult to use, check out my video that will solve all your problems: