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Updated: May 9


Are you guilty of these 4 worst watering mistakes? Probably. Most of us don’t really have any idea how much water our plants need. When a plant dies, we usually just attribute it to having a black thumb. Well, you can save a lot of money on replacing dead plants simply by learning to water smarter.

Mistake 1: Over Watering

As with most things, the average human seems to think that if a little of something is good, then a lot of it is better. But just like too much chocolate can make you sick, too much water can harm your plants.

Over watering does more damage, and is more likely to kill plants, than under watering. Plants can recover more easily from being too dry than from being too wet. Here’s why:

  • A dry plant will quickly spring back up when given some water, whereas an over-watered plant will continue to droop even when the soil is moist.

  • Too much water can cause excessive fungal growth and encourages diseases.

  • Too much water can weaken and even rot roots.

  • Plants can drown in a matter of minutes or hours because the roots will suffocate from lack of oxygen.

  • The signs of over-watering (withering, wilting, yellowing, leaf fall, etc.) are similar to those caused by under-watering.

  • You’re wasting water!

Symptoms of under watering are similar to those of over watering.

Mistake 2: Watering Too Frequently

  • Similar to over watering — keeping things wet encourages fungus and disease

  • Roots can rot and plants will die

  • Light watering encourages roots to remain near the surface, which weakens root systems. Watering deeply but less often encourages roots to extend further down into the soil.

  • Plants can’t sustain themselves through stress because roots aren’t properly developed

  • Plants learn that they don’t have to wait for water

How much and how often you should water depends on what you are watering. Different plants have different requirements. Some require continuously moist soil while others prefer to dry out between waterings. The best advice is to know what each plant needs and water it accordingly. But generally speaking, you can categorize watering into three areas: new plantings, lawns, and trees and shrubs.

New Plantings

Newly planted lawns, trees and shrubs should be treated differently from established ones. When first installed, most plants need to be kept moist, which means watering daily, or even twice daily.

Lawn Watering

Especially when it comes to our lawns, most of us over water. Many customers who come to Marshall Grain with lawn problems tell us they water three times a week or more! These same customers usually tell us they have no idea how much water they are putting out when they water.

Yikes! Established lawns, including Bermuda, St. Augustine, Zoysia, and other grasses commonly grown in North Texas, should be watered once or twice per week to a depth of 1 to 1-1/2 inches. This includes rainfall. If you get ½ inch of rain, then you should reduce your watering by ½ inch for that period.

Frequent, light watering encourages shallow, weak root systems, whereas, giving your lawn a good soaking once a week encourages a deep root system and a healthier lawn. During the winter months, reduce your watering frequency to once every 14 days or so (including rainfall). Some lawn grasses require even less water, making them better suited to our area.

Place empty tuna cans on your lawn to measure your sprinkler system’s watering rate.

How do you know when you’ve applied 1 inch of water? Good question. The amount of water that comes out of your sprinklers depends on several factors such as water pressure and type of irrigation system. The best way to measure the amount of water applied is to save up some empty cans (tuna cans or cat food cans work best). Place these around your yard then turn on your sprinklers. Time how long it takes for one inch of water to build up in your cans. This works for oscillating sprinklers too. Once you know that number, you can set your irrigation system accordingly. Remember to adjust for rainfall.

Trees & Shrubs

Trees and shrubs should be watered differently from your lawn. As with lawns, most plants prefer to be watered deeply rather than frequently to ensure that the moisture reaches the roots of the plant. However, their root systems are deeper and more extensive, extending down several feet, versus about 12 inches for lawn grasses.

A good rule is to wet the soil to a depth of 4 to 6 inches to reach the root system of the plants.

Don’t Assume Your Plants Need Water

Check the soil before you water. For plants such as annual flowers and vegetables that have shallow roots the easiest way to determine if they need water is to stick your finger in the soil. Push it down to at least the second knuckle. If the soil is moist, you don’t need to water.

For trees and shrubs with deeper roots, use a soil probe or screwdriver to determine the depth the water actually reaches. Soil type, amount of rainfall, and season of the year all affect the amount of water you need to apply.

Mistake 3: Watering at Night

This may seem like a good idea because night watering allows more time for moisture to soak into the soil before it can evaporate. But SF Gate Home Guides, warns that watering your plants from above with a watering can or sprinkler system causes the foliage, flowers and fruit to become wet. Watering at night allows that moisture to sit on the foliage longer. As a result, fungi and bacteria have a perfect haven for replication and invasion on the plant’s surfaces. If you have any plants that are suffering from other ailments, like damaged stems, these pathogens may gain a stronger foothold in your garden and cause significant dieback.

Mistake 4: Watering in the Middle of the Day or Late Afternoon.

This is the worst possible time to water. Drops of water on foliage are reflected by sunlight and magnified by it, which can burn and boil your foliage. Water evaporates fastest in the mid-afternoon, leaving little for the plant anyway.

Watering Best Practices

1. Water early in the morning (between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m.). This gives the water time to soak in and still allows the soil to dry out quickly enough to minimize fungal problems.

2. Avoid watering at night or in the mid-afternoon.

3. Water efficiently. Wherever possible, use a soaker hose or hand water instead.

Maximum efficiency: Used by ancient cultures around the world, Ollas are low-fired clay pots that are buried in the soil and kept filled with water. The water gradually seeps out through the pores of the pot to keep the soil evenly moist.

4. Adjust watering frequency and amounts based on season, temperature and amount of rainfall.  Overhead watering uses more water and can promote fungal disease. Also make sure you don’t have leaking irrigation pipes or downspouts that are keeping the soil too wet in a location.

5. Know your plants and give them only as much as they need and only when they need it.

6. Improve your soil. Healthy soil that is loamy and crumbly holds water better than soil that is either too dense or too loose. Regularly adding fresh organic matter and fertilizers not only adds nutrients for your plants but also help prevent soil compaction and poor soil health. Healthy lawns and plants are better able to resist pests and diseases, which helps them cope with drought.

7. Weed Your Garden. Keep moisture-hogging weeds out of beds and bare spots. Mulch beds with 1 to 3-inches of mulch.

8. Choose natives. Texas native plants are better suited to our soil and climate. They naturally require less water and are better able to withstand drought stress.

By following these guidelines your landscaping will be on firmer footing and better able to find water during drought periods.

Still not sure what to do? Bring us your watering questions. Our expert staff is always happy to help you identify problem areas and offer suggestions on how to solve them.


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