, Port Arthur, Texas

April 15, 2011

Micah Meyer: Proper irrigation

Micah Meyer
The Port Arthur News

— With our current drought conditions, it will not be long before people start irrigating to keep their lawns and gardens productive. The following article was written by Dr. Doug Welch, with the AgriLifeExtension Service, that talks about proper irrigation practices. 

“In a few months we will be in the midst of another hot Texas summer, one coming on the heels of last year's poor rainfall record. Properly watering plants during the summer tends to be one of the most confusing and misunderstood gardening chores. 'How often should I water?' and 'How much should I apply?' are a couple of the most-often asked questions from gardeners. Since water is both essential for healthy plant growth and often costly to apply in quantity during the summer, it is important to get it to the plant's roots efficiently and keep it there.

The following are several suggestions for easier and more effective watering. These techniques apply to all gardening, from shade and fruit trees and vegetable gardens to lawns and house plants. Never water strictly by the calendar. We don't drink water 'every ten minutes' or 'every hour', so why plants should be watered 'every two days' or 'once a week'? Instead, learn to recognize dry plants and soil and use these as your tip-off for watering. Too many factors determine how fast a soil dries for us to put watering on a regular basis.

When the plants are dry, water thoroughly. Water lawns so that the soil will be wet several inches down, to encourage deep rooting and drought tolerance. One of the worst mistakes people make in their gardens is trying to 'sprinkle' them each day by using their thumb and the end of a running hose. Most gardeners just don't have the patience to stand in one spot long enough for deep water penetration. Water trees by taking the sprinkler off the end of the hose and letting water run slowly for several hours out under the drip line (not near the trunk). Be sure that runoff does not occur.  Most plants should be watered in the morning. Evening watering increases the likelihood of disease invasion, as the majority of diseases develop most rapidly in cool, moist conditions.

To keep moisture in the soil, use thick mulch, such as shredded pine bark, grass clippings or tree leaves. In addition to reducing evaporation, mulches also keep the soil cooler and make weed pulling much easier. Be especially careful to keep newly planted trees and shrubs well watered. Their developing root systems are sensitive to under- and over-watering. But again, don't drown them. Always soak chemical fertilizers into the soil immediately after application. These materials are excellent sources of plant foods, but they are also salts, and can pull water out of plant tissues, resulting in burn, unless they are watered into the soil. Gardeners often wonder what type of sprinkler is best. Generally speaking, most do a satisfactory job of making an even application. However the most efficient and effective type is the impact sprinkler.