KENNEWICK -- Novice gardeners sometimes hear experienced gardeners talk about Wall O'Waters and wonder what they are talking about.
Does it have something to do with Walla Walla? What is a "Wall of Water" and why do tomato growing gardeners tout their use in the garden?
Wall O' Waters are cylinders of clear plastic sheeting that has been fused into vertical tubes. A cylinder is set up where a tomato plant will be planted in the garden. The open ends of the tubes are then filled with water, allowing the cylinder to stand up on its own. The water in the tubes absorbs heat during the day via sunlight and then radiates it back to the plant and soil at night.
Unlike old fashioned cloches or plant caps, Wall O' Waters provide more than just protection from light frost. They often let gardeners plant tomatoes, peppers and other warm season veggies at least six weeks before the last average date of frost in the area, giving gardeners a jumpstart on the gardening season.
A tomato is a subtropical plant that grows best when temperatures are 65 to 85 degrees. Even when protected from frost, tomatoes won't grow much when the air and soil temperatures are cooler than the optimum range. Wall O' Waters warm the soil and warm the air around the plants to allow for early planting and growth.
The manufacturer of the "original" Wall O' Water recommends the following:
1. Set the Wall O' Waters up in the garden about a week before you plant so they can warm the soil a bit first. When you do plant, use small, 3- to 4-inch-tall transplants.
2. Only fill the tubes two thirds full when you set them up. This allows you to tip them together at the top to create a "tepee." Keep them in the closed teepee configuration both day and night when the plants are small and conditions are cool. Around each plant you're creating a virtual solar greenhouse.
GARDEN TIP: To fill a Wall O' Water place a 5-gallon bucket in the center of the cylinder to hold it upright. Remove the bucket once filled.
3. Hopefully, after three to four weeks your plants will start to push their way through the opening of the teepee. At that point you can open the "tepee" and finish filling the tubes up to the top with water.
4. After the average last date of frost, after the weather has warmed and after the plants have grown to the top, remove the Wall O' Waters. While directions note that there is no hurry to remove the cylinders, local gardeners suggest removing them before the plant gets much taller and wider than the cylinder, otherwise you will have trouble getting them off the plant without causing damage.
Wall O' Waters are the "original." The company indicates that their product allows you to "start tomatoes 6 to 8 weeks earlier ... produce fruit 30 to 40 days earlier ... and protects plants down to 16 degrees ... and lasts 3 to 5 years."
There are other products on the market that copy the Wall O' Water concept. Kozy Coat Gardening Teepees stand out because they are made out of UV-resistant red-tinted clear plastic and supposedly produce stockier plants.
Whichever you chose, you can use them to get a head start on the season and your gardening friends!
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* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension.