Proper Watering Techniques

Firstly, I hope your wondering what a good-ol’ Texas boy is doing using a fancy-shmancy French word like ‘Techniques’… Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

It is still very difficult for me to appreciate that most folks just don’t know how to water a plant, perhaps because I’ve been doing it, every day, for a long, long time. The simple direction to “stick your finger into the soil, and when it is dry two knuckles deep it is time to water” is more often than not greeted with the ‘deer in the headlights’ look of ‘nope, not gettin’ ya’. We will take this time to address the three different watering phases; installation, establishment and general maintenance.

During the installation phase, the first watering is very important. One of the goals is to fill any air pockets that may have occurred during the back-filling of the soil. This first watering also sets the tempo. A deep thorough watering, establishing a ‘beginning moisture level’ will make maintaining same easier. Let’s use this example, we have just installed a five gallon tree, firstly we should find a bucket or small trashcan of equal size to the nursery container. Counting one-thousand one, one-thousand two, and so forth time how long it takes to fill this bucket. We will want to use no less than six to eight times this amount for our initial watering, depending on the surrounding soils dryness at planting time. Not only are we to apply water to the root ball (about as many seconds as it took to fill about 1/3 of the bucket…lets just say it took 10 seconds), but in concentric circles radiating outward over the “whole” of the area that was created in the excavation process (See our ‘Tree Planting Guide’) and extend a good foot out into the undisturbed soil as well. Hopefully this process only used about a third of the water we had calculated, because we are going to go backwards again, and then turn around and yes, go over the same area a third time! This is the very first drink you are giving a plant you expect to outlive you, not a time to be chinchy. Lots of little ‘drinks’ are better than applying all at once in one concentrated spot.

Now our plant is safely secured and watered in (We will assume mulched!) it is during this next month where we use the term ‘establishing’ when dealing with new annuals and perennials; Shrubs can take a little longer and trees can take a year or two to become ‘established’. We begin the process of pulling the roots away from the root-ball out in to the surrounding soil. At first we may begin by watering every day, for a couple of days (about two to three buckets full as per our previous example) but then we must start to skip a day or two between watering. Remember, you can not put too much water on a plant, but you can water too often! Picture in your mind a blank calendar; three x’s in a row to signify the first three waterings, now we start skipping, three x’s a day apart, followed by three more x’s two days apart, and so on… At the end of a month you will be down to two times a week. Then further reduce the water cycle to once a week for a month or so, then finally we are down to one deep thorough watering every two weeks for most plants. Hopefully sometime during this process it will rain, maybe even more than once, if we get more than a half inch it can count as a water day. All the well water in the world won’t equal an inch of rainwater.

Yup, gravity is our friend and ally here. It is the drying process that causes the roots to go deeper, chasing the water. Ergo, the more water we put on, the less frequency, the deeper the roots will travel, the less water it will take to maintain proper health.

General watering, the day to day is you will. Our definition of realistic Texas Gardening (Ix-nay on the Xeriscape-ay) is one deep, thorough drink every two weeks. This equals applying enough water to cover every square foot of your garden bed an inch deep. For example, a four foot wide by twenty foot long bed (80 sq. ft.) would only take fifty gallons of water every two weeks! {80 div. by 12 = 6.666cu. ft. X 7.5gal per cu ft. =50 gal.} How long did it take to fill that five gallon bucket? This much time X ten to water an 80 square foot bed, or a soaker hose or drip system left to run for as long as it tales to disperse fifty plus gallons, the choice is yours.

“How do you water?” … It is just to open ended a question. I hope this little crash course helps answer this question, but all the same there are just so many variables that have to be considered; heat, wind, soil quality etc. that the best answer is simply =
“Stick your finger into the soil, when it is dry two knuckles deep it is time to water again”