Know how and when to water your plants

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By Cheryl Steenerson

Since I am in full mowing mode and have finally begun to work in the garden, I get to appreciate all the sites, sounds and smells of the farm.
Everything is green, wildflowers dot the landscape and it’s all totally beautiful.
Sitting on the porch the other day after the sun went down, the only sounds were the birds calling goodnight and the dogs panting at my knee. The occasional peel of children’s laughter rolled up the hill. Later, the tree frogs chimed in to serenade the lightening bugs. That’s it. It’s so peaceful it makes me smile uncontrollably. It’s summer.
I know it’s not official yet, but it’s hot and staying light after 9 p.m., school’s out and my stand is open. To me, that means it’s summer.
Do you know what I like best about the summer heat? The smells. Everything is more fragrant. The sweet smell of honeysuckle is thick in the air, mixed with the scent of fresh cut grass and an earthy blend of the hay drying in the field. I love it.
Now that Mother Nature has turned back the taps, I’ve been spending a lot of time watering. New plants and seeds can’t get going in the ground without moist soil, and with 90 degree days that means daily watering. How much to water seems to be a hard question for some.
Repeat after me, “An inch a week.” (Do you hear that, Mother Nature?) A vegetable or flower garden needs an inch a week. Once all of your plants are established, a good, long soak once a week is enough. Daily watering of just a little only encourages roots to grow near the surface.
Containers, like small pots and hanging baskets, have a different need. Depending on the hours of direct sun and the soil you used, they’ll probably need daily watering. Hold your hose over a 6-inch pot and count to five. A 12-inch pot, like a hanging basket, gets a 10 second count. Hanging baskets are easy to check for water needs. Just push up from the bottom. If it goes up easy, it needs water. It should feel heavy when watered well.
The topsoil you used in containers dries out fast. Potting soil dries slower. Composted soil, dries even slower. Add worm castings to any of them and you’ve got the best soil conditioner you can get.
Earthworm castings provide organic matter with an N-P-K ratio of 0.5-0.5-0.3 and 11 trace minerals. The trace minerals are key because they help the plant take up the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium into the plant. The organic matter helps the soil retain moisture.
Earthworm castings go a long way in the garden or on the lawn. Ten pounds covers a 100 square feet. I used a couple tablespoons in every tomato hole when I planted and mixed some in the rows when I planted beans and cucumber seeds. Seeds need to stay moist to germinate and the castings keep the soil from drying out so fast in this heat.
I like to work smarter.
Now, start dividing those iris. Get those pumpkin and winter squash seeds planted. Look in the trees for bag worms hanging from branch tips. While you’re at it, let Mother Nature make you smile in the process.

Cheryl Steenerson is a gardening columnist for The Anderson News.