Murphy John's, Inc. Sudlersville, MD


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All About the Water

Water is the single most important factor in the world of plants. Too much water and the plant will die. Not enough water and the plant will die. Of course, in a perfect world all plants will always have the perfect amount of water. Since that will never happen, here are some ideas for keeping your plants happy.

The first consideration should be what is in your water. Different regions vary greatly in water quantity and quality. High levels of iron for instance can have adverse effects on plant quality, while alkalinity can affect the performance of fertilizers and availability of micronutrients. Test your water!!! When we began our greenhouse business we drilled a well and tested the water before we bought the land! That is how important water quality is to any plant business. Water testing is available through independent laboratories and some suppliers. Fertilizer companies may also offer this service.

When you receive your water analysis it should be accompanied by recommendations specific to your water. If your alkalinity is high acid injection may be necessary to correct the problem. It’s important to retest your water at least once a year to record any changes. Twice a year is even better, preferably at the start of the spring season and the beginning of the fall season.

Remember the longer the crop is on your yard, the more important the watering becomes. Plants that are around for a week or less generally will not require special attention. Other items that will be around longer will need more consideration. A 10” hanging basket supertunia for instance can be leached of all nutrients in about ten days if they are not fertilized. Conversely, nursery stock that is on the yard for three months may not need fertilizing at all.

Water application methods can vary greatly. Larger facilities typically use overhead sprinklers. While this is the most efficient method to keep down labor, it may not be the most efficient in terms of water usage. For large nursery stock a soaker hose can be very effective. For areas with small amounts of many different plants, hand watering is usually the best.

Not everyone can water! Watering is a skill that needs to be learned the same way pruning is a skill. You wouldn’t send a brand new employee out with a pair of pruners without making sure they know how to prune, so why give a new employee a hose and assume they know how to water? Show them how to judge the amount of water needed by using visual clues. Plant appearance can be the most obvious indicator. A plant that is consistently kept too wet will have brown leaves and damaged edges on the leaves (not to mention a compromised root system) while a plant that is under watered will drop yellow leaves. Of course, yellow leaves are beautiful on a Margarita Sweet Potato Vine but that’s about the only time you want to see them!

Whenever possible, watering should be done in the morning. This will give the plants ample time to dry out during the day. Plants watered late in the day are more susceptible to foliar diseases. Wet leaves offer an invitation for many disease spores to germinate. If late watering is unavoidable, turn on fans or heaters if possible to dry the foliage out before nightfall.

Keeping plants healthy by following proper watering procedures can help reduce inventory losses and increase sales. Healthy, happy plants make the world a better place.

Written by Maureen F. Murphy
Head Grower Murphy John’s Inc.
For Country Folks Grower