January 28, 2017

1 - Providing standardized irrigation instructions on plant labels can be challenging.

Yard and Garden January 28, 2017


Are there standardized plant labels giving information regarding irrigation for transplants? I have seen labels on the same plant from different nurseries with different irrigation recommendations.

- Lynda G.


Standardizing recommendations for plant irrigation can be difficult. Different people have different ideas about how to irrigate depending on whether they are used to growing plants needing more irrigation to give a more lush appearance or whether they are gardeners who prefer native plants with a more native appearance. However, the real challenge is provided by the plants themselves and the environment.

The same plants in different soils may need different irrigation regimes for at least a part of their establishment time. Plants transplanted into sandy soils will need less water, but more frequent irrigation than the same plants planted into clay soils that hold more water and require more water less often.

The same species of transplants will require different irrigation depending on the size of the plant. Smaller plants will usually establish their root systems more rapidly than larger plants of the same species. That means they will be established (adapted to their site) more quickly. The larger plants may take longer to become established and will need more irrigation to become established, even if they are native plants that can live without irrigation once they are established.

Use of mulch, they type of mulch, the quantity of mulch, or the absence of mulch alters the persistence of water in soil and can actually affect root growth and plant establishment. Plant labels rarely take into account such variations in the gardening practices.

Giving irrigation recommendations in gallons of water to apply to each plant can be misleading because a small plant needs less water than a large plant. As the plant grows, more water is required.

Plant irrigation needs change seasonally and as natural precipitation provides moisture. Newly transplanted plants may need irrigation even if there is some precipitation unless it is a really deep soaking rain, while established plants may need no supplemental irrigation during rainy periods.

Different types of plants, differing landscape types, and differing soil types also create complications. Gardening is very much an art and gardeners need to learn as much by experience and watching their plants as by reading labels. The labels are helpful, but cannot provide all the information that is needed.

Your local NMSU County Cooperative Extension Service agent, local Master Gardeners, garden clubs, and local nursery professionals are good sources of information to help fill in the details to adjust to specific circumstances that labels on plants cannot provide. Also, good gardeners learn to let their plants tell them what their plants need.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: desertblooms@nmsu.edu, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook page.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!