Watering Your Garden

Home gardens are great—they can be a source of food, a place of beauty, and an evolving project the whole family can get in on together. Eric Hurlock gives his top tips for smart watering practices to keep your garden at its best.

Best Time of Day to Water

The best time to water is in the morning before the sun gets too high in the sky so that plants are able to soak up the water as they need it during the heat of the day. The next-best time to water is in the early evening, but be sure to water the base of the plants—not the leaves. If the leaves stay wet during the night, you’re creating a welcoming environment for disease and fungus. The worst time to water is in the middle of the day. It’s wasteful because the water will evaporate before it does your garden any good.

How Often to Give Your Plants a Drink

The best way to tell if your garden needs watering is to stick your finger in the soil. Get down about 3 inches or more. If the soil is dry, it’s time to water. It’s like putting a toothpick in a cake to see if it’s done. Gardeners will often give their garden a good soaking once a week, leaving the water on for a few hours. This lets the water soak deep into the soil and encourages healthy root growth. A superficial sprinkling every day will encourage surface growth, and your plants won’t be as robust as they could be. If you wait until your plants look dry and thirsty, you may have waited too long. On the other side of the coin, if you water too much and too frequently, the soil will get soggy, which can cause the roots of your plants to rot.

The general rule is that your garden needs about an inch of water per week. The easiest way to figure out what this actually means for your garden is to get a sprinkler and a rain gauge. Leave the sprinkler on until your gauge fills up an inch. Make a note of how long it takes to get an inch, and there you go: You know how long to leave the sprinkler on.

How I Water My Garden

In my garden, I use a combination of drip hoses, sprinklers, and hand watering. But the most important tool for me is a mechanical water timer that shuts the water off automatically after a certain period of time. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. More times than I’d like to admit, I flooded my garden by forgetting to turn off the water. One year, I flooded so many times that I had moss growing between the plants. So now I always use a timer. Gardening is always a learning process.

 Why Mulch Is Magic

I cannot stress enough the importance of mulch, especially when it comes to water conservation. A nice thick layer of straw, shredded leaves, or organic compost is a great way to retain moisture in the soil, so you won’t have to water as often. BONUS: A thick layer of mulch will almost eliminate the need to weed your garden.

How to Get Your Kids Involved

Kids love water—at least my daughter does. She wants to play with the hose every chance she gets. She calls it “water games.” But of course water is our most precious resource and should not be wasted. My wife and I try to use these water games to teach her about water, water usage, and water conservation. We tell her how lucky we are to have access to clean water the way we do, and how we can’t take it for granted. She’s a smart kid, so on some level she gets it, but a lot of the time it just turns into fun with a hose.

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that she has her own raised bed in our garden, so she has a keen interest in making sure her plants have water, although she has a tendency to give them a little too much. She also seems to think that earthworms love swimming, so there have been many times that I’ve rescued these poor creatures from a watery fate. I love when she helps me water the garden, but inevitably she will catch me off guard and get me with a cold blast of water.

For more tips on smart watering practices, visit Organic Gardening.

Eric Hurlock is the online editor at Organic Gardening magazine. He lives and gardens in Chester County, PA, with his wife, daughter, and new baby. Follow his Real World Gardener blog at http://organicgardening.com/blogs/realworldgardener.