A Guide to Watering.
Water is crucial for strong, healthy, thriving plants. Around 90 percent of a plant’s tissue is made up of water, giving it its shape, strength, and structure. Without water, seeds can’t germinate, nutrients can’t be absorbed by roots and transported throughout the plant, and photosynthesis cannot be performed effectively (Duford, 2022., Richmond, 2021).
It may seem rudimentary, but watering is actually a finely balanced science, and it’s a skill that every gardener needs. Here's how to avoid the most common watering mistakes!
Underwatering occurs when plants aren’t receiving enough moisture to carry out basic functions. An underwatered plant will have stunted growth, reduced yields of fruit or flowers, and wilted, dry, brown, or dropped foliage. The soil around a thirsty plant will be dry and dusty (Restuccia, 2016).
Luckily, underwatered plants are easily salvageable, so long as you act fast. If you notice any signs that your plant is thirsty, give the surrounding soil a deep and generous soaking straight away, and symptoms should improve fairly quickly. The best way to avoid underwatering is to stick to a regular and thorough watering schedule.
Overwatering occurs when a plant receives too much moisture. It may seem absurd since water is vital to plants’ survival, but too much water can be fatal. Just like humans, plants need oxygen to ‘breathe’, requiring plenty of airflow throughout the soil for the roots to absorb. Too much water suppresses oxygen levels in the soil, which suffocates the root system. This causes potentially fatal problems like root rot or fungal issues (McGinnis, 2021., MBG, no date).
Confusingly, overwatered plants often display similar symptoms to underwatered plants, but unlike an underwatered plant, they won’t improve when watered. Signs of overwatering include stunted growth or yellowing and wilted leaves. The stem, roots, and foliage may become blistered or soft and mushy, and you may see mould in the surrounding soil. If you notice any of these, withhold water and allow the soil to dry out (Restuccia, 2021).
To avoid overwatering, push your finger into the soil to test moisture levels. As a general rule, allow the top two inches of soil to dry out between waterings.
Top tips for effective watering:
+ Always water the soil around the base of the plant rather than above to prevent water from settling on the leaves. Wet leaves encourage diseases, bacteria, and harmful fungi.
+ Avoid watering during the middle of the day when the sun is hottest, as its rays will scorch wet leaves and evaporate water before your plants have a chance to absorb it.
+ Water deeply and occasionally, rather than little and often. Watering deeply allows moisture to permeate soil more thoroughly, encouraging deep, vigorous root growth for a stronger plant.
Consider the environment of each plant. Soil in pots dries faster than ground borders, so potted plants need more frequent waterings. Sandy and chalky soils drain faster than heavy clay soils so will also need watering more regularly. Increase watering during droughts and withhold water during rainy spells to maintain a healthy moisture balance.