Watering your garden isn't rocket science. But there's more to it than you might think. For example, the time of day you choose to water your garden can lead to either its success or its demise.
Ultimately, using best watering practices will help decrease disease occurrence, increase plant growth and productivity and minimize wasted water. So before you go to water your garden, check out these tips.
1. Water when needed
Generally, plants need 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water per week (install a rain gauge to keep track of weekly rainfall). Chances are, however, you've already needed to supplement rainfall this year. But do you check the soil moisture with your finger before watering? Checking the soil is key to avoiding the common issues of overwatering and underwatering. In either case, leaves often turn brown, wilt and fall from the plant. Checking the soil's moisture level is the best way to understand any water-related symptoms your plants may be displaying and correct the issue. You shouldn't water until the top 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.6 cm) of soil is dry, but there is still noticeable moisture below that. Also, keep in mind that planters and raised beds are less insulated and dry out faster than ground-level gardens.
2. Know your plants
Plants have different preferences when it comes to watering. Coral bells, for example, typically like to dry out between waterings. So they probably aren't the best companion for ferns, which usually prefer consistently moist soil. Also, some plants, like tomatoes, are simply a little less forgiving than others. Going back and forth between too dry and too wet can cause tomato plants to suffer from blossom-end rot and the fruits to split. If you want to maximize plant health, flowering period and/or harvest, do a little bit of research on your plants' water needs ahead of time.
3. Timing is key
The best time to water your garden is early in the morning. Hands down. Watering in the morning allows plant roots to absorb the water before the heat of the day. If you wait to water until the afternoon on a hot day, most of the water, especially if using a sprinkler, evaporates before it can ever seep into the soil and reach the roots. Also, any water that ends up on the leaves can magnify the sun's heat and cause leaf scorch. Watering in the morning also allows for the plant to dry out completely. If you water after dusk, the water likely won't evaporate, creating an ideal environment for fungal diseases to form.
4. Best methods
Watering deeply to saturate the root zone and watering less frequently. This encourages the plant's roots to seek the water and become better established and prepared for dry spells. For smaller areas, like containers and raised beds, hand watering works well. However, try to keep the water off the leaves and toward the base of the plant around the root zone, especially if watering in the heat of the day or the evening. Also, if you water over the tops of your plants, you'll be surprised to find how little water actually reaches the soil. The leaves, particularly in a mature garden, act as an umbrella of sorts. So even if it rained recently, check the soil.
For larger gardens, you may want to do some research on sprinkler and irrigation systems to find what will be the most effective. Soaker hoses in particular receive high praise, allowing for slow, deep watering, which minimizes waste due to evaporation. Soaker hoses also keep the water at the base of the plants and off the leaves.
5. Stay observant
The number one thing to remember when watering your garden is to pay attention. Gardening is often a standing experiment, and variables change from season to season and year to year. What may have worked well one year might need some tweaking the next. Stay flexible, and don't get so comfortable with a watering schedule that you stop paying attention to how your plants are responding.