This may sound like a simple thing, however moisture levels in soils are crucial to plant and soil health. Water can be your best friend and your worst enemy. Picture how your land looks after it rains. Do you see some areas that drain well? Are there areas where puddles seem to always form and drain slowly? Do you notice there are some areas that the water seems to roll off and not soak in?
More often than not, people tend to kill their plants with love. In other words, they over-water. Get a moisture meter, put it in the soil and water accordingly. Also, know the moisture needs of your plants. Some plants love water and others don’t. Moisture also helps materials break down further in the soil, helps microbes, worms and insects survive during hot summer months and also helps fight erosion.
Besides irrigating and rain, soil structure has a huge impact on how water flows. You need to know what kind of soil you have to be able to predict how soil will react to water. Knowing this, you can plan accordingly. For instance, roses and tomatoes do not like to sit in water. They need water, but they cannot stand to sit in it. Hydrangea, on the other hand, will thrive in very moist conditions, as will several other types of plants.
Soils that tend to hold lots of moisture to the point of forming puddles tend to have more clay in them. Heavy clay and sandy soils are fairly easy to identify. Clay particles tend to stick so tightly together there is very little airspace between these types of soil particles. When there are no spaces, the water has no place to travel, causing it to pool and puddle. Puddles are bad because the soil will become saturated with water and go anaerobic. An anaerobic soil tends to have a much higher incidence of disease due to the bacteria it supports. Root penetration is also much more difficult with dense soils. If you notice lots of puddles on your land and you know you have clay soil, you need to put together a plan to amend the soil with organic matter to break it up. Both organic matter and addition of lots of microbes will help to fix this problem.
Sandy soil lack organic matter and have less structure. Therefore, as water tends to drain very quickly, they tend to dry out faster than loamy or clay soils. A moisture meter will help you determine the best time to water and how much water is needed.
Loamy soils tend to hold in a good amount of moisture, but drain well, keeping the soil hydrated and aerobic. Loamy soil is usually somewhat higher in organic matter than clay or sandy soils and will support a greater diversity of plants. Loamy soils usually have good soil structure with high levels of polysaccharides that hold soil particles together. Polysaccharides are long carbohydrate chains, like a sticky sugar. These chains will connect soil particles together, leaving air spaces between them. These air spaces will increase the water-holding capacity of the soil during rain events. Water molecules will pool in the voids and drain down slowly. When the water drains, air is brought back in, keeping the soil from going completely anaerobic.
A soil analysis will tell you which nutrients are in your soil. This information can, over time, be used to tell you about some nutrients that may be locked up as well as some nutrients that may be in abundance. Different soils types will exhibit higher or lower levels for certain nutrients. You can watch trends in the soil over time by running annual samples. For water requirements, I suggest getting a moisture meter. This low-cost device will help you plan when to water as well as how much water you need. Knowing the types of soil you have will help you to plan which plants to plant and what amendments to use to improve soil structure. When there is good soil structure, there is better drought tolerance and less erosion. If you take notes, you could track the water usage and the incidence of disease over time. With the proper approach, you should see that you could not only save water, but also grow healthier plants.