Daily Water For The Summer Garden? Not Necessarily

person holding watering wand in garden

When I was just getting started with my first home garden, I automatically thought I would need to water my plants every day once summer hit in full force. When I looked out to my garden and saw drooping plants and leaves, it seemed like daily watering was the obvious answer.

But as I came to learn, watering every day is not necessarily the best for your garden.

There’s no need to water the garden daily during the summer. Doing so will encourage shallow root systems, which do not benefit the plants and potentially weaken them. The exception is potted plants, which may need extra water due to the limited moisture available in their container.

There are better ways to keep your garden strong and flourishing throughout the summer, including my favorite: using mulch.

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Is it bad to water the garden every day?

Watering your garden every day can be detrimental if the plants receive small amounts of water daily, which leads to shallow and weak root systems. Too much water applied daily leads to overwatered and waterlogged root systems. Either scenario can result in unhealthy or dying plants.

Both scenarios lead to a plant’s root system not getting what it needs to flourish, but here’s a quick overview of what happens in each case.

Frequent, shallow watering encourages the roots to stay close to the surface for readily available water. The roots don’t need to grow deep if the resources they need are right at their root tips.

If the plants then experience abnormally high temperatures or miss a day of watering, they are more vulnerable to wilt and suffer in the heat. A deeper root system would better withstand a temporary drought because they can access water stored deeper in the soil.

small garden plants wilting and drooping
Shallow-rooted plants are more susceptible to wilt on a warm day.

If these mini droughts occur frequently, the plant will be stressed and weak, making it more vulnerable to pests and diseases. A stressed plant won’t produce as much as a healthy plant. For example, if the plant is occupied with surviving an attack of beetles, then its energy will be focused there, not on growing new flower buds or fruit.

If you water frequently and deeply, you run the risk of overwatering your plants, which can essentially drown them.

All plant roots need access to oxygen in the soil to survive, just as we need air to breathe. They get oxygen by sending roots to air pockets that occur naturally in the ground. If the soil is too wet, there are fewer air pockets as they get filled with water.

The roots won’t get the oxygen they need, and after enough time, they’ll die. If the lack of oxygen doesn’t kill the plant, they can also succumb to root rot. This is common when a plant’s roots are constantly saturated with water. The condition can kill a plant within a week and is noticeable by the stems of the plants developing brown spots and getting mushy.

To avoid either situation of too little or too much water, stick to the general gardening rule of an inch of water per week. To achieve that amount, water the garden about twice per week and you should end up giving your plants just what they need.

For a deeper dive into how to water your garden, pop over to this post, Watering Your Home Garden Through The Season: A Complete Guide.

Container gardens might need daily watering

Potted gardens have different growing conditions than plants grown in-ground, so they may need daily or even twice daily watering during the peak of summer temperatures. There are a couple of reasons why this may be necessary.

Container gardens don’t enjoy the same insulating effect of being ground in-ground. The soil temperature in a garden fluctuates throughout the day, but it remains relatively stable compared to a pot. A potted plant can experience much higher temperature swings that can dry out the soil more quickly and stress the plant.

Additionally, a pot or other container can only hold so much water. In the ground, a plant can send its roots deeper to scout for more water, but in a pot, the roots will eventually hit the barrier of the container. Since the plant can only access the water that’s in the pot, it’s up to you to make sure it gets enough to keep it happy through the hot days of summer.

Smaller pots will need more water since the factors listed above are more amplified. Larger containers can hold more water, so they can go longer between waterings.

These factors are especially noticeable if your plants grow in terracotta pots. The porous nature of terracotta means that the pot’s clay is always slowly leaching water out of the soil, just like a sponge. To combat this, make sure to water your terracotta pots frequently during the summer to avoid your plants getting too dried out.

a collection of 8 potted flower plants
The smaller the pot, the more frequently they need to be checked for adequate water levels.

Ceramic pots with a glaze on the outside perform better than unglazed terracotta. The glaze provides a barrier against the soil and the outside air, reducing water transmission. Even so, these pots still have the issue of holding less water than a garden full of soil, so monitor the pots to determine if daily watering is necessary.

Avoid the need to water daily by using mulch

Applying much to any flower or vegetable garden, whether in-ground or potted, will reduce the need for watering and help regulate the temperature and moisture of the soil.

Bare soil is quicker to warm up during hot weather than covered soil, so water begins to evaporate more quickly. Several inches of mulch barrier can dramatically slow down the evaporation process. The University of California Extension Office ran an interesting study about mulch and water retention, which you can see here.

The experiment showed that using a thick organic mulch such as wood chips or composted yard waste did help retain more moisture as compared to using no mulch at all. The study did note that the water had to reach the soil directly to be most effective. Otherwise, the mulch itself would absorb some of the water before it even hit the plant’s root zone.

So if you decide to mulch your garden (and you should!), pay attention that the water actually gets to the soil. You can do this a few different ways, but here are a couple of easy ones:

  • Use drip irrigation to apply water right at the base of the plant. Since the water is concentrated in one spot, the chance of the mulch absorbing much of it is minimal.
  • If you prefer to use an overhead sprinkler or hand water, give the plants a little more water than the recommended one inch per week to account for the mulch absorbing some of it. You might need to experiment with the best amount as the temperature rises deeper into summer, as well as depending on the mulch you use.

For more tips to keep your garden thriving during summer, check out these ideas in 6 Summer Chores To Keep Your Cut Flower Garden Performing.

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