Propagating Plants from Seed and Watering Correctly

The importance of correct watering

propagating plants from seed and correct watering of plants Bigger yields from seed, and more vigour, can be gained by one generous application of water, at the right stage, than by almost any other improvement you can make to reasonable growing conditions. Obviously, poor conditions like low light or compacted soil need improving beforehand, but once the general conditions are favourable then a single watering can be more effective than any fertiliser.

Without sufficient water no life processes take place. Add some water and plants grow, but add plentiful water at the right time and they flourish. Add copious water to the crops in flower that produce seeds, such as peas and beans. Potatoes also respond best to water when they are in flower, which is when the little tubers are just beginning to swell. Give plentiful water to salads and leaf crops throughout their lives.

I cannot stress too often or too strongly that moisture is crucial to success. More plants do badly through over or under watering than almost any other causes. In times of strong growth it is almost impossible to over water plants in the open ground. Conversely, during the winter pot plants indoors are difficult to underwater. Between these two extremes is where the difficulty lies.

In the open ground, try to conserve winter rains by applying mulches. During droughts restrict your watering to periods of critical importance such as before sowing, when seedlings emerge, after transplanting and when crops are at a critical stage (see above). Water your most valued plants with one long soak rather than giving everything a little sprinkling often, as this will mostly just evaporate away. Do not wet large areas of soil around each plant as this also mostly evaporates, but try to soak water down to the roots. Above all, keep down weed competition and loosen the soil surface to form a dust mulch or cover the soil surface with an organic mulch. Making a hole or trench, or sinking a pot beside plants that need copious watering speeds up the task. A neat idea is to take clear plastic bottles with the bottom cut off, as used as mini-cloches. Invert and push one in beside each plant. A litre or two can then be poured rapidly into this funnel to soak in slowly.

A pair of watering cans with sawn-off spouts are easy to carry and pour faster than through roses or long, narrow spouts. And a butt by each greenhouse door, or in the middle of a plot, cuts carrying time down. This is almost essential if you have large numbers of pots or containers — around patios or in greenhouses, for example. Keeping the soil or potting compost in containers moist, but not waterlogged, is difficult, especially if you use a peat-substitute compost. A daily check, made by sinking your thumb into each pot, is essential. In winter, err on the side of caution, water rarely but thoroughly, and drain well. In summer, water frequently but still drain well. For large numbers of pots on benches, it is worth standing them on capillary matting fed from a simple reservoir.

Water control is really the key to a garden; indeed it is the basis of all life. Water is four-fifths of every plant. It is the medium in which chemical and biological reactions take place, the dissolver of rock dusts and carrier of products from micro-organisms to roots, and vice versa. Evaporating water is the pump that lifts nutrients from the roots to the topmost leaf, and then transports sugars built by the leaves via photosynthesis back to the roots.

Many of the fungus problems, especially mildews, are aggravated if not actually caused by bushes getting too dry at the roots or by stagnant air around overcrowded tops. Sprinkling or spraying plants with a little water is worse than leaving them alone as it increases stress and makes them more vulnerable to disease.

Wet gardens are best enjoyed from the shelter of a summerhouse or potting shed, as a lot of damage is done by moving about in them. When it is wet, plants are more succulent and young growths more easily broken, the soil is compacted underfoot, breaking fine roots and excluding air. Later, during dry periods, the footprint marks evaporate water more rapidly than loose soil while their hard surface forms clods and cracks.

The worst problem in the wet is that touching plants spreads and lets in diseases. Many diseases wait for wet periods to release spores so that they can be carried in droplets of water. Bacteria can similarly travel protected from the danger of desiccation. Research on the ways viruses enter leaves has shown that they find it difficult to enter existing wounds as the defence system is repairing damage. The way they most easily attack healthy leaves is when the leaf is wetted with contaminated water and lightly rubbed — deep wounds were found to be less susceptible as they stimulated more of the plant’s defence mechanisms. The moral is clear: walking among wet plants and particularly running their leaves through your fingers is probably doing them much harm.


