How to Water your Garden Effectively
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What’s the best way to water your garden? When your garden needs moisture, you can tell – the soil will look dry, your plants will look droopy and “thirsty,” and everything will be growing a bit slower. But how do you know if you have given it the right amount of moisture to recover?
It turns out, there are some best practices when it comes to watering your garden. These practices help ensure that your plants get enough water without flooding them. They also ensure that you are efficient in your watering – using only enough water to truly help your plants and not wasting that precious resource.
It is important to note that you can set your garden up to retain more water when you are planting. Mulch is one of your best friends when it comes to avoiding run-off and keeping plants moist for longer. Read more about sheet mulch gardening here and how it can help to keep your garden moist.
Here we try to answer all of your questions about the best way to water your garden. But the biggest message is this – listen to your plants and your soil (with your eyes and hands); they will tell you what you need to know!
Frequently Asked Watering Questions:
Don’t be tempted to stick to a rigid watering schedule, but instead watch your plants and soil for them to tell you when they need watering.
The obvious answer here is that you’ll water your plants when mother nature is not providing enough rain. So, if you have a stretch of dry, hot weather you’ll know to look for signs that your garden needs a supplement. But the more nuanced answer has to do with how long your plants have been in the ground, what they look like, and whether the soil is retaining moisture.
Younger seedings that have just been transplanted are going to need more regular watering than more established plants that can survive the ebbs and flows of nature more effectively – likely every day at the beginning of the season.
Your plants will also tell you that they need water by how they look. For most veggies, this means wilted, tired-looking leaves. You’ll literally be able to tell that they are “thirsty” the same way you would tell if a human was slumped over in the heat.
Lastly, you can check your soil. If the soil looks dry and cracked, or if it dries out very quickly when watering, you need to water more heavily to keep it hydrated. You should be able to feel moisture about 3-4 inches down into the soil when plants are well-watered.
There are many tools you can use to water your garden, but our tool of choice is a watering wand on a hose.
While it can be tempting to use a “set it and forget it” sprinkler system in your garden, this is actually not the best way to water your vegetables. Sprinklers distribute water lightly over a large area and have to be left in place for a long time for the water to fully sink into the soil. When you use a sprinkler, up to half of the water is likely landing somewhere you do NOT have a plant in the ground. Thus, you are watering double the amount of space you need to and likely wasting a lot of water.
A watering can allows you to be more targeted, but watering a large garden by filling a watering can over and over again can be an exhausting task. That said, if your garden is manageable with a watering can, this option is still better than a sprinkler. We often use a watering can when watering new seedlings, carrying it around with us as we plant each one.
That’s why our watering method of choice is a watering wand attachment on our hose. This wand acts like a watering can by spreading the stream of water from the hose into multiple fountains. But because it is attached to your hose you don’t have to carry the water around with you (just drag the hose). Most watering wands also allow a significant stream of water to come through, which means you can water deeper, faster on each plant then if you were using a spray nozzle.
An even more advanced method of watering is building your own irrigation system with drip hoses. Our only word of warning with this method is that not all hoses are built to withstand time. You’ll need to invest up front on a drip system that is well-made for the long haul. You’ll also have to design the layout of your garden around this drip system (buried or on the surface). The problem is, like a sprinkler the hose has holes throughout so you may still end up watering where you don’t need to.
Early morning is the best time to water your garden, followed by evening after the temperature falls. This is because the midday heat of the sun will evaporate water poured onto the surface before it has a chance to be absorbed into the soil.
Morning is better than night because your plants will draw on the water that you add to the soil throughout the day. When you water at night, the water may sit there until the plants “wake up” in the morning and are ready to use it. This is ok, but not ideal as the water that sits can sometimes cause moisture to build up or the leaves of plants to wilt.
As mentioned previously, you should water enough that the soil would still feel moist about 2-4 inches below the surface. This is actually more water than most people are inclined to provide for their plants. Water-loving veggies like tomatoes can sometimes need a 30 second stream from our watering wand before they are fully supplied with the water they will need for a hot summer day.
The same can be said for potted plants – you might need 1/2 to 3/4 gallon of water in a large 12-15 inch planter for it to be fully watered. It is better to provide this amount every few days then to water just a cup or two every day, because the water will soak down further into the soil to supply the roots of your plant.
Like any other component of gardening, you will learn more and more about how to effectively water your own garden space. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll miss days when you should have watered, and some plants won’t make it. But eventually you’ll put all of you knowledge to use to water your garden in the most effective ways.