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Watering Too Much or Too Little?



By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners

 

Have you wondered if you are watering too much or too little in your yard, beds, or garden?  It can take some trial and error to get the amount, method, frequency, and length of time right.  This is one of the top things you need to learn to be a successful gardener. In our arid environment, water is a precious resource.  Hopefully you:

·        have selected trees, bedding plants, and turfgrass that thrive in our arid environment and the conditions in your yard,

·        know how much water and how to measure the amount of water you apply,

·        have an appropriate irrigation system and monitor it.

 

First, choose your landscape plants with our climate in mind.  Generally, plants grown in arid areas will do better here. And if you want low water users, look for native plants or nativars. For watering with native plants see:  https://www.westtexasgardening.org/post/how-to-water-native-plants   In vegetable or garden beds use mulch to protect your garden bed soil and reduce water evaporation.

Turf grasses also vary in their water requirements and drought tolerance. Buffalo grass, a native grass, has a very low water requirement and excellent drought tolerance.  At the other end of the scale, Fescue grass has a high water requirement and a moderate drought tolerance.

 

Second, how much water is right and how do I know what I need?  There is a general rule that an inch of water per week is good.  Of course, in July and August in West Texas that may not be enough.  If roots do not have enough water, cells within that plant lose water causing the plant cell walls to contract, and the plant wilts.  If you catch it before it a lot of damage is done and begin watering consistently most of the time you can save the plant.  However, if drought conditions go on too long for the plant, the damaged leaves eventually turn brown and drop off causing the plant to die.  Keep an eye on your soil.  If it is dry, it will turn a lighter color and become cracked and hard.  When this happens, it is hard for the water to reach the roots.  If this happens you may need to hand turn the soil to break up the crusty top.  Water again and dig down to be sure the water is reaching the area where the plant roots grow.  A simple test to evaluate soil moisture in a garden bed is to stick your index finger into your bed up to the first knuckle.  If it feels dry, it’s time to turn on the water.   Alternatively in a turf area, use a screwdriver to find the depth to the harder, dry soil.  In a lawn, turf grass will wilt or not spring back up after you walk or pull a wagon over it.  Maybe you will even be able to see your footprints.  During the growing season, if your lawn is not being watered adequately, the turf color will fade, finally going brown. 

 

With a sprinkler system, you can calculate the amount of water you need to water to a certain depth easily with tuna or cat food cans.  Water for a known time, find the average accumulated water in your cans, and measure the depth to dry soil.  That will tell you how deeply you water, with how much water in a certain time. And that figure can tell you how long to set your controller.   For complete instructions see: https://www.twdb.texas.gov/publications/brochures/conservation/doc/WaterGuide.pdf 

Third, use efficient irrigation techniques.  Irrigation efficiency varies with what you use to irrigate so use the most efficient technique you can. Surface/Subsurface drip is 90% efficient, small rotors are 65% efficient and pop-up spray heads are only 50% efficient.  So consider upgrading. 

Early morning or late evening is the best time of day to water.  Of course, this is easier if you have automatic watering on a timer. The next best choice is early evening.  No matter when you water be careful not to get water on your plant leaves since warmer temperatures can promote fungal disease.  Last, midday is the worst time since it can cause water to evaporate. More details are available in this article:  https://today.tamu.edu/2023/07/07/know-when-and-how-to-water-your-lawn-and-garden-this-summer

Finally, like your car, keep your irrigation system in top shape.  Monitor and maintain your system to save both water and money!

If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700.   Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at westtexasgardening.org.  Click on “Resources”.


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