The original title for Dr. Brian Krug’s lecture at Cultivate’22 focused on teaching people how to water plants properly. The technical lead for Syngenta Flowers LLC, Krug changed the name and the focus to something equally as important: “Drying Plants Out: Training for Success.”

“Just because we have a hose in our hands doesn’t mean we have to use it,” Krug said – and that’s true of both experienced growers and those new to the profession.

While hand watering is fundamental to all growing systems, Krug noted that many believe that watering is an art. “Let’s challenge that paradigm,” he said. “You’re actually taking in a lot of data points to make decisions very quickly, and it looks like an art. It takes training, desire and practice. That’s why it looks like an art.”

That first step, training, is crucial. All growers want crop success; they need to make sure they’re thorough and using the right amount of water for each individual plant. Krug warned about the tendency to “love plants to death” by focusing too intently on certain species, and instead thinking about keeping efficiency up. He also said to avoid spot watering as much as possible.

“You need to be intentional when training people to water,” Krug said. “They need to watch you do it, then have them help you and open a dialogue.” After the trainee has asked their questions, flip the training and have them water while the trainer asks questions. Observe what they do, and when they seem confident, walk away.

He noted that watering is the most important job in the greenhouse. He thinks it should take a full year to train an employee to water – since many growers don’t have just one crop or just one season.

There are myriad topics to cover during a training period, including decision making (whether to water or not). Some can lapse into “paralysis by analysis” – by trying to take too many things into account, nothing happens. Krug said to use visual evaluation of the visible parts of the plant, and pulling the pot off the roots, and picking items up. If they’re too heavy, they’re probably too wet.

“When I’m drying plants out, I let them get to medium [dryness] before watering and getting them to wet,” he said.

The “magic wand” method of watering may not be enough for your plants. Taking the time to train employees right can make a world of difference.

Plant species, even if they’re in the same genus, are all different, which can make watering properly difficult. “Mixed displays can make it really hard,” Krug added. “Acknowledge that.” Plant age can be an influence too.

Weather is one of the biggest influencers of when growers water, as is sun exposure. Take all locations, inside or out, into account before adding water. When training, follow up with the employee again when the weather changes, when seasons change, when crops age or when substrates change.

Fertilizer will help properly watered plants sustain quality, but don’t fertilize when plants are overly dry.

“Watering is an excellent time to scout,” Krug remarked. During the task, those watering can watch for plant growth, fertilizer needs and/or nutrient deficiencies. And growers should scout regardless of their irrigation method.

When it comes to actually watering, Krug said a strong technique involves a soft but steady stream of water. Make sure the water actually reaches the substrate. He advised against using the “magic wand” method, just going back and forth over plant tops. Again, he recommended paying attention to how heavy pots are, on their own and when watered.

Teaching someone else the art/skill of watering can be a huge change in a horticultural business. Krug said those willing to take the leap need to consider the six-step Change Model (from “The Salt Model: Family, Therapy and Beyond” by Virginia Salt).

Stage 1 of the Change Model is the status quo – what’s currently happening with a watering program. Stage 2 is new information (or a new employee). Stage 3 is chaos (which is self-explanatory). Stage 4 is new integration, or properly using the new information. Stage 5 is practice. Stage 6 is a new status quo.

“It’s not necessarily linear; it might be a little circular,” Krug said of the Change Model. “This is human nature.”

by Courtney Llewellyn