Everyone who works or plays outdoors thinks about one thing when they get up in the morning: “What does the weather have in store for me today?”
Most of us will crave the answer for purely personal reasons. “Will it be warm enough for my cookout tonight?” “Will I need to wear a raincoat on my way to work?” “Will the wind be too strong to fly my model aircraft?”
The gardener, however, looks at how the weather is affecting the plants in his or her charge. Although the gardener can choose the healthiest seeds and plants he can find, and he can take steps like adding compost or mulch to protect and keep the soil as healthy as possible, the factor which has the greatest influence on the health of his garden may be the one over which he has the least control; the weather.
Plants need sunlight, nutrients from the soil, and water to grow and thrive. Too much or too little of any of these elements will have a negative effect on plants. Getting just the right amount is a matter of monitoring.
Some home weather stations, especially higher end units, may have sensors which measure sunshine, or more specifically “UV Intensity”. This is useful information, although it may be more important to the gardener than to his garden (“Do I need to wear sunscreen today, or do I need to wear LOTS of sunscreen?”) For sunlight, it is more important to note the time of sunrise and sunset, and whether the garden site gets full sun the whole day or if it is shaded part of the time. Of course, these are things which can be determined without a weather station.
Weather Measuring Instruments will tell the gardener about the heat and humidity around his garden. Days which have a high “heat index” because of high heat and humidity will mean that the gardener is spending his time in the garden sweating with little effect. The high humidity is preventing the seat from evaporating and cooling his skin, but the inhibited evaporation rates may actually benefit the plants.
Moisture control is vital to plant health, so one of the most important things a gardener can learn is how much rainfall reaches his or her garden. Regional rainfall amounts are reported on the TV news, of course, but seeing it rain cats and dogs in one spot while remaining bone dry just a couple of blocks away is very common. However, if you have a rainfall gauge in your own yard, you will know exactly how much is getting to your garden. Then you will never have to worry about over or under irrigating.
How can you tell how long you need to run your sprinklers? First, contact your extension agent or your garden supply store to learn the optimum rainfall amounts for your plants. Next, read the rainfall data from your weather station to see how much participation there has been for the past week (keep in mind that your plants will appreciate a long soak, once or twice a week, rather than small amounts each day). Finally, turn on your sprinklers in the early morning to make up the shortfall.
To find out how many “inches of rainfall” your sprinklers provide, place a straight sided pot or jar where the sprinklers are running. This is essentially an “analog rain gauge”. The amount of water that collects in the vessel over a period of time will tell you the sprinkler’s rainfall rate. This is an especially useful technique for keeping lawns green while minimizing wasted water.