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Master Gardeners: Give your plants the right amount of water

Tropical plants thrive in a sunroom in this Feb. 24, 2016, file photo. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Tropical plants thrive in a sunroom in this Feb. 24, 2016, file photo. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Water. One of the basics of life. But over and under watering are two of the major reasons plants might fail. Water consumption varies with species, season of the year, ambient humidity, room temperature and soil conditions. Research your plants’ water requirements online or at the garden center.

One way to determine your plant’s water needs is a relatively small investment in a hydrometer or water meter. It is a handheld gauge that you plunge into the soil around your plant to determine the presence of moisture in the soil. It is recommended to take three different readings in the soil as pockets of soil may remain wet or dry and throw off your gauge.

Another simple test is to lift the pot. If the pot is light, chances are water is needed. You can always stick your finger in the top few inches of soil, but this is not a reliable moisture level throughout the soil.

Remember these tips when watering your plants:

— Be sure to use room temperature unsoftened water. You can use room temperature rainwater or bottled water as well. Water that has gone through the softener adds unwanted salts to your plant. Water that is not room temperature can shock the tender plants or roots. If salt crust accumulates on the soil surface, it can be rinsed through the plant by applying several watering sessions.

— Water most plants at soil level, not over leaves. Most plants do not like to have their leaves wet and can develop mildew on water spotted leaves. Most houseplants also prefer not to be left in standing water in their catch saucer or pots.

— Some plants like to get their water through their leaf structure. Bromeliads draw water down their tubular stems and African Violets draw water up from their saucer into the soil.

— Fall and winter dormancy calls for less water for plants. In the spring and summer, water needs increase, especially outdoors or in sunny rooms.

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— Keep most plants at a consistent level of moisture. Add humidity to the air to maintain even plant moisture levels with a room humidifier.

— If a plant is large, make sure to water all sides of the pot to ensure even watering. Plants in clay pots usually need more frequent watering. Also, small plants in larger pots need less frequent watering whereas large plants in small pots may need more water. Make sure pots have adequate drainage.

— Cuttings and seedlings will require extra attention. Flats or pots of cuttings or baby plants should be watered from the bottom so as to not disturb their tiny fragile root systems.

For questions, call the Linn County Extension Master Gardener Hortline at (319) 447-0647.

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