This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V18", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
"Thomas Mechan, editor of the Gardener's Monthly, answers this question by saying that " if any one thinks plants need water, lie can try by stopping up the hole in the bottom of a flower pot, in which a plant is growing. This will be one of the best ways of learning that the essence of all good culture is to get rid of the water in the soil as soon as possible. This is the great principle that underlies the practice of un-derdraining land. We want moist air in the soil, not water. ' Firm potting' favors a large amount of airspaces. If soil is moderately dry, the more we 'pound' it, the more we pulverize it, and pulverization means dividing into minute particles. The more particles the more spaces - the more spaces the more porous is the mass. Every pore contains air, and this air is moist air, and it is on this moisture that the plants draw. There is no difference in the manner by which a root draws moisture from the atmosphere under the ground, and that by which the root of an air plant draws moisture above the ground. If you take the earth in which a healthy plant is growing, and handle it, you will find no water in it; but you will perhaps find it moist enough to dampen a piece of paper.
We do not know that any amount of pressure would squeeze water out of some soils in which plants grow healthy, though possibly moist air might be so compressed as to make water. Indeed, the matter seems so clear to us, that we supposed it would be necessary only to state it to insure conviction. And we wonder very much that writers still continue to use the word water, when they speak of the necessary conditions in the food of plants."
I clip the above item from the Lancaster Farmer, and must dissent from the views therein. Stopping up the hole in the bottom of the flower pot is scarcely a fair way to test the question. You might as well say that a man does not need water, and to prove it plunge him head and heels in a water tank and keep him there. Plants need water and men need water, but more than they need is hurtful to both. You say " we want moist air in the soil, not water." Why not say also that man wants chyle, not food? Man needs food to form chyle, and plants need water to make moist air in the soil about their roots. Nay, more, plants must have water supplied to them in such quantities that they can absorb it, and appropriate at least some portion of the quantity absorbed together with the other food which it holds in solution.
[Our correspondent is in some measure right. The comparison by stopping up the hole in the pot is hardly a fair one, and scarcely meets the case: still it seems as good a way as any of illustrating, what we mean. The difference between water and mere vapor is not great certainly, and there can be little or no humid particles in the soil unless water is given. In this sense plants need water of course. That is, water must be given to the earth in order to create this humidity; hut after giving the earth this water, the good cultivator must draw it away again as rapidly as possible.
Our correspondent kindly adds: "Two features in the magazine strike me as particularly commendable. 1st. You offer no chromos or other useless premiums, and are not continually blowing your own horn, and 2d, you exclude adver-tisements (cloaked or otherwise) from your reading matter. My introduction to the Monthly was made in the Nov. No., but, from appearances, I think the acquaintance will be continued for some time to come." - Ed. G. M.]