The Proper Way to Water Your Garden

Keep your plants happy. Here are the top 10 do's and don’ts for watering plants efficiently.

use a soaker hose

A soaker hose will deliver water to where it's needed: a plant's roots.

Photo by: SHAIN RIEVLEY

SHAIN RIEVLEY

So, you think watering is a no-brainer, huh? Actually, some best practices for watering plants will save your plants and conserve water, too.

Water for too long, and you create an open invitation for fungus. Water too little, and roots become shallow. Water in the evening, and insects come out to feast. Water from too high, and half the moisture is lost to evaporation.

Poor watering habits are a real crime — literally, in some parts of the country where drought conditions have led to government-imposed restrictions. And so they should be, since water is a precious resource whether or not you garden. Consider collecting water for your garden with rain barrels that have garden hose connections. You can build your own rain barrel or shop top-rated rain barrels.

With a little knowledge, we can all become better consumers, better gardeners and better stewards of our environment.

Watering Plants and Lawns Efficiently

1. When is the Best Time to Water Plants?

DO water early in the morning when sunlight is weakest, the ground is coolest and foliage will have hours to dry before nightfall. Aim for between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.

DON’T water in the evening when soil is warm and wet foliage can attract insects, fungus and disease.

2. How Often Should You Water Plants?

DO water deeply and at fewer intervals so that you reach roots, the part of the plant that needs the nutrients, sugars and hormones contained in water. Soaking the soil to a depth of 5 to 6 inches encourages plants to grow deeper roots, which in the long run will make for a healthier garden.

DON’T water lightly and often, which promotes shallow root growth. (One of the worst watering crimes you can commit is to dash outside after work every evening and sprinkle the lawn for 10 minutes.)

3. What's the Most Efficient Way to Water Plants?

DO direct water at the base of a plant and avoid wetting foliage, which invites fungus. Also, you'll lose less water to evaporation and, since you're applying water directly to the root zone, the water will be readily available to the plant roots.

DON’T water from overhead. Depending on the size of the plant, the water may never actually hit the ground because the foliage may overshadow the plant’s base.

4. How Long Should I Water My Lawn?

DO give lawns an inch of water per week during dry spells which, with a sprinkler, takes about 90 minutes to deliver to one area. If you don’t have a water gauge, set out an empty tuna fish can. When it’s full, you’re done!

DON’T water a lawn more or less than what's needed because the amount affects root growth — the foundation of a healthy, beautiful lawn.

5. What's the Best Way to Use a Sprinkler?

DO use irrigation systems with fixtures close to the ground. If using a sprinkler, opt for small sprinklers that allow you to change water delivery patterns or, for large areas, use a pulsating, revolving sprinkler that shoots water out horizontally at a high speed that overcomes loss due to evaporation or wind.

DON’T use sprinklers that spray vast amounts of water into the air, most of which evaporates before it ever hits the ground. Avoid watering on windy days as well.

6. How Much Water Do Shrubs and Trees Need?

DO give trees and shrubs — especially newly planted ones — direct watering every 7 to 10 days.

DON’T rely on sprinklers and irrigation systems to reach the bases of trees and shrubs.

7. Soaker Hose or Sprinkler?

DO use soaker hoses to water vegetable gardens. Again, hit the ground, not the plant.

DON’T use overhead sprinklers in vegetable gardens. More water is lost to evaporation than is absorbed by the soil.

8. What Type of Hose Nozzle Should I Use to Water Flowers?

DO use a watering wand to water annuals and perennials, both in ground and containers.

DON’T use a hose and nozzle which casts a wide spray that wets the foliage and not always the ground.

9. How Often Should You Water Potted Plants?

DO water container gardens regularly, typically once a day during hot, dry spells. Stick your finger in the soil. If it feels dry all the way to your second knuckle, it’s time to water.

DON’T think that container gardens need watering only when everything else does. Pots hold heat, so the confined soil dries out faster than garden soil does.

10. How Does Mulch Help Plants?

DO mulch beds and containers with several inches of composted material, which cools soil, retains moisture and helps deter weeds.

DON’T water un-mulched soil. The force of the water can spatter plants with moist soil and cause runoff.

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