, Port Arthur, Texas


September 19, 2012

The good and the bad of water for the garden

Watering is always a critical concern in our gardens. Fortunately we have been getting rain this year, but much of the state and the nation are still experiencing deadly drought. In fact, the government has declared this drought to be the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.  

Whether or not it’s raining, we still need to practice water conservation (and we don’t want to spend hours each week watering our gardens.)

One answer is drip irrigation. It is inexpensive, easy to install and extremely water efficient. It puts the water right where it belongs. To make it even more efficient and less work, install timers and just check them periodically. If you do choose to water with a garden hose, remember to water all plants at the roots, not overhead. Overhead watering gives up too much to evaporation.

NEVER water at night! In our humid climate, the leaves never have a chance to dry out overnight. It’s an invitation to powdery mildew, white fly and aphids.  Water deeply and only every few days. Give the soil a chance to dry out so the roots of your plants don’t rot.

I am always singing the praises of mulch, but in a drought year, it can mean the difference between a garden that pulls through and one that turns brown and dies. Mulch should be 3-4 inches deep around all plants and trees.  Healthy soil rich in organic material actually holds water and nutrients which make for healthier plants, so pile on the compost.

Think about how much water goes down the kitchen sink everyday. Can you perhaps capture some of your dishwater and use it in the garden? Don’t worry about dish detergent harming your plants.  If we experience drought again, remember that there are a few good things about a dry year.  Since weeds are not as prevalent, they are easier to keep under control. Every time you pull a weed seedling, you have helped yourself toward better control next year. And even though there are not as many to pull, every one of them steals precious water that would be better used by your plants.

Another benefit is less plant disease. Fungal diseases are practically nonexistent without moisture, so early blight, damping off, and black spot are less of a problem. Whether it’s too much water or not enough, it’s a challenge for every gardener. By following these practices, you can have a healthier garden that needs less maintenance. For more information, call the Texas Agrilife Extension office at 309-835-8461. I’m Micah Shanks, Jefferson County Master Gardener.


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