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Smart Watering
Lower your water bills by installing a timer to better manage your irrigation.

The biggest favor you can do for your plants during hot summer weather is to give them the moisture they need. While you don't want to leave plants thirsty, you also don't want your water bill to rival your mortgage payment. Here are a few answers to the questions people often ask about watering.

How can I tell if my plants need water?
Newly planted ones generally need more than those that are established. Do they look stressed? Are they drooping or losing leaves? Feel the soil around them. Don't water unless the top 2 inches has dried out. How often you'll need to irrigate depends on many factors, including weather, soil, and plant requirements. When it's time to water, do so thoroughly. It's important to remember that infrequent, deep watering is better than frequent, shallow watering because it promotes deeper root growth.

When is the best time to water?
Start the day off right. If plants need water, early morning is the perfect time to do it. This will carry them through the heat of the day. Late afternoon is not as good because of increased water loss through evaporation. Also, if leaves do not have time to dry, the cooler evening air can encourage fungal growth.

What are soaker hoses?
They slowly emit a steady stream of water to the bases of plants and are easy to move throughout the garden. Wind soaker hoses around trees and shrubs, along rows of vegetables, or through flowerbeds. The water slowly sweats from the hoses' perforations and saturates the soil around the plants. They are easy to install and available at nurseries and home-improvement stores. If you prefer, you can hide the hoses with mulch.

What is drip irrigation?
The most efficient option, drip irrigation delivers water drop by drop right to each plant. It slows evaporation, reduces water loss due to runoff, and can alleviate foliage fungus. In this method, plants get personal attention from drip emitters, which deliver water even more slowly than soaker hoses, allowing the soil to absorb each drop. That way, roots can achieve maximum hydration without being overwatered.

Should I buy a timer?
If you have ever accidentally left the water running, then these gadgets could save you money and keep you from wasting water. Install them on your faucets to make sure they are turned on and off at specific times. Simply adjust them according to the weather; there's no need to irrigate right after a rain.

This article is from the August 2005 issue of Southern Living.