With the right growing conditions, all your plants really need to thrive is nutrients, sunlight, and water. Watering your garden is one of the most important tasks you do for it, and doing so properly gives your plants the best chance of flowering and producing to their fullest potential.
This garden watering guide will cover all the tips you need to make sure you are watering your garden effectively throughout your plants’ entire lifecycle.
How to Water Seedlings
When you’re first starting your garden, you will likely be starting from seeds or starter plants from a nursery. Your plants are most fragile in their seedling stage, so you’ll want to handle them with great care until they are ready to be transferred into your garden. This includes the way you approach watering.
Follow these tips to water your seedlings properly:
Keep Your Seedlings Moist
When your plants are young, they will be the most sensitive. Watering them too much makes them easily susceptible to disease and root rot, but if your plants dry out, they may wither or their growth may be stunted. Monitor your seedlings to make sure their soil is never wet but also never dries out.
One way to ensure your plants are kept moist is to use a tray cover or humidity dome to keep moisture and warmth in. Remove the dome once your seedlings have germinated, but make sure you continue to keep your seedlings moist.
Start With a Spray Bottle
It’s easy to overwater your seedlings when you use a watering can, so using a spray bottle is a better approach before germination and in the earliest stages of seedling growth. A spray bottle or mister will also be gentler on your fragile seedling and won’t knock it over or disturb its soil too much. However, if you use this method, we recommend checking on your plants about twice a day to ensure their soil doesn’t dry out.
Ensure Water Is Distributed Evenly
To encourage the growth of a healthy root system that will survive the transfer from tray to garden, make sure your seedling has access to even water intake. To do this, make sure you water all around the base of your plant when watering with a watering can or spray bottle, or use a bottom watering approach. Bottom watering is a method where you place your seedlings in a tray with about a quarter inch of water so that your plants can soak up the water through the holes in their container.
How to Water Transfers
When you’re ready to transfer your starter plants into your garden, watering your plants is a crucial step in the process of a successful transfer from tray to soil.
You will need to thoroughly soak the soil of your seedlings before you remove them from their tray. Once the seedlings are planted in the garden, they will need to be watered again to help them acclimate to their new environment. Water the base of the plants evenly once they are secure in their new garden bed.
In the weeks following their transfer, it’s a good idea to water your plants in the garden more frequently (a few times a week) until they are able to establish a mature, healthy root system. Once your plants seem to be growing fully, you can reduce the frequency.
How to Properly Water Your Garden
Know When Your Garden Is Ready
How do you know when your garden needs to be watered? You may not need to water your plants every day, but, if it’s been a particularly hot week, your plants may need to be watered every day to maintain optimal health. If, on the other hand, it was a wash of a week, your plants probably don’t need the extra water.
There are tools that help you determine if it’s time to water, like a soil moisture sensor. But you can also do a spot check by sticking a spade, wooden dowel, or shovel in the soil and removing it. If soil sticks to it and seems damp, your garden doesn’t need watering. However if the soil seems dry or very little is sticking to your spade, it’s time to get the watering can.
Water in the Morning
You should always try to water in the morning when the sun is not directly above. Watering in the morning gives your garden these benefits:
- Your plants will have a good store of water to prepare them to take on the heat of the day.
- Your plants are less likely to have sunburn caused by water droplets left on their leaves in the scorching sun.
- The water will have the best chance of seeping into the soil and roots without evaporating first.
- The soil and leaves will dry before night, when dampness can attract insects and fungus.
Focus on the Roots
Water the soil around the plant and not the plant itself. By watering the soil, the water will reach the roots of your plants, which is the most important part of your plant for growth. It will also prevent future mildew, burning, and damage.
Water Evenly and Slowly
If you aren’t using drip irrigation, you’re probably hand watering. With hand watering, there is no need for a strong stream! By watering slowly and thoroughly, aiming the spout of the watering can below the leaves of the plant and at its base, the water can fully saturate the root system, not just the ends of the roots.
To ensure your plants are watered thoroughly, we recommend you avoid using broadcast or overhead sprinklers that will not effectively water the roots of your plants.
Grow in Rows
When planting your garden, plant your seedlings in rows to make watering around the base of each plant even easier.
Don’t Overwater Your Garden
Too much water can be just as damaging to plants as not enough water. If it’s been a rainy week, your plants likely don’t need more water.
Know Your Plants
Although these tips provide the basis for a proper garden-watering process, different plants can have different needs. For example, tomato plants do not like to get their leaves wet. Petunias need deep watering at least once per week, while most peppers can go without a deep watering until their leaves start to wilt.
Research what your specific plants prefer so you can give them the best chance at thriving.
How to Water Your Trees and Shrubs
How to Avoid Watering Too Much
Overwatering is a common mistake for gardeners. Most lawns and landscapes are overwatered by anywhere between 30% to 300%!
Too much water can be as harmful to plants as not enough water. Excess moisture in the soil decreases its oxygen content. As a result, plant roots cannot absorb enough oxygen to function correctly. Moreover, the lack of oxygen eventually damages the root systems and impairs their ability to take up water. Thus, overwatering your plants actually prevents them from receiving life-giving water and nutrients!
Here are some ways you can avoid overwatering your garden and keep your plants healthy:
1. Identify Your Watering Habits
Do you water your plants with a mother's love, or do you tend to do so with a little less devotion? Knowing whether you typically overwater or underwater your plants can help you identify where you can change your habits.
First, take a look at the vessel you use to water your plants. Is it a dedicated watering can or hose, or do you use whatever container that's lying around? Second, determine if you have a way to measure the water you're giving to your plants. If you use a watering can, it might have markers on the side, or you can add some yourself so you can measure how much you water your plants.
2. Find Out How Much Water Your Plants Need
For the plants you already own, or when researching plants to buy, find out how much water they need to be strong and healthy. It is easy to assume that a wilting or yellowing plant needs more water. However, those symptoms also apply to plants that have too much water. As such, the best thing to do is know your plant's watering needs in advance so you can determine whether unhealthy symptoms are from too much or too little water.
When you know how much to water your plants, you can measure the water you put in your watering vessel to ensure they're getting the right amount.
3. Know Thy Soil
Finally, know what kind of soil you are dealing with. Your soil's water retention ability impacts how much water you need to give your plants. Soil texture and organic matter are the primary factors contributing to your soil's water retention ability. Soil texture is determined by particle size, while the organic matter is any plant or animal residues that fertilize your soil.
In general, soil with smaller particle sizes like clay can retain more water than soil with larger particles like sand. Furthermore, soil with plenty of organic matter also increases its water retention, as organic matter naturally attracts moisture.
If your soil consists of small particles and plenty of organic matter, you won't need to use as much water for your plants. Conversely, soil with larger particles and less organic matter will dry out quicker, so your plants will require more frequent watering. Your soil's water retention ability and surface area will also determine how long you should water your garden.
Growing and maintaining a healthy garden can seem like a daunting task, but watering your plants shouldn’t be. Just remember that the most important thing is to make sure the roots are fully saturated with water. Keep seedlings moist, water your garden before the heat of the day, and water slowly and evenly around the base of the plant.
To get started with your garden, check out our supplies for seedling care and our resource on How to Care for Seedlings. As always, we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have on your journey to growing a healthy garden that produces.