Watering the garden seems like it should be pretty straightforward. After all, rainfall does it all the time. But those of us who’ve forgotten to water a container or overwatered our tomatoes, realize that it’s not so intuitive!
When to water.
Begin with an eye towards the weather – if you’ve had good soaking rains (1” or more) then you don’t need to water; if the weather’s been hot and windy, then you probably should water. Soil attributes also determine when to water: sandy, fast-draining, sandy soils need more frequent watering; heavier, water-retaining clay soils can go a little longer in between watering. The soil’s top appearance doesn’t always show the need for water – remember that plants’ roots go deep down and that’s where the moisture level is important. Poke into the soil with your finger or a measuring stick – if it’s dry below 1/2”, then it’s time to water.
TIP: If possible, avoid watering in the late evening or at night – the plant leaves will sit all night with moisture on them which can lead to diseases and mold growth.
How and where to water.
So much of the “how” depends on what you’re watering. Grass requires a broad sprinkler approach; trees and bushes require a soaking that reaches the root perimeter; and garden veggies and flowers require consistent watering. Research what you’re watering first but in general try to avoid splashing water on the plants’ leaves and focus on the base of the plant. Use mulch around plants, too, to help retain moisture longer. Aim for consistent moisture at that ½” depth and don’t just automatically water every day. Remember, too, that containers will dry out more quickly than garden beds.
How to measure water amounts.
It's easy to calculate how much water you're giving each plant. Start with a five-gallon bucket; put in your hose or hold your sprayer open into the bucket; and time how long it takes to fill the bucket. If it takes five minutes, you'll know you're watering at one gallon per minute.
Easy, DIY watering projects – great for kids!
There comes a time every summer when we must be away from our gardens. Here a few quick and easy ways to keep your containers watered while you’re gone:
- Cut the bottom off an empty plastic soda bottle, remove the lid, and put it upside down in the middle of your container – leave a ½” of the plastic above the soil surface. Plant your pot with flowers, being careful not to get soil in the bottle. Fill the bottle with water and it will slowly be taken in by the soil as needed.
- Make your own soaker hose. Repurpose those worn out hoses by using a sharp screwdriver to poke holes along the length (about every ¼”); position the hose along the base of your plants, and turn the water to low-flow so it can slowly trickle out. This could also be put on a timer for when you’re on vacation.
- Make your own glass bottle waterer. Perfect for reusing wine bottles, just rinse out the empty, refill with water, poke a couple holes in the cork and replace in the bottle, and put in your pot for a slow trickle of water.