The dry season is well and truly with us now and sooner or later you are bound to need to water the garden or else gain a burning understanding of the phrase "dust to dust". While waving the hose around the backyard for an hour in the evening might be cooling and refreshing for the gardener, the garden might not be so grateful.
Light spraying or frequent brief waterings only moisten the very top layers of earth. This encourages the plant's roots up toward the moist top soil where they become surface rooted and ever more dependent on artificial watering for survival as the season becomes drier.
The most effective method is a long, deep, thorough soak of the garden soil possibly once a week. While container plants and unusually dry areas may need watering every day, most garden beds benefit from a deep soak that allows the plants to absorb all the water they can and follow the excess moisture ever deeper into the soil, eventually creating a root system that locks into the deep, moist (sub) soils usually unaffected by summer drought.
Ideally, try and coincide this watering with a period of heavy cloud that should, could or did bring rain. This further helps to maintain Nature's natural watering cycle. If using an irrigation system, sprinkler or soaker hose try and use one that most closely simulates natural rainfall.
Evening watering is the most effective way to revive wilting plants and to replenish water lost through evaporation. It's also the most economical way to increase the level of water held in the ground and in plant tissues because an evening or night watering soaks in deeply rather than evaporating rapidly under the hot sun.
An evening soak is especially good for lawns, trees, shrubbery and hardy garden plants. The down side to evening watering is that water remaining on foliage overnight tends to encourage the development of fungus, blight and rots.
Most affected are plants with hairy leaves that trap the water droplets in between the leaf hairs thus allowing fungus spores an ideal place to get started in the warm wet conditions. Pumpkin, marrows, dahlia, asters, zinnias and many more can develop powdery mildew or botrytis (grey mould) and peaches or nectarines will develop soft rots very quickly if they remain wet repeatedly overnight.
Morning watering means more loss through evaporation especially if conditions are sunny, hot and windy. Water droplets can also magnify the sunlight just like a magnifying glass causing spotting on delicate foliage and flower petals.
But the advantage to morning watering is that plants are very active at that time and, if it's warm and bright, will draw up water and any available plant food very quickly. This means dramatic recovery, new growth, improved fruiting and increased flowering. And because the plants have all day to dry out there is less chance of spreading fungus or disease.
There's no hard and fast rules as to when, how or how much to water as this depends on the ever changing local conditions that confront the gardener. But in a nutshell, water in the evening for recovery and water in the morning for growth.
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