Garden, Plant, Cook!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Watering - Train Your Plants, Instead of The Plants Training You!

Reading 2 inches down
Dear Folks,

That is a crazy sounding post title for this post, right?

The reality is your gardens, and I'm talking in-ground, can "learn" a watering schedule.

Why?  Because they respond to where the water is.  That seems obvious, but there is a specific point about growing edibles in the desert garden.

Reading 6 inches down
Check out the two pictures of the moisture meter reading.

BTW, I consider a moisture meter a gold tool for the desert garden, because getting beds started, different zones in the garden, with different temperatures and sun access all mean that, to some extent, one sizes does NOT fit all.  BUT the plants can learn a schedule.

I will explain why, but please first study the two pictures.

Then watch one of these two videos on seed germination.

I think the best one is the first one on facebook.  The second one is on youtube for those of you who do not go on facebook.  Still a good illustration.

Facebook Seed Germination Video.

Youtube Seed Germination Video

Okay so now you watched the videos, right!  And you took a good look at the two pictures above.

Here is what you are seeing.  A little bit of water went down a couple of inches, but no further.  THAT is the point.

I set up this big 18 inch pot and am going to plant peanuts - more on that in another post.  I slightly wet the soil last night after I got the pot positioned and this is before the sun hit the pot this morning.

Most plants are watered when the meter shows 2-3 on the dry side. Some plants like mint or bananas could be watered at the 3-4 point.

Now let's talk about what you saw in the video.  The videos did not actually show the number of days, but as they were both legumes, they germinate pretty fast.  Let's say for the sake of discussion each of them broke ground at approximately 7-9 days.

I can't tell you how many times I have answered readers questions about why their plants never sprouted after the sowing the seeds.  The typical response to my investigation questions about when, how much and when they watered, sun orientation etc. - was - "well I watered for a couple of days".

So let's go through the action of the plant.

Still from facebook video
Sown and watered for a couple of days.  This is generally enough to break the dormancy of the seed, which are designed to NOT respond to intermittent conditions, but instead "wants" to grow when the soil, temperature and water conditions are right.

So the seed begins to put roots out FIRST.  I think some folks presume the seed sends the green part up first, but no, the roots are the first to grow.

Now think about that typical answer why the seeds did not grow "watered for a couple of days".  Add that to the probable time line of a legume germination of 7-9 days (other edibles may take longer, even weeks) before breaking soil surface and you have an activity where the seed began to germinate and then the seed, roots and/or the beginning green growth hit "DRY" conditions for a day or two and then they died - under ground. That was it.  No amount of additional water will get that seed growing again.

So now let me talk about that part of You training the plants instead of the other way around.

Our gardens have several different watering systems depending on what is growing.  We have tree wells which are on a once every 7 days schedule.  We have a lot of mature beds - things like asparagus, strawberries, jasmine, tomatoes etc.  They have a schedule which changes with the temperature from once every 6 days in the winter down to every 4 days in the summer (we may augment both trees and mature gardens if we get a brutal 110+ string of days, but it is rare that the plants need the additional watering).

Of course there is the addition of rain and if we get a half inch or more 1 or 2 days near the next watering we can skip the mature garden bed (not the trees) watering cycle - one month a year or so ago in January we had so much rain we turned off all watering for about 30+ days.  Nice, but very rare.

Then I also have a series of large pots and a large cinder block bed which is on a tube type water system (not drip - different heads which spray) and that is on every 3 days now.  When we get to the 100s it will go to every 2 days.

The pots and cinder block are watered for 10 minutes.

The trees and mature gardens are watered for 2 hours, rotating through the schedule between them.

So about the training.

By deep watering, spacing out the watering, the upper soil begins to dry. The roots of plants begin to follow the retreating water down, going deeper and deeper.  Did you know tomatoes can get 18 feet of roots?

How do you know if you have watered deep enough to start the "training" process?  If you can stick an 18 inch kabob type metal skewer/rod straight down in the soil, immediately after watering, you have watered deeply enough.

Training seeds and seedlings.  I sow in our mature beds AND the tree wells depending on season and what I am wanting to grow.  I pre-soak seeds during most of the year, but not in the middle of the summer, because I want more of the temperature and soil moisture to dictate germination.

Seeds.  When I direct sow in ground, I water that spot every day - sprinkling to moisten the soil, until I see growth come out of the ground.  It can be 7 days or 30 days, or more, but I sprinkle that spot EVERY day, except when the beds water on their regular watering schedule, I skip that day.

Once those seeds come up, or if I have transplanted small seedlings, I begin to water a bit more volume but every other day.  And watch.  When they appear to be stable at the every 2 day point, I move it out to every 3 days and so on until their watering matches the watering of that garden bed.

July - watered once a week
In this manner I have "trained" eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and other types of edibles to exist in areas which are watered less frequently - including the beds on a once every 7 day cycle.  Yes, once every 7 days - in the summer.  Here is my eggplant area last year, with a sweet pepper to the side.  The first picture is in July and the second one in September.

September - watered once a week.
Note the mulch around the base of the plants.  Once the plants were established I added more mulch on top of what I used to get the seedlings going.

I had transplanted them that February, with tube collars and some mulch and began the process of getting them established and on the once every 7 day cycle.

The rain helps, but we only got the normal - low - amount of rain.  The point is they grew through the summer being watered once every 7 days.

BTW the two eggplants were Listarda and Casper.  The Listarda was the bigger of the two -  gave us a lot of fruit mid-summer almost through winter.

Some additional watering notes:

In the heat, plants may wilt during under the mid-day sun.  This is NOT the time to determine if they actually need more water.  Soft leafed plants like tomatoes wilt to reserve moisture, but if you actually used that moisture meter to check whether they need water, and you are otherwise watering appropriately, you will find the soil moist.

In the warm times, check the soil moisture in the morning.

You have the option of changing when you water depending on the the extreme time of year, e.g., water in the evening in the hot time to minimize evaporation allowing the water to really sink in;  water in the morning in the cold times to minimize mildew and mold.

Mulch around all plants but do not let the mulch touch the plants - keep 3-4 inches away so the bugs which could use the mulch as a subway tunnel to your tender seedlings, can't get there.

I hope this helps you understand how seeds germinate in our desert gardens and how you can use the water to train the plants to go deep and grow healthy.

Have a great day in the garden.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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