Improper watering is the number-one cause of garden plant deaths.
Plants need water for all their essential functions. The roots can only absorb nutrients that are dissolved in water. Plants, like people, are mostly water, and water gives structure to the stems and leaves. Lose this water and the plant becomes limp, wilted.
How much you need to water varies widely depending on the soil, the plants, and the weather. Clay or loam soils hold more water than sandy soils, so they don’t require as much watering. Mulched soil will stay moist much longer than bare soil.
Use these smart tips to save water in the garden without leaving your plants thirsty.
Water When Your Garden Needs It
If you live where the temperatures and rainfall are consistent, during the growing season, you can probably just water your garden on a schedule. But if your weather is constantly changing like mine, check if you really need to water first. Just push your finger into the ground around your plants. Water when the top inch of the soil is dry.
Irrigation Equipment to Conserve Water
Overhead sprinklers lose a lot of water to evaporation and are best suited for lawns where other methods don’t work. They are not recommended for ornamental or vegetable gardens because of the water waste and also because they get the foliage wet which can lead to plant disease problems.
A spray wand, sprinkling can, or hose-attached mist nozzle is good for watering seedbeds, container plantings, hanging baskets, and for emergency spot watering.
The best choice for efficient, even, and deep watering of garden plants at soil level is a soaker hose and/or drip irrigation system.
Drip-irrigation systems and soaker hoses are a more sustainable alternative to the traditional sprinkler system. Drip-irrigation systems employ small gaps at standard distances in a hose, leading to the slow trickle of water droplets that percolate the soil over a protracted period. These systems use 30 – 50% less water than conventional methods. Soaker hoses help to reduce water use by up to 90%. They connect to a garden hose and lay along the row of plants under a layer of mulch. A layer of organic material added to the soil helps to increase its absorption and water retention; previously planted areas can be covered with compost.
Water Deep and Infrequently
Water slowly and deeply. Most plants need to be watered six to ten inches below the ground’s surface to really feel the effects, and this just isn’t possible with spontaneous watering or a squirt with a hose. Having soaker hoses will make this easier as well. You’ll be able to turn on your water and let it flow nice and slow down the roots while you work somewhere else in the garden, or put your feet up while admiring your plants.
The exception to this is seeds, seedlings, and young transplants. They need frequent waterings fo that the soil surface doesn’t dry out.
When to Water
Water in the early morning or late afternoon to minimize water lost from evaporation. Don’t water too late in the afternoon because the foliage needs time to dry before sunset to prevent fungal diseases.
Compost Conserves Soil Moisture
Before planting, add compost to the soil. More organic matter can mean more accessible water for your plants. Dense clay particles capture most of the moisture and make it unavailable to thirsty flowers and vegetables. Sandy soils don’t hold the water long enough for the roots to absorb it. The humus you add to the compost will retain the water until the plants can use it.
Mulching with organic materials such as straw, bark, wood chips, or leaves will retain moisture in the soil by reducing evaporation.