The Most Important Job

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I’ve always said that in a greenhouse or garden, watering is the most important job. To a plant, water is everything. If you water it too much, too little, or inconsistently, you’ll have real problems. You’d better do it right.

In the beginning, I did most of the watering myself. Later, as the job became too big for me to handle alone, I always made sure that I had confidence in the people helping me.

People have this strange idea that just because a job appears menial, it doesn’t requite any brains. In my experience, though, intelligence can express itself in almost any task. We used to hire teachers during the summer to help thin and weed the crops. I’d explain the basic principles once, and they’d grasp them right away. After a couple of days, you’d swear they’d grown up on a farm.

Watering is much the same. Anybody can point the business end of a hose, but it takes real skill to do the job right. I have employees who can look along a row of flowers, sense the temperature and humidity, and know just how much water the plants need. They can tell at a glance when a plant needs moisture, long before it actually begins to wilt.

I was once at a bedding-plant conference and had signed up for a special luncheon. The keynote speaker was Nancy Austin, who had co-written the motivational bestseller In Search of Excellence. She told us that as greenhouse managers, we should ensure we put our time to its most productive use. “You people shouldn’t be out there watering. That’s the kind of job anybody can do. You’ve got better ways to spend your time.”

At the end of her talk, she asked if there were any questions. I just couldn’t stand it any longer. I put my hand up and said, “I’m afraid I have to make a small criticism. You may be any expert on time management, but I’m afraid you don’t know a lot about greenhouses or plants. You made it sound as if watering were a menial job, one that doesn’t take any skill. That’s just not true. Watering is the most important job in the greenhouse.” Well, the audience practically gave me a standing ovation. They knew it needed to be said.

I’m surprised at how often I have to set people straight on this issue. I remember a friend of mine who called me one afternoon with an extra ticket for a theatre matinee. I said, “Oh crum, I can’t go. I have all this watering to do.” She said , “Why don’t I get Susan to come out and do it for you?” Susan was her twelve-year-old daughter!

If your plants aren’t properly watered, they simply won’t thrive. They’ll grow unevenly, they won’t produce very good blooms or fruit, or they could very well die altogether.

In fact, some plants die before they can break the surface of the soil. People put seeds into dry earth, sprinkle on a little bit of water, and wait. The seeds germinate, dry out, and die. A few times each year, somebody will tell me, “I planted a whole patch of carrots, and not a single one came up.” In almost every case, poor watering is the reason.

For goodness’ sake, plant your seeds early in the season, while the ground is still moist, then hope for rain. If it doesn’t rain, you’re going to have to get out there and water thoroughly, every single day.

In fact, that may mean watering even after a rain. Unless you’re hit with a real soaker, the rain won’t penetrate more than an inch or so beneath the surface. If you just leave it at that, the rain actually causes more harm than good. The roots will grow where the moisture is: near the surface. Without deep roots, your plants will be much more vulnerable to drought later.

Water regularly and water thoroughly. Nothing is more essential to growing a beautiful garden. And if you drop by our greenhouse one of these days, don’t be surprised if I’m bust gardening.

-Lois Hole I’ll Never Marry A Farmer