Summer heat always brings gardeners to contemplate the question of how much water to give their plants. Most people recognize the fact that different plants need different amounts of water. We have a basic understanding that a plant’s root depth, leaf texture and sun exposure, in part, determine the frequency and duration of our watering. In spite of this year’s abundant rain, many parts of your garden will still need summer water.
There is an equalizing factor to the question of water and that factor is organic matter. Organic matter is a nice way of referring to decomposing plant material. From the very basic grass clippings or fallen leaves to familiar industrial byproducts like cottonseed hulls or compost, organic matter worked into the soil can bring a steady rhythm to your watering.
Consider texture. A clump of clay when moistened becomes very wet. As air and heat begin to dry the clay, it shrinks thereby removing air spaces that breathe and cool the roots. The surface becomes dusty or crusty. Erosion may occur. Water runoff is likely taking valuable nutrients with it.
Picture that same lump of clay mixed with pecan shells or bark. Air spaces are created, but because of these organic materials’ inability to easily absorb water, porosity may actually speed the drying of the soil.
The texture of organic matter determines the amount of water it can hold. Mixing size and texture is the best preparation for any bed, but for the purpose of water retention choose a porous or spongy material. Manure, peat moss and cotton byproducts absorb moisture and release it slowly to the roots of the plant. These composts trap soil, sand and nutrients on its rough surface.
This may all be fine, you say, but my hibiscus is blooming, and my coneflowers are struggling. What can I do to help existing beds?
It is never too late to add organic material to the soil. Begin with a small amount worked into the soil at the edge of the plants’ canopy. Dig compost in with a trowel about six inches deep. Use a fork to blend the clay with the compost. Water when finished. Give the worms and microbes a week or two to assist the process.
Repeat the application as needed, digging a little further and deeper from the roots.
Time does not heal wounds. Rain and temperature alone do not grow great gardens. Create a healthy environment for yourself, your soil and your plants.
LeeAnn Barton has worked with nurseries for more than 20 years. She digs in the dirt in Stillwater. Direct any questions to her, especially about tree selection, by emailing email@example.com.