How and When to Water Your Garden

comments (13) August 5th, 2008

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Photo by jaygooby under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.Click To Enlarge

Photo by jaygooby under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

5. Get a bigger bang per bucket. Consider the life cycle of the plants in your garden when you water. For example, recent transplants need frequent, light watering to accommodate their shallow, young roots and ease the shock of being pulled from their six-packs. Steady watering also is critical at the time of flowering and fruit formation. For some crops, like tomatoes, yields may improve but some flavor may be lost with too much watering as fruit ripens. And with carrots and cabbages, for example, watering should be reduced as the crop reaches maturity to keep the vegetables from splitting.

Once plants are established, more harm than good is done by giving them a daily sprinkling. If only the soil surface gets wet, roots will look up, not down, for their drinks. Deep, less frequent watering works better.

6. Grow thirsty plants together.
If you have the space in your garden, you can save yourself some trouble by grouping plants according to their water needs. For example, you wouldn't want to plant your herbs next to your lettuce, even though they often wind up together in the salad bowl. Generally, herbs thrive in drier areas, while lettuces like it lush. If the lettuce gets the water it needs, the herbs are likely to be lush, too, but tasteless. If you water to suit the herbs, chances are the lettuce will turn out bitter. By grouping the plants according to their water needs, you won't waste water where it isn't needed.

7. Choose your time wisely.
Early morning, late afternoon, and evening are usually best for watering because the cooler temperatures mean less water will evaporate. Limiting your watering to these times is a particularly good idea if you use overhead sprinklers. Under bright sunshine, water droplets intensify the rays and can singe the leaves. It's also safer not to water at night, as the leaves will remain wet, which may encourage disease. In arid places, however, some people decide to risk night watering to give the water longer to soak into the soil and cut evaporation from the sun.

8. Know when to say when. According to a common rule of green thumb, a garden needs about 1 in. of water per week. Divining how much the garden is actually getting can be a little tricky. You can estimate by using a rain gauge to track precipitation. The gauge should be near the garden but where water splashing off pavement or overhangs won't affect the reading.

When it comes to your own watering, the amount can be checked with a flow meter attached to the garden spigot. About 60 gallons will provide about 1 in. of water over 100 sq. ft. In especially dry climates, or if you're using raised beds, more water may be needed.

There are myriad methods to deliver the water. Some gardens are small enough to water by hand. The large size of others or a lack of time may require more elaborate arrangements, including sprinklers, soaker hoses, or drip irrigation systems. You have to balance your commitment with the needs of the plants and the results you expect.

Predicting the weather

Predicting the weather is like writing: Anybody can do it, but not everybody gets paid for it. Before the ascent of farmer-forecaster Willard Scott, gardeners looked to nature for weather signals. Many still do, and sometimes they are as right as TV meteorologists.
Sunny days to come:
• Heavy dew on the evening grass
• Swallows soaring high
• Beetles and bats flying in the evening
No need to water:
• Spiders reinforcing their webs
• Trees turning up their leaves
• Clover contracting its leaves
In the end, though, the verse by Reginald Arkell may sum it all up:

A gardener's life
Is full of sweets and sours.
He gets the sunshine
When he needs the showers.

by John Bray
June 1997
from issue #9

posted in: watering

Comments (13)

LeePaladin writes: You hit the main point with your "get to know your soil." Many have to learn this the hard way! Some soils take more water, some retain more water and many need help, especially clay soils.

Thanks for the information!
Posted: 12:02 am on March 27th
MarshallChauvet writes: good job.
Posted: 12:25 am on November 4th
Ravesecer writes: One of the best tips about over-watering
Posted: 3:19 am on September 3rd
Ravesecer writes: One of the best tips about over watering
Posted: 3:17 am on September 3rd
RebeccaWeber writes: very informative article.
Posted: 4:39 am on February 24th
MarrieRass writes: Wow!lovely information about proper watering your plants:)
Posted: 4:05 am on February 23rd
JeffnChristie writes: When is the moon in a water sign?My watering habits are habitually bad as im new to this great grow your own veggie deal. Its fun but very much knowledge is needed apparently. Any info WILL be much appreciated. Thanks Jeff
Posted: 9:54 pm on July 14th
johnomills writes: I guess I truly overwater.... the plants wilt at noon and look like they are a breath away from death.... southern New Mexico very sandy alkaline soil but heavily "prepared" with composted manure and a sulfur based fertilizer.

Posted: 2:31 pm on July 1st
lucyg22 writes: In really hot weather (90ish or better here in the Mid-Atlantic-- it's been this hot since mid-May)containers need watering daily. Maybe twice if it's near 100. This includes pots in the shade. The only things I do less often (every 2 or 3 days) are the succulents.

It's a good idea to water briefly to wet the soil, then go back and water a second time. If soil is really dry, even a generous amount of water applied all at once can run right through and not wet the root zone.
Posted: 11:46 pm on July 22nd
xoxommc writes: good article. i have often under-watered my garden. not any more. i like one good soaking a week. but i live where its cool. of course new small plants get more frequent watering.
i think the 1 inch per week is an nice idea and is quoted often, but don't work in practice. amount of watering required depends on many things as listed above: size of plants, type of plants, type of soil, temperature, amount of sunshine, etc.
for flowers a local expert says water less and get more flowers: it stress the plants to grow more roots and more flowers. i've tried it and feel it works.

Posted: 1:17 pm on July 20th
jiggyg writes: I water when the moon is in a water sign,old-fashioned,I know, but that's what my grandma did and it just works well.A lot of freebie calendars from drugstores,feedstores,grocery stores have this info, as well as any Old Farmers Almanac.
Posted: 12:14 pm on July 20th
GmaSandi writes: We water every other day, early morning or late evening depending on how busy our scedule is. (This keeps us on the city watering scedule as well.) I tend to water twice, to make sure all gets a deep drink down to the roots.
Posted: 11:20 am on July 20th
GEide writes: Very timely article. This topic has been weighing on my mind with the recent heat wave. I wonder how often most people actually water their outdoor gardens...

I’m guessing that container plants need to be watered even more frequently. For example, I was at the dentist and overheard a gardening book author say that she spent 45 minutes a day watering her container plants! Yikes, I clearly need to do a better job.

How often to other people water their container gardens?
Posted: 10:20 am on July 20th
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