10 Common Irrigation Myths and How to Stop Them from Damaging Your Garden

We all think that we know how to water a garden. Even if you’ve never owned or tended to veggies or flower beds before, you’ve likely used gardening hoses to water maintained a yard at some point. The general belief, particularly for inexperienced gardeners, is that plants are provided for as long as moisture makes contact. If the leaves and stems are wet, they have what they need, right?

Unfortunately, this is not actually the case. There is a reason why it takes keen gardeners a long time to start growing strong, healthy plants. Gardening is a tough hobby, and it requires a huge amount of patience and commitment. It also rewards those who do their homework and spend a lot of time learning about what their plants need. This could not be truer than in the case of watering and irrigation techniques.

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So, it is time to revisit some of the most damaging myths about watering and learn how to build a garden that leaves others in the shade.

Myth One: Plants Need One Inch of Water Every Week

It is not enough just to have the right irrigation supplies. You also need a good working knowledge of how and when to feed the plants. For many years, there has been an ongoing myth that says one inch per week of water is the best approach. In reality, all plants are unique and come with their own distinct irrigation needs. Younger seedlings and new plants have only small, weakened root structures to depend on, so they are the ones that require the most water, on a regular basis.

As plants age and get hardier, they learn how to thrive with less moisture, and over-watering can lead to problems. It is a good idea to provide slightly more water during very hot months, but for the most part, gardens can be trusted to fend for themselves until the next scheduled feeding time. If you do go crazy with the hose, you might find that plants grow flimsy and struggle to support their own weight. You can rectify this by gradually reducing the amount that you are giving.

Myth Two: Wilting Means More Water Is Needed

You are right to assume that wilted leaves means more water is required on the surface. However, don’t immediately presume that there isn’t enough water in the soil. If you do and go ahead with adding a lot more moisture, you could end up drowning the roots. Plus, all kinds of things can cause wilting, so can’t instantly be attributed to thirst. The culprit could be overaggressive digging and hoeing or even the presence of insects in the soil.

The only way to know for sure is to perform a simple soil test. All you need is a clean, long wooden dowel. Insert it directly into the soil, taking care not to agitate or wiggle it around too much; you should be aiming for a quick, vertical insertion. If it comes out mostly clean, the soil is dry. If it comes out with lots of earth attached, there is moisture in the soil. In most cases, the soil should be damp to the root zone (around 6-12 inches).

Myth Three: Overhead Watering Can Burn Leaves

This is a very old myth indeed and one that needs to be put to rest. It used to be said that overhead watering on a hot day would burn the surface of leaves. The explanation for this now seems rather silly, given what we know about growing, but many people still believe it. The truth is that water droplets cannot act as tiny magnifying lenses and scorch plant material. It simply isn’t possible, especially on a hot day, because they evaporate too quickly.

However, it is true that watering in very hot temperatures can pose a small risk to plants. In some cases, the water evaporates so quickly that it is hard to tell how much moisture the soil has taken in. As a result, gardeners can be tempted into seriously over-watering. This is why it is often best to delay the process until temperatures start to fall and the day cools a little. There is no reason to worry about scorching, though.

Myth Four: Watering with a Sprinkler is Harmful

The many myths surrounding overhead watering (particularly with sprinklers) come from the fact that it just isn’t the most efficient way to do things. It isn’t usually any more harmful than other similarly inefficient methods, though. The best way to give plants moisture is by applying it directly to the earth around them. Less water is rapidly lost to the air, and the leaves don’t get showered more than is absolutely necessary.

It must be noted that in drier, windier climates, overhead watering with sprinkler systems can actually be quite beneficial. If your garden is prone to coatings of fine dust, eliminating it with water will help the plants photosynthesis in a more productive manner. And, finally, overhead watering (if carried out carefully) can act as a quick way to boost plants that are slowly wilting in high temperatures. Just remember not to douse the soil unless you know that it is also dry.

Myth Five: Drought Tolerant Plants Don’t Need Water

Every year, thousands of Echinacea and sedum varieties (among many others) die needlessly because their ‘drought tolerant’ classifications encourage gardeners to limit water intake. The truth is that no plant on earth can survive without any water at all. So, it is no wonder that seedlings and young plants of this kind perish.

You may not need to provide moisture as regularly as with other plants, but they still require care and attention. If you are planning to add drought tolerant species to your garden, it is a good idea to do some thorough research on their needs. That way, you’ll be fully prepared and have the right tools and knowledge to help them thrive. There are more ways to give moisture than just dousing with a hose; find the method that works best for you.

Myth Six: Water New Plants Every Day

A newly planted Plant needs a lot of water because its root systems are almost always damaged during planting, especially if it is divided or moved. The most common advice is to keep the new plants well-watered. Many people interpret this to that they should be watered every day and as e result kill a plant.

An ideal soil is 25% water and 25% air. Too much water forces the air out, which causes roots to die. This is exactly what happens when you water too frequently. Before you know it, the plant is dead. Therefore watering on a daily basis is never correct advice, even in hot climates. The most effective way to water is to fully drench the soil at planting time. Don’t water again until the soil starts to dry out.

Best is to test when it’s getting dry? Touch and dip your fingertips into the soil until you reach the second knuckle, and if the soil feels moist, water is not yet needed. Instead, water only when the soil starts to dry. Also, avoid watering on a schedule. The frequency of watering should vary as per the season and depend on the plant, soil type, temperature, humidity, and variety of mulch used.

Myth Seven: Irrigation Systems Waste a Lot of Water

You may have heard that you will end up wasting plenty of water irrigating your garden. But the fact is that most irrigation systems save water. When you water your plants at the right time of day with a proper irrigation system, there is no chance of overwatering.

Myth Eight: Irrigation Systems Should Be Turned Off Every Time It Rains

Just because it rains, it doesn’t mean that you will turn off the irrigation system. Every rain is different, and a lot of the rainwater is lost due to evaporation and runoff. The soil around the plants in your lawn needs to be kept moist to a depth of about 3 or 4 inches. If you turn off the irrigation system, you may be able to save water for the plants. But, every plant in your lawn may not be getting sufficient water.

As it does not rain on a schedule, it makes no sense to turn off your irrigation system. If you want, you can always place sensors around the garden to detect the amount of rain. Rain sensors automatically determine whether it is best to run the irrigation system or not and regulate your irrigation system so that you do not need to worry about its functioning when it rains.

Myth Nine: Your Plants Can Be Trained

You do not need to train your plants. To make them adapt to a certain climate or environment. If you keep a sun-loving plant in a shaded area, it will not grow. Instead, place your plants in the most appropriate spots and check whether your irrigation system is functioning in these areas adequately.

Myth Ten: To Improve Drainage, Add Gravel at The Bottom of Potted Plants

Most of us add gravel to the bottom of potted plants to improve drainage, but you hardly know that when you add it, it will have a negative effect on it. Gravel drains water and any moisture quickly. Unlike soil, which absorbs water, gravel let water stand in the bottom of the pot. It is best to fill the pots with potting soil that is rich with organic matter. This is helpful in improving airflow and drainage.

We think we know how to water the garden, but very few of us know how to do it right and when to do it. By clearing some of the common gardening myths, you become sure that you can provide the right amount of water to your plants. Taking care of plants requires knowledge, commitment and patience. Learning more about the requirements of plants can be rewarding in the end.

Image credit: feraugustodesign

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