Water is one of the most important facets of plant growth and health, along with proper sunlight, climate and soil. Too many times a home gardener uses too little or too much water, never really getting it correct. Understanding the use of water by plants and, maybe more importantly, what your specific plants truly need is pivotal.
Specific Plant Needs
Not all plants require the same amount or frequency of watering. For example, native butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, prefers dry, well-drained soil and has a long taproot to help it through harsh summers. While the yellowish-orange flowers may be an ideal complement to the delicate purple flowers of hosta (Hosta spp.), which grows in USDA zones 3 through 9 depending on species, hostas require consistently moist soil and considerably more water.
For this reason, it is important to plant flowers with similar requirements to make watering a simpler task.
A rich, loamy soil is typically the go-to for flower gardens because so many bedding plants prefer moist soil. This type of soil is rich in humus and provides a well-drained medium that also holds just enough water to keep things moist. Sandy soil, on the other hand, drains much more quickly and is more suitable for desert-dwelling plants such as succulents. Dense clayey soil, found throughout much of the Midwest and other parts of the country, holds water and doesn't drain quickly, creating a wet medium.
The type of soil greatly influences how much water you need to provide. You may also have to amend your soil -- mix compost, humus or other materials in -- depending on what type of flowers you wish to plant.
Watering Flower Beds
Because all plants have specific requirements, watering frequency isn't a one-size-fits-all task. For in-ground plants that require moist soil, the top few inches of soil should remain moist -- but not waterlogged -- at all times.
According to University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Martha A. Smith, the general rule is to make sure your flower gardens get 1 inch of water every seven to 10 days during the growing season.
Water deeply and for a long period of time to get to the 1 inch you need as this allows the water to drain deeper into the soil to the roots, allowing the roots to grow in their natural downward direction. More frequent, shallower waterings only allow the top of the soil to get wet, causing shallow root systems. This can lead to a decline in plant health.
Water during the early-morning hours before the temperatures rise. This allows your plants to soak up more of the water with the reduced risk of evaporation from sun and wind.
Water at the base of the soil, not by simply holding a garden hose over the plants. A soaker hose is an ideal watering tool for flower beds. Too much moisture on plant surfaces can cause fungal disease and other issues; it also prevents all of the water from draining to the roots.
Container watering is a different story; container plants have a limited amount of soil and thus need different watering schedules.
For container plants, the top inch of soil is an ideal guide to seeing if your plant needs water or not. If the top inch is dry, water until water starts draining from the bottom drainage holes. Allow the water to reach the lip of the container, then drain, then do the same one more time. This allows the soil ball to be completely saturated.
- University of Illinois Extension: Watering Flower Gardens
- University of Illinois Extension: Home Hort Hints: Watering Correctly Saves Time, Money, and Plants
- University of Illinois Extension: Successful Container Gardens: Watering
- Proven Winners: Water Your Way to Happy Plants
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Asclepias Tuberosa
- Garden.org: Growing Hosta
- Photo Credit Visual Ideas/Nora Pelaez/Blend Images/Getty Images
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