It’s about that time of year when most people just get tired of watering their gardens every day. Few people have a concept of how many gallons of water it takes per unit area of garden per day or week to keep plants thriving. After all, without some kind of meter to teach us how much we need, how would we really know? Watering helps our plants but it also helps weeds, and late summer is when weeds start to give us all issues.
So how do we know how much water to use? The obvious answer is to watch your plants. If they wilt in the afternoon but haven’t recovered in the evening when the sun is down and temperatures fall, they are heat stressed. Heat stress on a continued basis shortens plant life, and often makes them shift gears to producing fruit. Arugula, for instance, ‘bolts’ when it gets hot and dry, flowering and producing seed heads.
The easiest way to keep your plants adequately watered is drip irrigation. Drip irrigation cuts water use by nearly 90% and is not only efficient but actually more sustainable.
There are many drip irrigation kits available and I prefer using drip tape over soaker hoses and other methods. They’re more predictable at delivering water to the plants where they need it most. The drip tapes that are commonly available typically have emitters every 6”. If you run them along the rows of plants you will water just your plants, not the weeds between rows. This helps prevent weed growth and is less competition for your plants for the vital nutrients in the soil.
If you add a battery-operated timer you can set this drip system to come on at peak periods of heat during the day, and keep a little-and-often watering approach to help prevent heat stress. B-hyve (https://bhyve.orbitonline.com) makes a timer that you can operate from your phone and reports back to you gallons used per minute or gallons used per watering cycle. This is quite informative and helps you understand the quantity and timing of water required. It’s also nice to look outside when it’s raining and simply turn off your irrigation for a while.
Remember that overwatering is a problem as well because most plant diseases are foliar or root disease caused by excessive water, continued moisture and high heat. When humidity is high, it is even more important to try to keep water off foliage to reduce disease. Rainfall and watering with overhead sprinklers also splash soil onto your vegetables, getting them dirty and increasing the potential for disease problems that are avoided with a drip system.
As the heat subsides this summer, remember to cut back your irrigation accordingly and you should be blessed with a fall harvest of fresh, local, organic nutrient-dense food.
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By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers
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