Too much and not enough, for some of us that is the story of our lives…and dang it all when we get it just right? Your plants may be wondering the same thing; shall we see?
1) How to water, that is the question? Distinguishing between over-watered and under-watered can be difficult as in symptoms of either tend to be similar. Optimal plant growth comes from the porridge being “just right,” as in not too much water, not too little water but just the right amount. In both cases plants will appear droopy, wilty even. There is also a possibility of leaf discoloration – if either the leaves are turning yellow and dropping and/or have already turned brown starting at the tips/edges. Please do not confuse yellowing leaves with leaves that are turning a lighter shade of green; this in most cases signifies an iron deficiency, a topic we’ll cover at a later date. All of the afore mentioned symptoms mean the plant is stressed and the only way to tell if it is too much water or not enough is to in fact put your finger in the dirt. If the soil surrounding the root ball is moist then the poor thing is receiving too much water, if it is bone dry…then obviously not enough. The soil test only holds true if the soil was amended upon planting and/or the hole for the plant was dug correctly.
2) The ‘Soup Bowl’ Effect. A landscape planted correctly will have soil amendments to help break up the terrible clay or multitudes of sand here. Let us say for example you are planting in solid clay, the backfill from which the foundation of your house was dug, tierra el diablo. You’d be hard-strapped to find a plant that thrives in this stuff I promise and for many reasons. First off, it holds very little nutrients that plants require to thrive and secondly it is so thick and compact that it is nearly impossible for the fragile roots of a young plant to penetrate. When landscaping in this kind of earth it is essential that the soil is amended either via topsoil, compost, small amounts of sand…you know the good stuff. It is also essential to install the plant material in this type of earth roughly 2” above grade and in a hole twice the width of the root ball. If the above three things are not done, you my friends will have the ‘Soup Bowl’ Effect. We all know that here in South Carolina it never showers lightly, it’s never a slight sprinkle; it is either a monsoon, a downpour or nada. The surface rainwater has difficulty penetrating solid clay and will always follow the path of least resistance. If you’ve planted in it, you loosened the soil in the hole of which your newly installed shrub/perennial/tree is housed. Where do you think that water is going to go? The hole you just dug for your plant fills up with water that can’t drain anywhere else (because it is hard clay) thus causing your plant to stress and eventually succumb to root rot. This is the only case in which testing the soil of a stressed plant at the top of the root ball will prove faulty. The water issue is underground, in the hole dug for the shrub and exists because improper site preparations. This issue will also hold true if plants were installed incorrectly and the drip system is on longer than it should be.
Home improvements, landscaping included, take money and energy. And unless you have a Money Tree and a Minion hiding in your backyard, I’m willing to bet you don’t want to have to do things twice and or have to replace dead shrubbery. Horror stories anyone?