The Almost-Complete Idiot’s Guide to Texas Gardening: Lesson 3

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Year Round Gardening: What to water when

Do you want to know how to keep your plants alive? Do you want to know the NUMBER ONE SECRET to healthy soil? Do you want to HEAR MY BIG ANNOUNCEMENT tease (AND HUGE FREEBIE OPPORTUNITY FOR MY SUBSCRIBERS)???!!!  Keep reading!

I said it for years: “I can kill anything green”, or “I could kill a house plant.”  Sound familiar?  For almost a decade I tried growing my own veggies, babying my peppers and squash and tenderly loving my tomatoes, only to inevitably end up with dead plants. Every. Single. Time.  Well guess what guys?!?  I have the secret to the #1 thing that we do to kill our plants, and it will surprise you! (Here is Lesson 1 and Lesson 2 in case you missed my secrets from those!)

Being in drought-ridden, 112 degree Texas, we tend to ere on the side of caution and water with reckless abandon.  If we don’t water our plants every single day we get guilty plant-parent syndrome.  How could we ignore our wonderful little food babies?  Well, just like our helicopter-parent society is drowning the roots of independence of our children, our helicopter-watering is drowning the literal roots of our green babies!  To learn the tricks to appropriate watering, and to learn the FREE SECRET INGREDIENT that SAVED MY GARDEN, keep reading!

To know exactly how much to water your plants, the answer lies in the roots.

  • The deeper the roots, the more volume but less frequently you water your plants (meaning lots of water 1 or 2 times per week, depending on the weather).
  • The shallower the roots, the less volume but more frequently you water your plants (meaning not very much water but almost every day, (sometimes twice a day depending on the weather).

Now you will hear some gardeners say “as above, so below”, meaning the taller the plant, the deeper the root and therefore the more volume of water less often (and the shorter the plant, the shorter the root and therefore less volume of water but more frequently).  Here is a great example that I just sacrificed some lettuce plants in my garden to show you:

lettuce stem and root

Pretty equal above and below

But remember what I said last time about nature?  She doesn’t really like rules and being shoved into boxes, and this saying is no exception.  Let’s explore some other sacrificed garden plant roots to see what I mean.

Pea shoots and roots:

pea stem vs root

Pea stem: huuuuuugggggeeeeee                                        Pea roots: tiny

Broccoli shoots and roots:

brocoli stem and root

 

The take home point: in your gardening endeavors, pull up some plants and get to know those roots!

  • Seedlings will need to be watered every day, sometimes multiple times a day.  Their roots are so shallow that when the soil surface dries out, so do their roots.  And then they die.
  • For shallow-rooted adult plants, like lettuce and peas, you will need to water for a short amount of time, but just about every day.
  • For deeper rooted plants, like tomatoes, you need to water until the entire soil depth is saturated, but only once a week or so (maybe more often in hot weather).

If you tend to be more demanding of quantitative proof, get a nifty soil moisture meter and test for sure.  However, keep in mind you want the probe to be at the depth of the actual plant roots.  A shallow probe won’t tell you how much to water your deep-rooted tomatoes, and a deep probe won’t really be helpful in telling you if your shallow pea roots are at risk of getting dry.

So there you go! Now you can be a master waterer!

READY FOR THE BIG GARDENING SAVING SECRET?????!!!!!  (This isn’t the big announcement.  KEEP READING for the big announcement!!!!)

How do you save your garden for free? MULCH.  And LOTS of it.  Like SEVERAL INCHES of mulch on top of the soil in your garden.  I can’t say this enough.  I do experiments for my school garden teacher-trainings to drive the point on the importance of putting mulch on top of your soil.  No matter how much you water, if you don’t have mulch your soil will die.  I think that is one rule Nature DOES follow.  For several seasons when I first started successfully gardening, my crops would grow but they would be small, and my soil would be destroyed by the next season.  I needed mulch.  Let me show you why with an experiment I do with my biology students.

mulch experiment

Mulch = more water retention!

Mulch:

  • Prevents water from evaporating!
  • Prevents water from leaching!
  • Prevents heat from killing soil microbes and animals!
  • Prevents leaching of nutrients from the soil!
  • Protects your plant roots and soil microbes from overheating!
  • Eventually breaks down and turns into more FREE soil!

The best part about mulch: IT’S FREE!  Many, many cities have free mulch.  If your city doesn’t, or if your city mulch is mixed with diseased plants and chemical-drenched telephone poles, you can also call around to local tree services and see if they will deliver their tree pick-ups to your house.  Often times they will do this for free because your house is closer than the city dump.  With a little effort, you can find some free or cheap mulch.  If you add just one thing to your garden every season (SUBSCRIBE HERE for a FREE year-round garden-planting check list), make sure it’s mulch and your plants will grow and grow.  Every school with a garden I have built can vouch that before they heeded my advice to mulch, their gardens were pitiful wastelands (just like mine before I learned this secret), and after they mulched their gardens became Eden-like bountiful producers demanding the envy of every passerby! If you do one thing in your pots and your gardens: MULCH!  Check out Lesson 4 for all of my fertilizer secrets and for a free printout fertilizer schedule!

Related posts:

Click here for Urban Farm’s podcast interview of me and my school garden program.

Click here for Urban Farm’s follow-up interview of me as the Featured Farmer on their blog.

ARE YOU READY FOR THE BIG ANNOUNCEMENT TEASE? OH MY GOSH I AM SO EXCITED TO TELL YOU THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, I have been working on something INCREDIBLE to answer all of the amazing questions you have been asking me about gardening.  I THOUGHT I would be ready to tell you everything right now, but things keep getting more and more AWESOME so I am not quite ready to tell you everything yet.  BUT, here is what I CAN tell you:

I have partnered with the City of Cleburne AND Hill College to offer a COMPREHENSIVE HANDS ON ORGANIC GARDENING MODULE that will answer ALL OF YOUR GARDENING QUESTIONS!!!!!

It will start in May 2016, and there will be a Friday morning class OR a Saturday afternoon class for you to conveniently choose from.  I will teach you everything I know about:

  • How to combat “there is TOO MUCH TO KNOW” paralysis
  • Design an amazing organic permaculture garden bed no matter how big of a gardening space you have
  • Save seeds
  • Start plants from seeds, and the perfect soil mix for seed starting, containers, and gardens
  • Container garden, and how to keep ants out of those containers
  • Fertilize organically, and a fertilization schedule for every season
  • Organic pest control
  • Fruit growing in Texas
  • How to prune tomatoes to maximize your yield
  • Worm bin composting, regular composting, and compost tea
  • How to preserve your garden harvest so that you get the most bang for your buck
  • How to extend your growing season
  • And how to do all this on a small budget!!!

After this module you will know EVERYTHING I KNOW that took me a DECADE to learn and HUNDREDS of dollars in classes and ZILLIONS OF FAILURES in order to grow my own veggies YEAR ROUND!!!!!

IMG_4417IMG_4427IMG_4409

The details are ALMOST pinned down and I will be sharing them with my SUBSCRIBERS first so I can tell them about their HUGE FREEBIES.  Make sure and SUBSCRIBE HERE so you get first dibs on registration AND don’t miss out on the amazing freebies.  THIS IS GOING TO BE SO AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You will start growing YOUR year-round garden AS SOON AS THE FIRST CLASS!!!!!  EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IMG_1545

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