Sprinklers waste too much water, wet foliage and cool the soil; a drip irrigation system is preferable. Even better are underground hoses that seep water to the roots — though these are harder to check! Where water is plentiful, trench irrigation is effective and cheap to install. When I could legally use as much water as I wanted, I periodically flooded trenches around particular beds and achieved fantastic yields. If you are permitted to use a hosepipe in your garden, arrange it so that all parts of the garden can be watered using a short length of hose, connected to one of several hidden points, as this saves dragging long lengths around the garden and decapitating plants. The permanent pipe layout can be made from ordinary hose buried in the ground or run along fences and hedges. If watering is easy it is more likely to be done.


We seem to be experiencing more drought in recent years, so water must be guarded most carefully. To the gardener, rainwater is more valuable than tap water, and is free, so the more of the former that can be stored the better. Every effort should be made to save every drop. I’ve found old dead deep freezes make neat water butts. Water butts can be connected to one another with permanent siphons if they all stand on the same level. This can greatly increase your storage capacity and also help move water to where you want it. I have one big tank that saves the house’s rainwater that is connected by siphon to a small butt in the polytunnel hundreds of feet away which thus is always full and ready for use.

Siphons automatically move water for you, and if the butts are level you will need only a small one on view by the house or in the greenhouse as it can draw on many more hidden out of sight. Any excess is next best run into soakaways rather than down the drain, so it can benefit trees and other deep-rooting plants. Increasing the amount of humus in the soil increases the water-holding capacity enormously. Green manures, compost, mulches and minimal cultivation improve the ability of the soil to store water that falls in winter until it is needed by plants the following summer.

‘Grey water’

Local laws permitting grey water from sinks, showers and baths can be diverted from the drains and run or siphoned down a hose to valued plants in times of drought. I use all my grey water for my espalier pears on a wall and for some grapes. Apart from it smelling if allowed to form stagnant patches, the only problem I’ve found is with the slower emptying, which causes more dirt to remain stuck on the bath! Water from washing machines and dishwashers may carry too many chemicals for safe use on plants.


A dust mulch used to be advocated as a water-conserving measure, but is mostly effective because of the simultaneous weed control. A proper mulch on top of the soil is much more effective at stopping water evaporating away. The mulch will itself hold about an inch of rain for every few inches depth, depending on the type of mulch. This can be a disadvantage if rain falls only a little at a time, because the mulch will absorb each shower and it will not reach the soil. Only heavy precipitation will penetrate through to the roots, which is why mulches are best put on after rainy spells not before.

Using plants as their own mulch

Well-mulched bare soil loses water at the least possible rate with no plants taking any moisture out. Grow only a few plants widely spaced out in hot dry conditions, and they will take out a lot more water to compensate, particularly on an exposed site. Thus a few weeds lose much water, and so will over-spaced crop plants. To minimise water loss from crops, it is better to have them growing closer together intermixed with companion plants. The micro-climate formed by the mixed layers of leaves traps moisture-laden air; the leaves thus keep themselves and the soil moister and cooler, then at night more dew condenses. The same occurs with deeper swards of grass and clover mixtures. These attract more dew than closely cropped grass. If the sward is allowed to grow up and tumble over, it then loses less water than when it is regularly cut, but there is less material being returned for fertility.

Orchard management in the days before herbicides was to keep grass cut regularly until just after mid-summer, then allow it to grow up. This would take up free nutrients, particularly nitrogen, causing the fruit to ripen better, and the long grasses falling over would use less moisture, leaving more to swell the crop. The grass would also cushion and hide windfalls. In the fruit cage, mulches are almost essential as soft fruits need plentiful moisture when they are swelling during the dry days of mid-summer.


Waterlogging kills by driving out air, so is more of a problem on heavy soils because the finer particles hold much more water than the coarse grains of sand or silt. Obviously, drainage is needed in the very worst cases. However, more often reducing compaction, encouraging earthworms, adding organic material or using raised beds will utilise that water rather than allowing it all to drain away. If drainage is needed, then ditches may work, or a herringbone pattern of drainage pipes leading to a soakaway may need to be laid.

03. January 2011 by admin
Categories: Garden Care, Propagation | Tags: , | Comments Off on Propagating Plants from Seed and Watering Correctly


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