Watering 101: The Most Efficient Ways to Water Your Garden

Beginner gardening

Watering your garden can be tricky. Water too much, and some plants will be more susceptible to disease and will fail to thrive. Water too little, and some plants will die or give you a poor harvest. Try following our tips and techniques for watering your vegetable garden, and your plants will have a successful and productive season.

watering with hose

Efficient watering not only benefits your garden but also helps our environment. Instead of allowing water to spray over a large area and onto streets and sidewalks, you can direct water to the roots. When you use efficient watering methods, you'll have less evaporation, use less water, and avoid soil erosion. 

What is the best way to water your garden?

The roots are the water-gathering part of the plant. It is through the roots that the plant takes up nutrients.

When the seeds are first germinating and sprouting, watering is frequent and shallow. But once roots are growing, all watering should focus on the root system. 

Too much water can make the soil too wet, and the roots won’t be able to take in oxygen. If the ground becomes too dry, the plants will get stressed. Stressed plants may produce small fruit or none at all. They may bolt, turn bitter, or wilt and die. 

The parts above ground are the leaves and flowers. The leaves use photosynthesis to turn the water into sugar and oxygen. Healthy leaves contribute to the development and strength of the plant. Wet leaves that stay wet can lead to disease. 

To have healthy, thriving plants, focus on watering the roots. The best way to water your vegetable garden is low and slow. If you think of the roots reaching deep, you want the water to be deep. Not shallow surface water. 

Efficient ways to water a garden.

The best watering system for vegetable and flower gardens is a drip system or soaker hose. These allow a slow flow of water around the plant roots that soaks deep. Deep soaking encourages deeper root growth. On the other hand, shallow watering, like how you water a lawn, keeps roots higher and more susceptible to drought.

drip hose

For low and slow watering, you can also have a row watering system where you turn the hose down low and let the water flow down a row. Again, the water flow should be slow enough that the water will soak in as it goes and not just wash away the soil. 

I have an automatic sprinkling system for my lawn, isn’t that good enough?

It’s not a good idea to water your garden with a sprinkler like you do your lawn. This kind of frequent watering doesn’t soak in deep for plant roots. It also puts a lot of water on the leaves and flowers, where more evaporation will occur.

watering can

How much water does my garden need?

Different plants have different watering needs, but the general guideline for vegetables is one inch of water per week. Starting with that guideline, adjustments can be made for dry, hot days and plants requiring more water when fruiting or flowering. Plants such as melons will need a lot of water, while herbs and Mediterranean plants will do well with less water.

How often should I water my garden?

How often you water your garden depends on how quickly it dries out. If the soil stays moist, then once a week is sufficient. However, if your soil is more sandy, twice a week is more realistic. Soil covered by mulch will retain moisture longer, while sandy, well-drained soil will need more frequent watering. 

Containers need to be watered more frequently. Most containers will need to be watered daily, and some twice a day. The exact frequency depends on the size and material of the container. Plastic containers won’t dry out as fast as terra-cotta. 

Vegetables and flowers do best with consistent watering. For example, root vegetables such as carrots need to stay moist to maintain their shape and not have split roots. Consistent watering is also essential for tomatoes so they don’t dry out and get end rot.

How do I know if my garden is getting enough water?

To determine if your garden needs water, check the moisture level. The top inch can be dry, but the soil should be moist below the first inch or two. An inch of water is equal to 0.6232 gallons per square foot or 62 gallons for a 100-square-foot garden. Since gardens typically need an inch of water per week, it’s worth figuring out the rate of water flowing from your hose. That way, you will know how long to let the water run. 

To determine the rate, turn your hose on to the flow you use when watering. Then, put the hose into a 5-gallon bucket and set a timer. When the bucket is full of water, see how long it took to fill. Then you know that is how long you need to leave the hose running in the garden to get 5 gallons. 

rain gauge

If you are gardening in a climate that rains frequently, a rain gauge can be helpful. This will let you know if your garden is getting enough water from the rain.

Does it matter what time of day I water?

Watering early in the day is best, but if plants need moisture, water. Don’t wait for a forecasted rainfall. Plants need consistent watering. Don’t wait for them to get stressed. Recommendations to avoid watering during the hottest part of the day is that the water evaporates before it sinks into the soil. Early evening is also a good time to water. This gives the water time to soak in before evaporating in the hot sun the following day. However, this may increase the problems with mildew and slugs or snails in some locations.

Water is an essential garden need, and getting it right will take some adjustments. But with slow and low watering focused on the roots, your garden plants will thrive.

Written by Beverly Laudie

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