It’s worth taking a moment to learn about the best practices of how to water your garden during the growing season. It’s a long period of warm weather, big harvests, and daily garden maintenance. The reward for all that work will undoubtedly be some beautiful bouquets, fresh vegetables, and lush, colorful gardens.
To make sure that happens, know how to water your garden and what works for your unique climate and growing space.
Water your garden once or twice per week for a total of one inch of water, though it may vary with the season. Use drip irrigation or hand watering to water in the morning or evening for maximum absorption and the least evaporation.
With the following general guidelines and a little bit of experimentation to find what works best for your garden and climate, you won’t have a problem keeping your plants healthy and fresh from spring to fall.
How do you water plants in the growing season?
Choose a water delivery method such as drip irrigation or hand watering to water your garden through the seasons. Most plants need one inch of water per week, but you can adjust that amount based on the time of year and the water-holding ability of the soil.
What type of soil? Loamy, fluffy soil with lots of organic matter holds a good amount of water, so it won’t need to be watered as frequently.
On the other hand, sandy soils drain much more quickly, so they will probably need extra water to keep up with the demand of the plants.
Clay soils can hold water more than other types, so you might not need to water so often if this is the soil type you have in your garden.
Then you have to decide which delivery method you want to use. The amount of time you have to dedicate to watering and your budget will be the two biggest factors to keep in mind.
Drip irrigation: Drip irrigation is my personal favorite for the garden. It takes some time to establish the system the first, but then it’s in place all season and requires no extra work from me, barring special circumstances such as breakage or adjustments due to changing plantings.
To set up a drip irrigation system, you need a timer, a few fittings to regulate the water pressure, prevent backwash, and filter the water. Tubing and connections will run through your garden beds to deliver water to the plants according to the schedule you set.
After that, deciding how close or far apart you want the water to come out of the tubing is accomplished with a small tool called a hole punch. You can cut the tubing with a pair of scissors, and the connections pop into each other without any special tools.
It takes more planning to set up drip irrigation than it does muscle, so anyone can do it and benefit from hands-off watering that delivers water right to the base of your plants.
Hand watering: Hand watering is my second preferred option for watering my garden since it does have some pros and cons.
Hand watering can be done using a watering wand, a hand nozzle, or just the hose itself. Spray water at the base of the plant until it starts to run off. Let the remaining water soak in, then give another dose of water to ensure the plant receives the recommended one inch of water per week.
This method can be time-consuming, so it might not be the best option for you if you have a large garden or limited time.
On the other hand, it’s a wonderful way to connect with the garden and your plants if you have the time. It’s easy to stop and smell the roses (yes, I went there) or notice any pest or disease damage when you water the garden one plant at a time.
Overhead sprinkler: An overhead sprinkler is a middle-of-the-road solution. It isn’t the most efficient way to water, but it’s cheaper than drip irrigation and faster than hand watering. It does have some drawbacks, though.
An overhead sprinkler delivers water by spraying it out over the tops of the plants to cover the whole garden. Although simple to set up, overhead sprinklers can be inefficient at covering the entire growing area evenly and can splash dirt onto the plants.
When you’re working out where to put your sprinklers, it will take some trial and error to figure out where to place them. You might even need to water in sections so that water reaches the whole garden.
Pay attention to the edges of the garden to make sure they fall under the spray’s reach. On the other hand, make sure that any overlapping areas don’t get too much water and bog down your plants.
If you can, use mulch on the beds and in the pathways to minimize the amount of dirt that splashes up on your plants. Disease pathogens such as bacteria and fungi can travel to the plant via the dirt, which you don’t want. It can make it more likely that you’ll see signs of disease like black spot and powdery mildew.
Overhead water is better than no water, though, so if this is the only way you have to get water to your plants, then go for it.
What time of day is best to water?
Water in the morning or the evening for the best absorption. In the morning, the plants will have all day to put the water to use in the face of warm weather. Any water that splashes on the leaves will dry out. Evening watering delivers water to the plant when it is the least likely to evaporate and sink deep into the soil.
Benefits of the morning: One of the biggest reasons gardeners prefer to water in the morning is to reduce the likelihood of spreading disease. Some disease pathogens live in the soil and can transfer via water droplets.
The longer the droplets sit on the leaves, the higher the chance of transmission. By watering in the morning, as the sun heats the air, it will dry out any wet leaves, reducing the risk of disease.
Benefits of the evening: Evening waterings potentially result in the water sinking deeper into the soil since there is less sun exposure to evaporate the water from the soil’s surface. Watering in the evening can also help perk up any tired plants and prepare them for the next day’s heat.
The most important recommendation for watering your garden is not to water during the middle of the day, especially if you’re using overhead sprinklers. The evaporation rate will be the highest at the peak of the day, wasting water meant for your plants.
