Gardening & Living in Grand Style
Spring is coming, ready or not…
by Michael Johnson
Mar 20, 2014 | 574 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The apricots started blooming earlier than usual this year and our other plants are following in their wake. This brings two issues to mind: First, that plants are putting out blossoms and leaves earlier and so there is an earlier need for more soil moisture than usual; and second, that due to the warming weather and businesses starting to sell plants, there will be an interest in putting plants in the ground.

It’s pretty obvious that once plants start putting out blossoms and leaves there is a need for irrigation. However, with the increased interest in how much water we have available and questions about the proper use of that water, we should use what water we have wisely.

I realize I write about this time and again. That is because for the last couple of decades I have seen the ups and downs of people trying to come to grips with how best to use water and there is no doubt it’s proven to be one of the more difficult concepts for people to get a handle on. As part of the conservation issue questions arise as to whether we should have landscapes, or trees, or should water just be used for human and animal needs? Those points ultimately will have to be decided by the community at large, depending on how weather conditions continue into the future. For now, from what I have seen both professionally and personally, there isn’t a reason we shouldn’t grow a wide variety of plants here. And we can continue do so as long as the water is used reasonably.

That means grow what you can and apply the water correctly to achieve a healthy plant. Many of us fall into two categories concerning watering. There are those who over-apply water, which can result in what appears to be a lush landscape but is a waste of water. And there are those who think if they limit the water to their plants they will somehow, magically, find a way to survive. More often than not, the second approach results in a plant that won’t be healthy long-term, won’t produce as it should and often will die earlier than needed.

The water needs of a plant depend on the specific plant. There is no one-size-fits-all. The most important aspect of plant physiology is to understand how each specific plant puts down its roots and what you can do to encourage appropriate root growth. That last point is very simple – just water the plant in a way to encourage that appropriate root growth. For trees the need is to spread the water out wide, while for plants such as grass it’s deep but infrequent watering that encourages deep root growth. A confusing aspect of plant care that I see is when people grow vegetables using drip lines and seem to be trying to achieve a lot of production with limited water. You still need to water wide and deep according to plant size.

It‘s important to look at your plants, consider their size and think about how much root system that plant has or will have and where might that root system be. Most plants other than trees don’t put out wide-ranging roots. Still, a single dripper on a tomato plant that is 3 to 5 feet high or more, unless left on for a long time, isn’t going to result in the best growth or production. The most important point of watering is that by spreading the water out wider and watering deeper, the plant’s root system grows, is able to capture water in more places and so needs watering less often. So do yourself a favor this year, consider each plant in terms of how big is it now and how big it might get this season. Think about where the roots are growing and try to water for those roots.

Water conservation can be accomplished quite well by watering the plants appropriately, which isn’t daily, with the added benefit that we have healthy plants in Grand County instead of so many stressed and ultimately damaged plants.

With the warming weather, the urge is to plant and plant. Just because air temperatures are warm and plants are being sold doesn’t mean it’s time to plant warm-season vegetables or perennials. The average last frost date for our area is approximately April 15, which is a good ways away. Yes, it’s possible we might only see minimal freezing temperatures, but it’s not that likely. However, buying warm-season plants, having them killed by frost and then having to buy them again is good for the local economy, so good for you if this is your philosophy!

Thought for the day: “Whoever loves and understands a garden will find contentment within.” —Chinese Proverb

Have an idea you’d like Mike to consider writing about? Want more information about these topics? Call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 435-259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at mike.johnson@usu.edu.

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