Watering Plants by Eben Eugene Rexford

Some persons water their plants every day, without regard to the season, and give about the same quantity one day that they do another. The natural result is that in winter their plants are weak and spindling, with yellow leaves, and few, if any, flowers. The owner will tell you that she "don't see what ails her plants." She is sure she gives them all the water they need, and she "never forgets to do this." If she were to forget to do this occasionally it would be a great deal better for the plants. In summer the evaporation of moisture from the soil is rapid, because of warmth and wind, but in winter this goes on slowly, and the amount of water given should be regulated by the ability of the soil to dispose of it. Where too much is given, as has been said in the chapter on planting, the soil is reduced to a condition of muddiness, unless good drainage has been provided, and those who give too much water generally neglect this item.

Another woman will give water in little driblets, "whenever she happens to think of it." The result is that her plants are chronic sufferers from the lack of moisture at the roots. The wonder is that they contrive to exist. Turn them out of their pots and you will generally find that the upper portion of the soil is moist, and in this what few roots there are have spread themselves, while below it, the soil is almost as dry as dust, and no root could live there. Plants grown under these conditions are almost always dwarf and sickly specimens, with but few leaves and most of these yellow ones. You will find that plants grown under either condition are much more subject to attacks of insects than healthy plants are.

There is only one rule to be governed in watering plants that I have a knowledge of and that is this: Never apply water to any plant until the surface of the soil looks dry. When you do give water, give enough of it to thoroughly saturate the soil. If some runs through at the bottom of the pot, you can be sure that the whole ball of earth is moist.

I follow this rule with good results. Of course, like all other rules, it has exceptions. For instance, a calla, being a sort of aquatic plant, requires very much more water than a geranium. A cactus, being a native of hot, dry climates, requires but very little. The florist who is interested in his plants will study their habits, in order to understand the requirements of each, and will soon be able to treat them intelligently. He will soon be able to tell at a glance when a plant requires more water. He will know what kinds to give a good deal to, and what kinds to water sparingly. Until he has acquired this ability it is well for him to adhere to the rule given above, for if he follows it, he cannot go very far wrong in either direction. Let the water used be of about the same temperature as that of the room in which the plants are. I am often asked which is best, hard or soft water. I have tried both and see little difference.

Many persons fail to attain success with plants in baskets and window boxes. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the failure is due to lack of water. A basket is exposed to dry air on all sides, and is suspended near the ceiling, as a general thing, where the air is much warmer than below; consequently the evaporation takes place more rapidly than from the pot on the window sill. Because it is somewhat difficult to get at, water is not given as often as required, and then generally in smaller quantities than is needed. The first thing you know, your plants are turning yellow, and dropping their leaves, and soon they are in such a condition that you throw them away in disgust, and conclude that you haven't "the knack" of growing good basket plants. All the trouble comes from an insufficient water supply.

There are two methods by which you may make it easier to attend to the needs of the plants. One is, to have the baskets suspended by long cords running over pulleys, by which you can lower them into a tub of water, where they can be left until they are thoroughly soaked through. The other is this: Take a tin can and punch a hole through the bottom of it. Let this hole be large enough to allow the water to escape, drop by drop. Set this on top of your basket and arrange the foliage to cover it.

If the hole is not so large as it ought to be, the soil will not be kept moist all through. In this case, make it larger. A little observation will enable you to regulate matters in such a manner as to secure just the flow of water needed. By the "tin-can method" of watering basket plants, the trouble of watering in the ordinary way will be done away with, and the results will be extremely satisfactory.

Plants can be grown nearly as well in the window box as in the open ground if enough water is given to keep the soil moist, all through, at all times. The "little-and-often" plan, spoken of in this chapter, will lead to dismal failure in the care of window boxes. Apply at least a pailful of water every day, in warm weather. If this is done, there need be no failure. If those who have failed heretofore will bear this in mind, and follow the advice given, they may have window boxes that will make their windows beautiful during the entire summer, with very little trouble.