Monday, February 9, 2015

Watering Can Woes

 You wouldn't think something plants require to live could also kill them, and does a lot of the time. What am I talking about? Water. Let's talk about, in my estimation, the hardest part of keeping a houseplant happy and healthy. I've found that water is the number one killer of unsuspecting houseplants. It may be too much or too little that takes the life of the plant. 
Is there a wrong way to water? Yes, there is. I used to give my plants just a small amount of water, especially when watering cactus and succulents, thinking I was going to over water and kill them. I've since learned that a plant should always  be watered until the water runs from the hole in the bottom of the pot. This allows the soil to become moistened clear to the bottom and encourages the roots to reach deeper. When watering with small amounts of water, the roots stay near the top of the pot where the moisture is. Also, after watering, and the excess water has exited the drainage hole, do not leave the plant sitting in this water longer than 30 minutes. Whatever is left after the plant has used as much water as it needs, dump out. If the container is too heavy, use a turkey baster to suck the water out of the saucer. Watering thoroughly like this means you may not have to water again for a long time, depending on the plant type. You may have to water the next week. 
Well, what if my container doesn't have a hole? Then what do I do? I say get the masonry bit out and drill a hole. If that isn't possible, then leave your plant in its grow pot (the pot it came in from the nursery) and set it inside the pot with no hole. When you water it remove it from the cache-pot (French for 'hiding a pot'), and take it to the sink to water it. Well, you say, what if I put drainage material such as gravel in the bottom of the pot. That will help, right? NO! Never use gravel or any other kind of "drainage" material in the pot or over the drainage hole. I addressed that concept here. I use a piece of window screen over the hole of my pots which allows the water to leave but the soil to stay.

Window screen over the hole of the pot

 So this leads to how often should I water? And how do I know it is time to water? I don't believe in ever watering a plant on a schedule. It depends on the temperature, the time of year, if the sun has been shining, what kind of plant it is, and its particular needs as far as water is concerned. Is it a cactus or a plant that lives in moist soil? There are many ways of deciding whether to water your plant or not. One is the use of a water meter. This consists of a probe that is inserted into the soil and it then sends a reading of dry or wet to the meter. Another way is to lift your container after watering. It will be heavy, as it has just been watered. Lift it the next week and if it is still quite heavy, don't water. If it is light, water it. Pretty simple.  My preferred method, though is to stick my finger in the soil. If it is dry up to my second knuckle, I water it.
Another must in my opinion, is the use of lukewarm or room temperature water. I don't believe in using cold water and especially NOT ice! I know some people swear by it, but I don't recommend it. I always ask people at my presentations if they would like ice dumped on their toes. They almost always say no. I rest my case. 
The next consideration is the time of day chosen to water. I try to water in the morning, so that if any water gets on the leaves, it can dry before night time. I also think picking a sunny day is preferable, but here in Michigan, in the winter, that can be an impossible task. 

A fantastic way to water, and your plants will love it, is to put them in the shower. This gets rid of any dust that has collected on the plant and waters them at the same time.

Dandy Pot

The next few pictures show a type of watering practice called wick watering. The first picture is a Dandy Pot. The wick, which is some type of acrylic string, goes from the pot into a reservoir of water and the water travels up the wick into the soil and keeps the plant moist. Mostly this type of watering is used for African violets, but can be used for any plant. 

The next three pictures are also a type of wick watering. This is a homemade wick watering set up. These are deli containers with 2 holes drilled in them. One is for the wick to go into and the other is to make it easy to pour the water in.

The next two pictures are of the mat watering technique. The tray obviously needs to be hole free. The mat is an acrylic blanket cut to the size of the water holding receptacle. Set the plants on the mat and add water. The plants suck the water up from the acrylic blanket. I check mine weekly and add water.

This final type of wick watering is a self watering pot. It has an unglazed pot that the plant is planted in and it sits in a glazed pot that has water in it. The water seeps through the unglazed pot and keeps the plant moist.

The wick and mat watering techniques takes the mystery out of watering.  The main concern with this type of watering is the soil used. It has to be a very fast draining soil. If the soil used is too heavy, the plants will rot. I mix my own soil mixes, but that is a subject for another post.

I hope I've covered watering techniques in a way that is understandable and easy. People who think they don't have a green thumb only need to conquer their ineptitude when watering.  It really is the key to growing happy, healthy plants.

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