Watering tricks for hot summers and vacationing
Every summer in Costa Rica I vow to find solutions to reduce the amount of time I spend watering my plants. It’s so hot that the plants need to be watered every 2-3 days instead of once a week. This year I was especially motivated to find a solution. In past years my plant addiction made plant care a serious endeavour. I had over 150 plants were spread out over 3 patios and in front of every window in the house. Then in July we opened Plant Revolution, our plant boutique in Jaco. I used to keep count of the number of plants I had but now it’s just impossible. If I didn’t do something, I’d be spending almost all my days watering plants.
I started reading about many of the watering solutions you will commonly find on gardening sites. Water spikes, water globes, wicking strips shoved into the root system, and all the typical suggestions just didn’t fit my situation. I needed some solutions that were easy to implement with large numbers of plants, all with different plant care needs.
I wanted to share two tips that are working wonders at our business and in our home.
Watering crystals can be mixed into new soil or added to the soil of a potted plant and reduce the frequency of watering significantly. A very small amount of crystals is all that is needed. The crystals are typically made of a super absorbent polymer. When you water, the crystals swell up and absorb a large amount of water. As the soil dries out the water is slowly released to the plant as needed.
I have been experimenting with water crystals for a while now, and so far the results have been excellent. I have used it sparingly, mainly for plants that require very frequent watering, for instance heliconias and flowering plants in the hottest and sunniest areas of the patio. In some cases these plants required almost daily watering in the hottest times of the year, and now watering is reduced to 1-2 times per week. This has saved a huge amount of time each week, and the plants seem happier.
Plant Revolution now carries water crystals, and they are very affordable and an effective solution that are definitely worth trying.
Capillary mat systems involve watering your plants through the bottom of the pots, which are sitting on a wet mat in a tray with water on the bottom. I made my own system, but there are complete systems available at several online stores. Studies have shown that capillary matting systems result in bigger, more vigorous plants, and the system reduces the amount of time spent watering dramatically. I use capillary mats for most newly propagated plants, seedlings, and plants that like high humidity such as calatheas and violets.
I purchased a 1” thick coco coir mat from a hydroponics store. The mat was cut to fit into the bottom of a plastic plant tray. The mat was soaked in water and then put into the tray. Water was added so that the water level was just below the top surface of the mat. Several potted plants were watered as usual, then placed on top of the mat. As long as water was added to the bottom of the tray occasionally so that the mat remained wet, the plants watering needs were met.
Here are a few tips when setting up your capillary mat system:
It’s important that the bottom of the pot is above the water level. You don’t want the roots of the plant sitting in water. The top of the mat will be damp, but the bottom of the pot should not be submerged in water.
Terracotta pots work well because they absorb water through the porous clay. We also find plastic pots that have a lot of holes in the bottom work fine.
Use a good quality potting mix that has good aeration as well as a good water absorbing substrate. We use a peat based potting mix that contains perlite and organic fertilizer. This helps ensure that water is drawn from the mat into the potting mix.
If you find your plant is getting too much or too little water, you can adjust the distance between the water level in your tray and the bottom of the pots sitting on your mat. If you want the soil to be moist, add water to the tray until it is just below the top surface of your mat. If you want the soil to be on the dryer side, the water level can be lowered as long as the mat remains wet to the touch.
Once a month, clean out the entire tray and mat using a mild disinfectant solution, like peroxide. Replace the mat every so often as needed.
Hopefully these tips will help you spend less time watering your plants, and more time enjoying their beauty ! If you have any questions, let us know.