The 411 on Water
For starters, I need to confess that last year (year 1) I started my little container plants in early June...in Texas. That might seem like a fine time in my native midwestern territory. Unfortunately, it was the cusp of summer inferno down here. So like any caring gardner, I decided to shelter my plants from the harsh heat and sun of western exposure, and give them plenty of water. Every night, I'd fill a makeshift watering can with cool, softened water from our inside tap, go outside after the sun had set, raise the jug above my plants and let sweet water pour down like rain.
If you've never gardened, you might read this account and think, "Meh. Seems fine." On the other hand, if you're a vet, you might be making shocked faces and gasping, "Oh no!" like I'm the woman opening the door for a monster in a horror film. And you'd be right to do so; because in my inexperience I dealt those poor plants one fatal blow after another. The greatest of these was the watering. But wait, there's more! Even after I stopped drowning our vegetables in treated water, I proceeded to slightly underwater the little darlings ... then kind of overwater to compensate. It was a mess. However, I couldn't be more thankful for that trial and error education. Sometimes – in memoriam – I pour a little out for all the plants lost in the struggle.
Why was all of that so bad? Well, our municipal water was still being chlorinated at a higher level because we live in a new development - poison #1. So we got a softener which uses salt pellets to mitigate the excess minerals that make water "hard" and filter the excess chlorine - poison #2. Trace amounts of sodium in the water tricked the plants into thinking they've absorbed enough. So they stop drinking, you keep watering, and they simultaneously starve while drowning. It's gruesome. Then there was the night watering. Goodness. Watering plants in cool temps and darkness is the recipe for root rot, mold and other afflictions. Lastly, overwatering compromises the Ph balance in the soil and leaches nutrients. So even though I used good quality soil with added compost, their environment was almost completely base. It hurts to recount all of this. But I'm laying it out here in the hopes that fewer plants will suffer.
Now it's season two, and I'm – mostly – not repeating those mistakes. We made the first change in the fall by relocating our garden space from the covered patio to the northwest corner at the back of our yard. They needed some direct sun. Then, I started collecting rain water in whatever I could until we get a rain barrel (this might be useful if you live in an area where rain barrels aren't permitted.) I'd put buckets, the toy wheel barrow, even a dump truck into the yard and catch as much water as possible. Here we'll get rain that pours down too quickly to absorb – a ten minute torrent. If there was no rain to collect, I'd fill jugs with water from the outside tap and leave them open so the water could naturally de-chlorinate. We also, started collecting the water that gets warm and neglected in our kids cups, or was just used to rinse a relatively clean dish.
As for the dispensing of water, I started monitoring moisture at the root level, with a meter. I'd get out early in the morning and water right at the soil, so the leaves won't scorch in the heat of the day. The plants get a full day to drink. Pots have a full day to drain excess, and there's no cool, damp nest for rot and mold.
So yeah, watering. It's obvious and relatively simple; but subject to go very wrong for the excited greenhorn. Hopefully this confession of missteps helps you avoid your own as the weather heats up and your garden gets thirsty. Happy hydrating!