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The Art of Watering

It was my intention to have a look at the perplexing subject of watering plants in Cyprus. I soon discovered that this is impractical in a short article due to the great variety of different plant types, pots, composts and growing situations involved.

When dealing with plants in the ground it is possible to get away with much more, as a result of inappropriate watering, than with plants in containers. This will be the first in a series of articles concerning how best to ensure the health of container plants when they are totally dependent on us for their life giving water.

Watering is more of an art than a science, there is obviously science involved, but correctly applying it is where the art lies.

Water enters the plant through the root hairs by Osmosis – (the passage of water through a Semi-Permeable Membrane from a weaker to a stronger solution in an attempt to equalise the salinity on either side). In an ideal world the salinity within the plant will always be greater than in the surrounding soil/compost so we should have one-way traffic of H2O into the plant enabling it to remain Turgid (stiff) and thus hold the aerial parts aloft.

TURGOR PRESSURE – (This is what stops your plants from wilting)
This inward transmission of water produces Osmotic Pressure (a pump if you like) forcing water from cell to cell up the plant. Turgor Pressure is further assisted by Transpiration – (a system whereby moisture vapour is vented through little holes in the leaves called Stomata). This produces a negative pressure, like a suction pump pulling water and minerals up the plant.

All these processes must be running efficiently for the plant to carry out another essential operation – Photosynthesis (the process by which green plants use sunlight to synthesize nutrients from carbon dioxide and water.

Knowing that water is essential for any of these mechanisms to function correctly is our starting point.

1 Type and Age of Plant
Is the plant a Xerophyte (survives on little or no supplementary water other than rainfall) or is it a water “guzzler” or something in between? Is it newly planted and in rapid and active growth or an established plant gently getting bigger?

2 Type and Size of Pot
Plants in small pots obviously need more frequent watering than those in large containers. Unglazed pots will lose water much faster than their glazed or plastic counterparts. Are your pots equipped with trays? If not please get some and use them for the summer months!

3 Type of Compost
Pure peat composts will dry and shrink away from the pot more quickly than soil based versions. Then there are innumerable possible mixes of peat/soil resulting in differing water retention rates.

4 Feeding Regime
Consider what is in the compost purchased from a garden centre, DIY store or supermarket – the levels of nutrients vary wildly and some can kill young plants stone dead before you even get started. Too much fertiliser in a pot on a hot day will generate a “saltier” solution outside the plant roots and you will have Plasmolosis – (reverse osmosis). Then your plant will wilt and sicken. Your response will naturally be to water it, making the situation worse as the plant is now suffocating as well. Low initial fertility and liquid feeding is likely a better option.

5 Aspect
Is your plant in full sun, semi-shade or full shade?
So many things to consider. Sorry about the technical nature of this piece but I felt I needed to outline the mechanics a little to explain why “............. watering, that fixes everything doesn’t it?” - NO, IT DOES NOT!

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