Watering can make or break a crop. Observant, scheduled watering will make it, and overwatering will break it. Once you understand the basic concepts of good watering for your growing method and crop, your chance of overwatering will diminish significantly.
First, start with an understanding of both the “hydro” and “media” mentalities. The growing methods are very different in watering and output. Hydro growing is all about speed and production, therefore harvest is about weight, not quality. In contrast, media growing is about quality (because you didn’t choose to grow in media for speed and production, right?). Therefore, media growers are all about quality and safety. Once you have this down, think water.
The hardest part is creating the right watering schedule for your crop. The first question I ask a grower is, “What is your watering schedule?” I ask this question because there are only two possible answers:
1. The grower claims to have a specific schedule.
2. The grower shrugs in innocence because they only water when plants ask for it.
What I try to explain in my books is this: There is no perfect schedule. Watering isn’t about you; it’s about your crop. The truth is that overwatering is the number one problem committed by all growers. (Trust me, I do this every day.)
Overwatering keeps oxygen from reaching plant roots and causes elephant foot, a grim physiological root disorder that doesn’t kill the plant, but weakens it. The roots cannot grow into the soil and therefore begin to rot, causing a cracked, elephant-foot-like swelling where the plant meets the soil. I know the feeling of pulling the plant from the bucket with the media staying in the bucket, while being left holding a scrawny plant with only an elephant-shaped foot’s worth of roots dangling from it.
Plants with elephant foot stay alive, and sort of give you hope that your crop is okay. But at harvest, you will end up with low to no yield for all of your time and money.
So, here’s the common mistake: Growers base their watering decisions on digging their fingers 2″ down into the media, and then regardless of the results or how plants look, water again. And then the local hydro store help says it is pH lockout, and growers believe them.
The truth is this: pH lockout doesn’t exist. To grow well in media, you need to water well, and adopt a “media mentality” that is all about the slow-grow and quality. There is no rushing a media garden. The media mentality means you’re willing to sacrifice speed and weight for crop quality. There’s no sense in watering media-based gardens like hydro because you will fail. Trust me!
So the next question is: “When should I water?” (And not, “What’s the perfect watering schedule?”) That’s easy to answer. If the bucket slides when you kick it, give it water. If crop plants droop, you’ve waited too long. And consider bucket size. If you have to water every day, the bucket is too small for the plant. As a rule, a big plant in a small container= water more; and a small plant in a big container= water less.
I understand the new grower’s desire to water more, to be fully involved, to mix nutrients and obsess over crops like a mad scientist. You’re new at this with lots of time and money to spend. If you must be that grower, at least buy media that drains fast, so your crop will stand a chance.
Sunshine Advanced products are all fast-draining mediums designed to prevent elephant foot, with good watering. Each product drains differently. According to a porosity study conducted last year Sunshine Advanced Mix #4 has 74% total porosity, SSA Rain Forest Blend has 78% total porosity, SSA Super Hydro has 72% total porosity, and SSA Ultra Coir has 81% total porosity. So, get to know your growing medium, and its total porosity, when calculating watering.
A final observation: Both Newbies and Masters grow in media because they want their harvests and weekends with no hassles.