Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
Watering your garden seems like such a simple concept. You grab a hose or turn on the sprinkler every day, right? Wrong. Watering your garden every day is almost as bad as not watering at all.
Why is Watering Every Day Bad For Your Garden?
Daily, or shallow, watering forces the plants’ roots to stay near the surface of the soil instead of heading deeper where they can also find nutrients vital to the plants’ health. Because the roots are so close to the surface, they will dry out faster because the soil on the surface dries out faster.
Shallow roots do not provide a good anchor in the soil for plants. A deeply rooted plant will be much sturdier and actually need less water because the roots have access to water deep in the soil that may not be available at the surface.
How Often Should You Water Your Garden?
Ideally, you should only water once a week. That weekly watering should moisten the soil to a depth of 1 foot. How long it takes for water to reach a depth of one foot depends on the type of soil in your yard.
Clay soil is very dense. It drains very slowly. Sandy soil is the opposite. The water drains through it so quickly that plant roots don’t have a chance to absorb any. Loam is the best type of soil for a garden. It has texture that allows water to drain through it but not so quickly that plant roots can’t grab some.
You can amend your clay or sandy soil with organic matter like compost to give it the characteristics of loam. Raised beds is another good idea. Just beware that raised beds dry out more quickly than ground-level soil. They will need to be watered longer or more often.
How Much Should You Water Your Garden Every Week?
To achieve a one foot moisture level in your garden you will need 1 to 1 ½ inches of rain or supplemental watering each week. You can measure how much water your garden is getting very easily. Simply use a rain gauge when it rains, or if you are using a sprinkler, put out some tuna cans or pet food cans to catch water so you will know when you have reached the ideal of 1 to 1 ½ inches.
The Best Time of Day to Water Your Garden
The best time of day to water your garden is in the morning or early evening. This prevents evaporation. During the heat of the day, significant amounts of water from your sprinkler will evaporate before it hits the ground. This is a waste of water. Watering during the cool of the morning or evening ensures that more water actually reaches your plants and give it a chance to soak in before the heat of the day when your plants will need it the most.
The Best Way to Water Your Garden
Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are the best way to water your garden. They provide water close to the roots so there is less water exposed to evaporation. Since you don’t want to water the leaves, watering close to the roots is the best way to water.
Watering from overhead with a sprinkler or handheld hose can cause disease such as powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is caused when water hits the ground so hard that it bounces back upwards towards the leaves of the plants. The soil carries the fungi that causes powdery mildew.
If you must water using a hose, use a watering wand. A watering wand is a nozzle with a long handle that allows you to water close to the roots of your plants instead of from above your plants.
Why You Should Use Mulch To Keep Your Garden Soil Moist
Always use mulch. Mulch keeps the soil cooler, slowing evaporation, which keeps the soil moist longer so you don’t need to water more than once a week. Mulch also prevents weeds from growing and competing with your plants for water. Put down a thick layer of mulch, 2 to 3 inches is ideal, in your garden. Place it around the plants but don’t let it touch the plants. Mulch piled against plants is an invitation to pests to move in.
Knowing when and how to water your garden will ensure your garden will look and yield its best throughout the growing season.
© 2014 Caren White
Caren White (author) on May 18, 2014:
People don't realize that mulch does more than "decorate" the garden.
Caren White (author) on May 18, 2014:
Clay is so difficult! I applaud you for being able to grow in it.
Mackenzie Sage Wright on May 09, 2014:
Great tips. Some people don't realize how much water can evaporate with wind & sun. Mulch is always a good idea for so many reasons.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 08, 2014:
Voted up and useful. We are believers in using mulch to conserve moisture and also combat weeds. In Houston we have clay soil for the most part and definitely have to amend it in order to grow things.