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Conserve moisture for healthy plants
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Gardeners anticipate each spring as a time to get their plants off to a good start, but problems with weather can put a damper on the season.
Spring is usually a wet time in Mississippi, but this year was dry across much of the state. Gardeners trying to get a good start to their flowers and vegetables may have been disappointed. Specialists with Mississippi State University's Extension Service said the season is not lost even if it got off to a poor start.
Steve Richardson, Tate County agent, said gardeners should water plants before they actually need water to keep them healthy and producing. Mulch is the key to keeping plants alive and healthy.
"Use mulch such as shredded pine bark, shredded hardwood, shredded newspaper or black plastic around shrubbery, vegetables and other plants," Richardson said.
He recommended vegetable gardeners wet sheets of newspaper and place them along both sides of the plants.
"Using newspapers keeps the weeds off the area and the water in," Richardson said. "Water will soak through the newspaper and can enter the soil along the ridge between sheets, but it slows evaporation from the soil and prevents the drying effect of the wind."
He also suggested using drip systems to water plants. Commercial growers often place a drip system underneath plastic mulch, allowing the water to go straight to the plant and limiting evaporation.
"I discourage people from wetting the plants as much as possible," Richardson said. "Put the water in the ground, not on the plant."
Chance McDavid, Harrison County agent, reiterated the warning against wetting foliage.
"Water during the day and let things dry before the sun goes down," McDavid said. "The evaporation rate is highest between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Water before 10 in the morning to allow the most water to get to the roots."
McDavid said flower and vegetable gardens and turf grass need about 1 inch of water a week. But in keeping plants irrigated, be sure not to over-water. Pull the mulch away from plants and see how wet the ground is underneath. Different types of soils drain differently, with water quickly running through sandy soil and staying longer in clay soils.
Mulch is especially useful in conserving moisture for tomatoes. McDavid said blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant, often triggered by fluctuations in soil moisture. Mulch helps keep the moisture constant around the plant.
Mulch also keeps soil from splashing up on leaves, fruit and flowers.
"This causes a lot of disease problems, especially with vegetables," McDavid said. "The fungus in the soil can splash up and infect the plant unless mulch is in place."
For more information, contact Steve Richardson, (662) 562-4274 or Chance McDavid, (228) 865-4227.