The importance of irrigation in the garden and why it must be done in the right way

A good soaking is essential for the maintenance of healthy, productive plants.


Watering is possibly the most important aspect of the life of a plant. 

It cannot germinate without the presence of water, it can’t stand up (maintain turgor pressure), it cannot absorb minerals from the soiland it can’t photosynthesise without water.

A poorly-watered plant is a stressed plant. Really it’s a dying plant. Wilted leaves are more than a cry for attention; they are in many cases, death throes. Water is serious business. 

Hats off to the compost heap and earthworms and hats off (no maybe keep it on) for the sun and summer pollinators, but really, they are all in the shade when it comes to water. Water simply is the lifeblood of the garden.

Any oasis is just a dry-mouthed mirage without a natural spring. And if you haven’t a stream at the foot of your garden (or a first born for Irish Water), then it might be a future of cacti cultivation. 

Unless of course you approach watering with efficiency and even some love.

Normally, August is in the drought zone and once upon a hose ban, it was the only time water conservation practices were firmly put into the frame — be that decanting bath water to watering cans or thinking about a tent over the pond to slow evaporation. 

Today the conservation of water is year-round and water harvesting in rainy seasons pays dividends.

I don’t care if you pay your water charges or not. It’s not about frugality or political stands – I recommend you harvest and conserve water for your garden because it’s about ecological awareness. 

Less draining of reservoirs and less treatment plants means a lower carbon footprint. And let’s be honest, tap water is less than desirable for plants anyway.

A simple arrangement of water butts will ensure maximum capacity for the garden from any downpour - even in the middle of summer. It saves treated water and it better for plant health.
A simple arrangement of water butts will ensure maximum capacity for the garden from any downpour - even in the middle of summer. It saves treated water and it better for plant health.

The chemicals from its ‘processing’ into ‘drinkable’ water for humans can inhibit how plants absorb minerals — using rainwater can avoid them becoming chlorotic (yellowing off). 

If you have to use tap water on the garden, (I’m not recommending you search for an 800-year-old well or anything), do fill your watering cans and leave overnight as this balances the Ph and diminishes some of the chemicals too. Your plants will thank you.

Meantime, maybe you are already investigating hooking the shower up to a grey- water system. You could always simply consider a rain barrel at the shed or a series of water butts to your down pipe. 

It is estimated that more than 24,000 litres can be collected from the average roof over a year. It’s not like solar power, Irish Water won’t buy the surplus from you, but it’s so precious you wouldn’t be selling anyway.

The issue with some of the grey water systems — water siphoned from the drain-off from your washing machine, dishwasher and shower — is the fabric softener, glass sheening agents and shampoo making its way into the water table of your garden. 

There are some fantastic plants that can filter most of that out, but then you are looking at a filtration pond. 

The cost mounts and the garden shrinks. Of course it can all be done aesthetically and who wouldn’t love a water feature?

However, you can be even more canny. You can just improve your watering techniques. 

I knew a nurseryman who wouldn’t let his apprentices’ water — that was not a job for novices — you had to earn that privilege; work up to it. 

Most people think pointing a hose at a plant is watering. That’s a bit like saying throwing a sandwich at your face is eating.

Firstly you have to understand when to water and I don’t mean when the leaves have gone all limp. No, I mean time of day. Watering early in the morning, before the sun becomes intense is the preferred choice. 

The cooler morning will slow evaporation and your plants can absorb more of the water that gets onto their leaves, without any potential scorch damage. But even more importantly, the water at the soil level has more time to soak down, too.

If you are not a dawn riser, or life and work commitments hamper the early morning garden routines, then hold off during the day and wait for evening — again when it is a bit cooler and the sun is not evaporating everything. By evening, I mean 5pm to 8pm — if it’s dark you’ve waited too long. 

Evening means that your plants have several hours to soak up water into their system, there is still enough sunlight and warm air to dry any excess before night falls. 

Damp foliage left overnight is a potential hazard for some fungal problems — yes, the dreaded mildew and even the horror of blight spores. However, if you use a drip hose and only get the roots, then you can water at midnight.

Which brings me to the next artful step — where? The big mistake is in watering the surface area of plant (the leaves) and not the ground it grows in. For success you just have to get to the root zone not the runoff lane. Aim for the soil.

I like to water the base of the plant, then give the foliage a spritz while the first splash of soil moistening opens up the barrier layer to the root zone, then I return my attention to the soil, it is open now to swallow up all the water I can supply. 

The water is not streaking away over an impermeable hardness, the ground is not refusing it. It is sinking in, expanding out, filling up the pockets of air and saturating the root zone. All very good, but you’ve got to put some love into the garden too. Attention to detail is love.

Plants love a good soaking, they will wait for it. Don’t mess around with a wave of the watering can or hose every day. There’s nothing in that for them. No. Take your time and make it worth it. 

A good soak once a week is better than a daily sprinkle. However, it’s high summer, so be vigilant to any plants in need and they won’t mind if its the tap, the water butt, or the basin you’ve just washed your feet in.


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