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Lessons from the Garden: Water Deep

June 2, 2010

It’s that time of year when there’s not much to do but pull the occasional weed and water and wait. And as I was considering the forecast and the days since the last rain recently, I realized it’s a leadership season I need to learn how to navigate as well.

Seeds need a lot of water. If you can keep the soil constantly moist for a couple weeks after you plant seeds – by all means do so.

Because seeds are packaged very well. There is a lot of potential in every seed that gets sown, but it takes a lot of moisture to help it break open its shell. If you sow a good, healthy, strong seed – one that was harvested properly and stored well for who knows how long – and don’t keep it moist, it will die where you plant it.

But that was last season.

Now the seeds have had time to set some small roots, and some of them have stretched above the surface. Now it’s time to change strategies.

If you water those sprouts a lot, you keep the top couple inches of soil very moist (and you likely don’t water long enough for it to soak much further than that). If the top couple inches of soil are very moist, that’s where the sprout keeps it’s roots, because moisture is what they want.

What they need, however, is rich soil. And the deeper your soil goes – most likely – the richer it gets. The sprouts should be setting deep roots to get to rich soil so they can become strong plants. Shallow roots create weak plants that require more attention, whither easily, and don’t produce good fruit.

The best way to encourage your sprouts to set deep roots is to water less frequently, but water a lot when you do.

It happened before there were hoses. Unless there’s a drought on, you might get rain once a week – but you get a lot of it all at once. That water soaks way in, and the plants are forced to send roots way down to get it after a couple of days.

I think my tendency as a gardener – to water if it doesn’t rain for a couple of days – is similar to my tendency as a leader. It seems right, it makes the sprouts happy, and it looks good on the surface (and it keeps me busy). It may not be the best strategy, though, if the goal is strong growth and good fruit.

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