Friday, September 30, 2011


Water restrictions often occur over most of Australia during the summer months and it sometimes becomes compulsory to turn off the automatic watering system and water our gardens by hand. It is a time to think about how we use this precious resource and adopt ways of watering that can substantially reduce the amount of water we waste.

Hand watering on a beautiful early morning or evening is a pleasurable experience that gives us the time to look more closely at our garden, the plants and the soil. We have more control over how the watering is done and can cater to the individual needs of different plants more successfully. Sometimes it is the only way to water plants deeply. Watering at these times helps to increase water penetration and minimise evaporation.

Potted plants under a verandah, eaves or awning must be regularly watered by hand and it is important to water the soil thoroughly all the way through. Check by feeling below the surface to make sure it has penetrated deeply. Soil can become hydrophobic if it is allowed to dry out too much and it is then difficult to wet again. Water will bead and flow over the surface of the soil and drain away without being of use at all to the plant. Wetting agents will have to be added to restore its water holding capacity. These can be bought in liquid or powder form and are applied to the surface of the soil.

Planters with a built-in reservoir at the bottom can save you time and water. Overflow can be prevented by checking the water level as the water drains into the base of the pot, and watering will be a lot less frequent.

Whether you are watering pots or plants in the ground it is important to water only the base of the plants. Keeping water off the foliage will reduce the chance of plants developing fungal diseases like black spot and powdery mildew. Pathogenic fungal spores will travel rapidly in water splash or soil run-off and infect otherwise healthy plants. Infrequent, deep watering will encourage root systems to penetrate the deeper soil layers and have access to more permanent water, as well as nutrients. A deeper root system stabilises plants, especially trees and large shrubs, making them less susceptible to wind, drought and insect stresses.

Plants require more water when in active growth and this may not necessarily be in the summer months. Observation of your own garden situation is critical in using water efficiently. The condition of the plants and the soil varies with the season; natural rainfall, temperature, wind and growth activity and these are conditions that cannot be taken into consideration with an automated watering system. Hand watering gives you the time to observe the changing relationship of all the elements that influence your garden and at the same time gives you the time to enjoy the plants and their smells.

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