Spring Watering in Spain

By Clodagh and Dick who have gardened through many dry Spanish Springs.

Difference to Northern European Springs,

There are four main differences. First winter is short and the Spring long in most areas in which expatriate gardeners live. Second there can be long dry periods of no rain just when plants need extra moisture. Thirdly daily temperatures in the sun can vary from the thirties at 3 pm down to not much above zero at 3 am so poor soils can dry out week after week. Fourthly the drying out can be accelerated by both cold and hot drying winds during the same week.

And all this at the time when many plants and trees have a constant need for water in order to spring into life and produce leaves, flowers, forming fruit and structural growth on a steady continuous basis rather than struggle unhealthily on a stop go basis as a result of alternative long periods of drought and floods.

The basic needs

The surface of roots searching for healthy growth essential moisture and nutrients and the soil around them need to be kept constantly damp to allow the roots to extract the nutrients in the soil – but not saturated. In recent weeks we have been bombarded by questions related to watering on our radio programmes, at talks and sent into the newspapers and magazines for which we write. Continually we are advising on situations where plants and trees are not doing well due to under and over watering resulting in weak plants/trees and subsequent insect/ fungal attacks or in the worst cases starvation.

Ten simple solutions

  • Ensure you prepare soils and composts before planting. Aim at a balance between free draining and water holding capacity. Best practice is discussed in detail in each of our books – Your garden in Spain, Growing healthy vegetables in Spain and Growing healthy fruit in Spain.Recognise that poor soils and composts often cause problems.
  • Water/irrigate in the evening so that water can get down to the lower roots without surface water loss by hot sun evaporation.
  • Keep the surface of the soil in containers, raised beds, orchard, vegetable garden and flower garden loose so that water can drain quickly into to soil and not create a water logged upper layer that can result in trunks being susceptible to fungal attacks at the soil level or just under.
  • Water away from trunks – the best place is at the drip line where the longest root tips are waiting for the next rainfall to drip down.
  • Of course if you have failed to prepare the ground for planting the roots could be trapped in the narrow planting hole surrounded by sun backed red Spanish clay and the roots will never reach the drip line. This is a common mistake when many citrus trees are planted by gardeners new to Spain in a hurry for their first crops of oranges and lemons.
  • Don’t co-plant thirsty and drought resistant plants as this is the quickest way to cause pest infestations and fungal problems on the drought resistant plants.
  • Plants growing at a natural rate – especially vegetables and annual flowering plants – will be healthier than if forced by excessive watering and feeding.
  • Trees are better off with a once or twice a week deep soaking that a daily shallow drip irrigation. Deep watering is made easier by planting one or more lengths of two inch plastic water tubing down to the level of the deepest roots when you plant new trees or large shrubs and watering through the tube/tubes.
  • We water fruit trees grown in containers – as explained in Part Two of Growing healthy fruit in Spain for apartment terraces – every three/ four days in the spring and two or three days in the summer.
  • If you only have a few pots of flowering plants or herbs water them from the bottom by placing the pot in a tray or shallow bowl of water for ten minutes or so. Recognise that if you let peat or coco fibre composts in pots dry out it can take time for them to become evenly damp.

Hope these tips help. There are many more in the books.

By the way the publishers website is being redesigned at present so the direct link is out of action. Therefore suggest you order through info@santanabooks.com if you do not live near a bookshop in Spain and in the UK or Ireland buy by mail order via 0845-2604505, 01483-211320 or 01202 665432, or by ordering from bookshops.

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe April 2008.