As we get into the thick of summer and the temperatures start to rise, I start to think about the best and most efficient ways to water my garden. To be completely honest, I don’t always follow all of these guidelines, but they are good things to consider if you want to be more efficient when watering your garden. You can follow one of these suggestions or all. Whatever makes life a little easier for you.
How you Water is Important
Whether you are using a watering can or garden hose you want to try to water close to the soil so the water gets delivered directly to the plants’ root systems. Try to avoid getting too much water on the plants’ foliage. This can increase your chances of getting blight, fungus, or powdery mildew on certain susceptible plants, like squash. This happened to my pumpkin plants last year and it quickly spread to my zucchini and butternut squash. I ended up having to pull out most of these plants and compost them. It was a very sad day for me. I’m still recovering.
When you Water Matters
The best time of day to water your plants is early in the morning. This gives plants plenty of time to absorb the water before the mid day heat sets in and speeds up evaporation. If you water in the middle of the day during hot summer days your water will evaporate more quickly and you will end up needing to use more water overall in order for the plants to get the irrigation they need. Basically, you’ll be doing more work and getting less return. Nobody likes that. Watering in the evening or later in the day can also be a bad idea because any water that gets on the foliage of your plants may not have time to dry before night fall and this can attract certain pests to your garden such as slugs.
How much and How Often
Try watering more thoroughly less often. Watering often with less water will encourage shallow root systems on your plants. Make them work for it! If you water more deeply less often the roots will reach further to get to the water deeper underground. This is going to make for much more efficient water usage. If you aren’t sure if its time to water, try digging down into your soil a bit. You can use a garden trowel or if you’re like me just dig with your hand. If the top layer is dry but the soil is still pretty moist lower down then you can wait to water. If most of it is dry, go ahead and give it a good thorough watering. There can be exceptions to this rule during certain stages of plant development. See below for more on that subject.
Tips and Tricks to Get the Most out of Every Drop
Mulch/Compost/Other Organic Material:
Putting down a thick layer of organic material has a few benefits. First, it helps keep the soil cooler, which in turn slows the rate of water evaporation. This means having to water less often. Woo hoo! Compost can also help feed plants by replenishing essential nutrients in the soil. Certain types can even help keep weeds to a minimum. I use a nice “mulchy” compost. You can also use grass clippings, hardwood mulch, or hay.
Soaker Hoses and Drip Irrigation:
My dream is to have a drip irrigation system that works on a timer. One day we want to run a water line back to the garden so it has its own spigot. Then I can hook up my dreamy irrigation system. For now, time and money do not allow for us to make this a reality. So, I decided to install soaker hoses this year. I’ve always been a bit skeptical of soaker hoses. They are prone to leaks and typically don’t last very long. With that being said, I’m tired of overhead watering. Its wasteful and I have had issues in the past with blight and mildew on foliage. If the soaker hoses will last me this season and next, I’ll be happy.
In case you don’t know, soaker hoses are porous hoses that you can snake around your plants on top of the soil. They deliver water directly to the plant’s root system where it is needed most. Which means its much more efficient than sprinklers. Soaker hoses can help save as much as 30%-50% of water compared to overhead watering. It was relatively easy to install and cheaper than a drip irrigation system would be. I covered them with about an inch of compost to help protect them and also to further help slow the rate of water evaporation. Making every drop of water count even more. Hot dog, that’s exciting!
Plants need more water during certain stages of growth than others. During the germination and seedling stage its important to water more often to keep the soil moist. Once the plants are established you can switch to watering more thoroughly less often (as mentioned above). Another time its important to make sure your plants are getting plenty of water is when its flowering or producing fruit. Knowing which stages to water more often and which stages you can cut back will actually help you conserve water.
Rainwater is great for plants. Not only is it untreated, unlike water from your garden hose, but it also is a great way to conserve water and save you some cash money on your water bill. Rain barrels are ridiculously easy to install on your downspouts. If you are like me and your garden is neither close to your rain barrels nor downhill from your rain barrels (so you can use a hose) it can be very tedious to go back and forth with a watering can. Because of this I typically use my rain barrels for certain things rather than depending on them to water my entire garden. For example, when only certain plants are in the stages of development that require more water than the rest of the garden I’ll use my rain barrels to give them extra water. They are also great to use on your potted flowers or herbs as well as your indoor plants.
Boo! Weeds are competition. Keep your garden relatively clear of weeds so every precious drop of water goes to the roots of your fruits and veggies. There are a few ways to help cut back on weeds. Putting down compost or other organic material can help keep weeds at bay. Another great way is installing soaker hoses or drip irrigation. These deliver water directly to the plants rather than sprinklers that water your entire surface area of your garden. Watering only the area you need keeps the soil dry in other areas where weeds may otherwise thrive.
Do you have any great tips on watering or more ideas to conserve water? If so, let me know in the comments below. I love good water saving tips!