Texas finds itself in the midst of one of the worst droughts in its history and water has become more and more scarce with aquifers dropping to all-time lows while lakes and ponds evaporate at record rates. We recently set a record for consecutive days over one hundred degrees forcing water restrictions in most areas. So how can plants be left too wet?
This year at TIS nine out of ten irrigation/sprinkler repair service calls that have been reported as dry or wilting plants this summer, especially in beds, have turned out to be cases of over-watering. That’s right, over-watering has killed or seriously harmed ninety percent of the plants that were reported as dry.
You see, when a plant is over-watered it takes on the same symptoms as a plant that has been under-watered. Home owners everywhere are turning up their irrigation and supplementing their beds with hand-watering in an attempt to prevent dryness, wilting and other climate related issues before they start. This watering, in many cases, has created an anaerobic soil meaning that the soil is so full of water that it compacts itself until there is no more air in the soil which is very bad for the plants.
Yes, plants get their water from their root systems but they also get oxygen from those very same root systems. When an anaerobic soil has been created those roots will begin to rot. They will turn to mush, smell putrid and this will invite algae growth (a green tint on the soil surface along the edge of the bed) that ultimately invites fungi and disease. When the roots rot they will stop taking on water, no matter how much is available, and therefore the plants will start to wilt, dry-up and die as if they had no water at all. A great many home owners are seeing these signs and assuming that the drought has taken a toll on their plants and so what do they do… they add more water which compounds the problem.
Plants need water and then they need time to absorb that water and to get oxygen before more water is added. The best way to determine if your plants need water is to test the soil. Testing the soil is easy and is the best way to determine what is going on with a plant because there are a great many factors that can affect the health of your garden and beds (infestations, disease, sun, shade, soil-type, were they planted too high or too low, are they the right plant for the zone you live in, so on and so forth). By testing the soil you can be sure that you are not damaging your investment. Pull back the mulch and scrape away a small amount of surface dirt and then grab a handful of soil (it is best to do this in several locations). With that dirt in your hand ball it up in your fist. If the dirt sticks together then it is plenty wet, if it is too powdery to stick together then it is too dry… and if it is like play-dough and cannot be broken back apart into fine pieces after clumping it together, or if you can squeeze water from it, then your soil is far too wet.
Adjust your irrigation or watering schedule accordingly and remember… just because we find ourselves in the midst of a horrible drought does not mean that your plants are starving for water. Don’t judge a plant by seeing signs of wilting or browning, judge it based on the soil moisture. Happy gardening.