The Hippo


May 27, 2020








Watering and weeding
Garden chores made easy

By Ryan Lessard

When it comes to watering and weeding your garden, Margaret Hagen, a field specialist in food and agriculture at the UNH Cooperative Extension, suggests working smart, not hard.

Hagen said whether you're watering your lawn, vegetable garden or flower garden, it's important to measure how long it takes for the plants to get a good drink.
“The easiest way to know that you're doing that is to keep a couple of tuna cans outside somewhere so you can measure how much rain we get and just add what we haven't gotten with your sprinkler system,” Hagen said.
Unless your soil is very sandy, she said, you want about an inch of water each week. And to get a better sense of how long that takes, she recommends placing the tuna can under your sprinkler pattern and taking note of the time it takes for the can to fill up. That knowledge will come in handy if you want to set your sprinkler system to a timer.
“You want to water early in the day, if you can, because the longer moisture sits on the leaves, the more likely you are to get a disease problem,” Hagen said.
For aerial sprinkler systems, she said, it's usually best to water at about 7 a.m., while the leaves are still wet with dew, and to avoid watering when it’s hottest out.
“About 50 percent of the water that you apply on a hot sunny day, at 12 noon, is going to evaporate before it ever has a chance to penetrate the soil,” Hagen said.
Another way to water vegetables or flowers is to lay or bury a drip hose that weeps water from its multitude of tiny pores.
“You just snake them through your vegetable garden and then connect them to a hose that runs from your spigot,” Hagen said. “When you want to water, you just turn it on for about the time it takes you to get the soil around the plants fairly deeply wet.”
Hagen said you can test that by sticking a trowel into various sections of the dirt and rocking it to see how well the water has penetrated. Once you figure out the timing, you can hook that spigot up to a timer and set it to water on a regular basis. A soaker hose also doesn’t result in as much evaporation, and since it isn't applying moisture to leaves, there's less risk of disease.
Finally, the best way to retain the water you give your plants is by laying about two inches of mulch over the soil bed. It's also a good way to keep out weeds.
Weeds can be ugly, but they can also be attractive. Hagen warns against letting the pretty ones fool you. They still spread invasively and compete with your other plants for water and nutrients. Hagen said eliminating bare ground where weed seeds can take root is one of the most essential things you can do to keep out weeds and make your job easier.
Don't use herbicides in vegetable gardens, as you don't want those chemicals ending up on your plate. But on other garden beds, Hagen recommends using a pre-emergent weed killer like Preen that you put down once.
“What happens is, once the weed seeds germinate and come up through the soil, they hit the film of herbicide and it kills them,” Hagen said.
The best defense against weeds for a lawn is to have a healthy and dense lawn, according to Hagen. Holes in your grass are like open wounds where infection creeps in.
She said if you pick a day in May to go through your garden and pull up your weeds by hand, you won't have to do it again until August or September. The tools you'll need include a scratcher to loosen the soil and a long-bladed tool to help you get at the taproots.
“Weed on a day when we've just had a 2-inch rainfall because the soil is going to be the loosest then and you'll be able to get pretty much all the root systems,” Hagen said.
And getting the roots out is key to preventing the return of perennial weeds like dandelions, violets and lawn ivy.
If you're starting out with a serious weed problem, Hagen said you should be able to clear out your garden in a season by weeding faithfully every two to three weeks. Then, future seasons should be a cakewalk.
“If you work really hard one summer and then you mulch the bed in the fall and you make sure that the mulch layer stays on it, you should be able to get away with six hours, during a growing season, weeding,” Hagen said.
The biggest mistake people can make, according to Hagen, is to let weeds go to seed. She said crabgrass, for example, produces 150,000 seeds from a single plant. Think of that next time you see a child blowing dandelion seeds. 
As seen in the April 16, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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