Diane Sawyer Overwaters Too!

sister_k(Zone 5 Lafayette, CO)March 26, 2009

I'm laughing right now because the Today Show had a seqment on growing your own vegetables. They showed growing from seed in a pizza box, covered by a clear plastic cake cover. Anyway, as the segment was closing, Diane Sawyer announces: "I overwater!" Skybird recently (nicely) suggested that I might be overwatering my bulbs since they're all in containers, so it made me laugh to hear this -- at least I'm in good company!

Seriously, I didn't realize that the bulbs store their own moisture, so thanks Skybird & I've been easing off on the watering.

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laura_42(4b-5a Colorado)

I didn't know that either, but suspected as much because a dried up pot of tulips that I'd forgotten in the garage one winter "resurrected from the dead" a year later.

Amazing survivalists, plants.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2009 at 11:33AM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

You have a LOT of company, Sis! From what Ive seen when I was in the green industry, the main reason people have problems growing plants is because of improper watering, and overwatering is the most frequent, and most devastating problem. Especially with house plantsÂor things in potsÂitÂs easy to "over care" for them and keep them too wet all the time, but even in the ground a lot of people keep things too wet. And then, when they start looking sick, they try to "help" themÂby watering them! HereÂs why too much water doesnÂt work!

Plant roots need both water and oxygen. When the soil is kept too wet, there's no oxygen in the soil and the roots can rot. If that happens, by the time you can tell there's a problem, it's usually too late to save the plant. Both over watering and under watering will cause the plant to look wilted, but with over watering, the reason the plant looks wilted is because the rotted roots are no longer able to absorb water. When wateringÂcontainers or in the groundÂif unsure, ere on the side of dryness. If plants are under watered, they will look very sad, but they will not die (unless, of course, they NEVER get watered!), and if proper watering is instituted, they will recover. If plants are over watered to the point of wiltingÂRIP!

Since there are a lot of newbies and newbie gardeners around here right nowÂsome just new to dry land gardeningÂwhile I have time, this is a good thread for a primer on watering!

With house/container plants, water VERY thoroughly when you waterÂeven leaving water sit in the saucer for 15 or 20 minutes and adding more if it's absorbed. When no more is being absorbed, dump out any that's still in the saucer. Then don't water again until the soil is AT LEAST half dry. Don't water on a schedule. Water by the wetness or dryness of the soil. If you're not sure, dig into the soil a couple inches to see how wet it is. If the top inch or two isn't all the way dry, don't water. The roots are in the bottom of the soil, so the top doesn't need to be wet all the time. You can also learn to tell when to water by lifting the pot to see how heavy it is. Bulbs, corms, rhizomes, tubers, and tuberous roots store water within their tissues, so they can definitely dry most of the way before being resaturated.

With plants in the ground itÂs just as important to water properly. If the soil is constantly kept wet, thereÂs the same problem with lack of oxygenÂand with clay soil, once itÂs thoroughly saturated, it can take a long time to dry out. ThatÂs why organic matter is especially important with clay soil. It holds waterÂand nutrientsÂwhile "separating" the clay particles, allowing excess water to drain off. I analogize a nice organic soil to a kitchen sponge. If you saturate it and lay it on the edge of the sink, it will stay wet, but the extra water will run out. (If you take a "chunk" of heavy clay out of your garden, saturate it, and lay it on the edge of your sink, NOTHING is going to run out! ;-) )

Dan touched on this in one of the threads, and I just posted it in another, but, if youÂre not sure, hereÂs how you can decide if your outdoor plants need to be watered or notÂor how to see if the way youÂre watering is being effective. When you think itÂs time to water your plants, find a place between plants near the middle of the bed and dig down into the soil AT LEAST 8" (it needs to be at the BOTTOM of the roots of the plants). Take some soil out of the bottom of the hole and try to form it into a ball in your hand. If it doesnÂt form a ball it definitely needs to be watered. If it forms a ball that easily crumbles between your fingers, itÂs about time to water it, and if it forms a ball that doesnÂt easily crumble, itÂs wet enough. Wait several days and check againÂin a different place nearby. (In really, really heavy clayÂwhat I call "potterÂs clay"Âthis test wonÂt work really well!)

If you want to see how effective your watering is, do your normal watering and then wait till the next day. Do the digging down in thing againÂbut in a different place than where you dug down to check before watering (anywhere where youÂve just dug down in will soak up the water more quickly than a place that hasnÂt been recently dug.) Do the dirt ball test again and see where your "ball" is on the scale of dry to wet! If youÂve watered adequately, your dirt ball shouldnÂt easily crumble. Watering deeply and thoroughly is at least as important with outdoor plants as it is with potted plants, because proper watering develops plants with deep roots which makes them less susceptible to variations in moisture levels. This is especially important with xeric plants, most of which are "xeric" because they have deep root systems so they can draw upon water deep within the soil even when the surface layers are dry. Remember, they might not be the prettiest part of the plant, but the roots are the most important part of the plant. To establish good, deep, healthy root systems, the plants need to be watered deeply enough that the soil BELOW the roots is wet. Then, as the top layers of soil where the roots are, dry, they grow down more deeply into the soilÂlooking for the moisture below them. By watering like this, you can grow even non-xeric plants that require less water than many people think.

Because clay soil particles are flat, if water is put down too quickly, most of it runs off, so in order to water effectively itÂs necessary to water with a sprinkler that has a fairly fine spray, and to water for short periods of time ( how long depends on the degree of clay. 15-20 minutes is a good place to start.), leaving the water soak in for an hour or so between waterings. ThatÂs not the same as watering for a short period of time every day. All that does is keeps the surface layers wet all the time (and may keep the soil so wet that the roots rot), and as long as the roots have easy access to water where they are, they will never grow deeply. Because every soil is different, every garden needs to be watered for a different amount of timeÂa different number of watering intervalsÂto accomplish a truly deep watering. The "dirt ball" system above, if repeated a couple times in a particular garden, is a way to figure out just how much and how often the garden needs to be watered.

Some plants, especially annuals and veggies, never develop deep roots, and need to be watered frequently no matter what. Veggies, especially, need a pretty consistent watering schedule since irregular watering can wreak all sorts of havoc with some of them. And then there are some plants that LOVE water and can be grown as water or bog plants. To do well they usually need to be kept pretty wet all the time, and the roots wonÂt rot even when they are kept wet all the time. In some ways theyÂre the easiest plants to grow because you donÂt need to water "properly," all you need to do is keep them WET!

I hope some of this information might give some of you a little bit more self confidence when your gardening gets going hot and heavyÂvery soon!


P.S. Isn't resurrection wonderful, Laura? ;-)

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 12:12AM
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dafygardennut(5b-ish, CO)

Guilty...that answers my tulip salvage question :-)

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 12:48AM
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sister_k(Zone 5 Lafayette, CO)

Thanks Skybird -- that makes a lot of sense. It kind of clicked that when a wilted plant (from too little water) gets a drink, it perks right up, but I could see how too much is harder to save. This definitely helps understand this process!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2009 at 9:56AM
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