How often should I water
Spring: Depending on the climate in your area, you may not need to water very frequently at all in the spring. If your garden received regular rainfall throughout the spring months, then there’s no need to water.
A great indicator if your garden is getting water frequently enough and the right amount is if volunteer seeds are sprouting. Volunteer seeds are seeds that remain in the ground from the season before. Often annual flowers such as cosmos, zinnias, or poppies will drop seeds as the flower blooms turn to seedheads.
If those seeds are sprouting on their own, then it means they are getting enough water to germinate and survive. Your other plants are then also probably getting enough water. Until the weather starts to warm for summer, you don’t have to give any additional water to your garden.
To avoid overwatering, it’s best to turn off any drip irrigation or sprinklers on timers until the rain becomes more infrequent. Once there are four or five days between showers, start irrigating the garden, slowly transitioning to once or two waterings per week.
Summer: It comes as no surprise that you will have to water more frequently during the summer. Higher temperatures mean the soil will dry out more quickly, and your flowers and vegetables will need regular watering.
During summer, plan to water at least once per week, if not twice. It will depend on how high your summer temperatures get and for how long. But in most cases, a plant will do just fine with only a couple of weekly waterings as long as it has had time to develop a healthy root system.
If you’re wondering whether daily watering is the best option during summer, learn more of the do’s and don’t’s with this post, Daily Watering For The Summer Flower Garden? Not Necessarily.
Fall: Fall is a trickier season to assign a recommended watering frequency. Some areas have a shorter, cold fall, and other ease into fall with still-warm days.
Ease your garden into fall by following the guideline of one inch of water per week. If temperatures stay high or frequent winds dry out the soil, add a second watering each week. If the rains start again with the return of fall, then one weekly watering or less will be appropriate.
To get more of the nitty-gritty of fall watering, check out this post, Do You Need To Water Your Garden In The Fall?
Winter: Despite a common perception that gardens don’t need to be watered during the winter, they can benefit from watering if your climate doesn’t have much natural rainfall.
You should water the garden during winter if there is no rainfall for weeks at a time. The plant roots absorb the water more slowly during cold weather, so they don’t need as much moisture. If the ground is frozen, do not water since the roots can’t take any moisture in, anyway.
What can you keep busy with if you aren’t spending time watering your garden during the winter? Get some ideas in this post, What Do Flower Gardeners Do During The Winter?
How much should I water?
Established plants will flourish with about an inch of water spread out over one or two waterings per week. Newly planted seeds and transplants will need more frequent watering as they germinate and establish their roots, possibly as frequently as daily, depending on the weather.
Seeds and seedlings: Newly sown seeds need to be kept moist from the time they are planted until they germinate. The moisture needs to soften the outer coat of the seed and water the sprout once it germinates. The sprout is delicate and very sensitive to drying out, so it can’t go as long between waterings as an established plant.
A young seedling needs frequent watering because its root system is underdeveloped, and its roots are still relatively shallow. For the seedling to survive, it needs to access enough water to stay hydrated, but not so much that it doesn’t send its roots down deep to develop a robust root system.
In general, water seeds every day until they germinate. You might need to water twice a day if the weather is warm enough to dry out the soil’s surface. Once the seeds germinate, water them daily for the first few weeks, then reduce to 1-2 weekly waterings once the seedlings are well established.
Established plants: Established plants or well-developed seedlings have different needs than a seed or new seedling. These plants have had time to settle into their growing area and send roots down into the soil for moisture. They aren’t as subject to temperature fluctuations, but they still need regular water.
The general rule of thumb is to give garden plants one inch of water per week. This amount can be given all at once or split into two waterings per week. This amount will provide the water the plants need while still offering the plant time between waterings to develop deep roots to reach groundwater.
How do I know if the plants need more water?
If your plants are getting the general one inch of water per week, but they droop and wilt by mid-day, they may need more water. Wait to see if the plants recover once the day cools off. If the plants are still wilted, increase the amount of water they get to an inch and a half per week.
Underwatering can happen if the weather has suddenly warmed up, but you are still giving the same amount of water as before.
Adjust your drip irrigation timer to run for longer to ensure the plants get enough water. If you’re hand watering, you can make a second pass through the garden to saturate the soil again. Overhead sprinklers can operate longer to soak the garden and prevent the plants from wilting.
If you are growing flowers or vegetables in containers, test the soil by sticking your finger an inch deep into the soil. If the soil is bone dry, it’s time to water. If this is happening daily, plan a daily watering routine to avoid your plants going through extreme swings of dry and wet soil.
Pots are more susceptible to being underwater since there is less volume in the pot to hold a moisture reservoir, so keep a close eye on the containers. Especially as the season warms up for summer, it might require daily watering to keep your plants healthy.
Now that you’ve got a good grip on how to water your garden jump over to this post, 6 Summer Chores To Keep Your Cut Flower Garden Performing, to learn more about other maintenance tasks to keep your garden happy.