CROP UPDATE: Plants in need of water

Posted: Aug. 7, 2014 9:53 am Updated: Sep. 4, 2014 10:15 am

On Wednesday, my rain gauge has recorded .17 of an inch of rain.

I'm certainly hoping for much more as soils are starting to get rather dry again and plants are going to require water to continue to grow, set flowers and fill.

This year has been unusual in that Mother Nature has provided the needed moisture just in the nick of time. For example, plants were beginning to show the effects of low soil moisture supplies in early June (corn rolling, plants wilting) when we were blessed with a great soaking rain. And the rest of June supplied rainfall to help recharge dry soils.

Then the last Friday and Saturday in July, we were beginning to see similar signs of very low soil moisture supplies when we received a good soaking rain that alleviated dry soil conditions. Of course, the cool temperatures during July helped the plants by reducing evapotranspiration water losses.

But now soils are very dry, and a good rain would be more than welcome to plants. Regardless if they are crop or ornamental, they could all benefit. Of course, the rains have been very spotty, a few have received adequate amounts, but many haven't.

There are proper ways to apply water, and plants will benefit the greatest when watering is done correctly. For all plants, placing water throughout their rooting zone is preferred. This means allowing water to percolate deep into the soil. And that can only be done when water is slowly applied.

When we get a "toad strangler" rain most of the water runs off, little soaks into the soil. The same is true when you are standing by a plant with a hose: Most runs off and little is accomplished. So rather than stand next to your plant with a hose, place the hose on the ground near the plant, and let it slowly trickle out so that it can soak in. For smaller plants, drill a 3/16-inch hole on the bottom of a five-gallon bucket and place the bucket near the plant. Fill the bucket with water and let it slowly trickle out, allowing the water to move deep into the soil.

If you have garden plants, either irrigate via a sprinkler or use a soaker hose. Leave the water on until it penetrates six inches or more into the soil. Dig up a spot to check. And water infrequently (once or twice a week) but deeply. Place a tuna can under the sprinkler and when it's full, turn off or move the sprinkler to another location.

It's best to sprinkle irrigate during the morning, after the dew has dried. But water early enough so that the foliage is dry before dusk. Remember most plant leaf diseases require moisture to thrive, so the idea is to reduce the amount of time that the leaves are wet.

Regular watering can help prevent problems that seem to occur when we have alternating dry and wet spells. For instance, blossom end rot on tomato and pepper is caused by a lack of calcium in the fruit. But in almost all instances, it isn't the soil that is short of calcium, it's the lack of water uptake by the plant. Calcium, like most all nutrients, moves in the soil water to the plants roots. So if the plant isn't taking up much water, it isn't taking up calcium either.

Cracking on tomatoes, cantaloupe and other crops is also caused by irregular water uptake. If the tomato plant has been growing in dry soils and then we get a good rain, the plant responds by rapid uptake of moisture, and the ripening fruit can't handle that amount of water, so it cracks as it rapidly expands. Mulching helps reduce water losses as well as reduces weed competition and also keeps the soil cooler. All good things during the heat and dry of summer.