Summer Irrigation Practices

By Randall Mallette

It’s the time of year when irrigating our lawns, gardens and crops is a “hot” topic. You may have noticed that farmers across the parish have rolled out their poly-pipe for irrigating their crops, but for the sake of this article, I am going to focus on irrigating in the home environment.

Generally speaking, your plants need about an inch of rain a week. The summers here often don’t produce an inch of rain a week, so we have to supply the water source. Additionally, the summer heat stresses plants which increases the demand for water. However, you have to be careful because over-watering can be just as bad as under-watering. However, the amount of water is not the only thing to take into consideration. The way you water is also of extreme importance. This includes the timing of watering and the method of application.

Watering should always be done extremely early in the morning. This is because plants have a natural wet period when the dew is on them. We don’t want to extend the amount of time that plants are wet by watering later in the day because disease-causing organisms thrive in warm moist environments. Another advantage to watering early is there is less water lost to evaporation in the early morning than there is after the sun is up. Sprinkler timers should be set accordingly for your lawns, however for gardens and ornamentals, sprinklers are not the best method of application.

When we are watering, it is important to think about what part of the plant we are watering. There is no point in getting the foliage wet. The root system is what needs the water, plus water on foliage and fruit can be damaging and act as a vector for disease entrance. For instance, buckeye rot on tomatoes is caused by water (either rain or overhead irrigation) hitting the soil, becoming contaminated with pathogens, and splashing back up onto the fruit. When irrigating your beds and gardens, a soaker hose or drip irrigation system is ideal.

Watering deeply is another aspect of correctly irrigating. We want to water the entire root system, not just the superficial root zone. Watering deeply promotes a well-developed root system that extends deeper into the soil, allowing the plant to pull water from reserves deeper in the soil during times of drought.

In addition to applying water at the correct time and using an appropriate method of application, mulching can be advantageous. Mulch holds moisture in, decreases evaporation, . A layer 2-4 inches thick of pine straw works great between the rows of gardens and in beds.

For more information contact Randall Mallette, County Agent,at the local LSU AgCenter Extension Office 318-357-2224. You can also visit us on the web at www.lsuagcenter.com or at 624 Second St, Natchitoches.