Garden Basics: Watering your Garden

Like all living beings, garden crops need water to thrive. Too much or too little water can be detrimental to your plants. Within this guide we will explore different ways to ensure your garden is properly watered.

Plant seeds contain 2% of water before germination so they need to be thoroughly soaked after the initial seeding. Saturating the soil in this manner allows the water to soften and penetrate the seed coat which aids in the seed’s germination.  Newly established roots will not take up a lot of water so depending on how they are being germinated (greenhouse, direct sow, underlights) most new seedlings need to water once a week. As new plants roots grow they will need to be watered more frequently.

Water the Roots: 
Most plants in the garden take up water through their roots which is why it is important to water the soil and not the leaves of the plants themselves. Watering the leaves of some plants will leave them wilted or broken (causing a disruption to the photosynthesis process) while other plants can develop a fungus called powdery mildew that can overtake and kill the plant.

Watering Frequency:
The general rule of thumb, or pinky in this case, if your soil is dry 1” below the surface, it is time to water the garden. If you find yourself in the garden without a ruler, stick your pinky finger into the soil- if it comes out clean, it is time to water the garden. If your pinky comes out slightly moist with a few bits of soil attached, it’s time to water the garden. If your pinky comes up wet and muddy, wait to water your garden.

Using the guidelines above check the soil after watering to ensure the garden has been thoroughly watered.

Summer Watering:
The midday summer sun can be a real scorcher causing plants (and people) to wilt. It’s hard to watch your plants struggle in the heat and to help prevent wilting, water your plants early in the morning or later in the evening. The reason for this timing is to allow the water to sink into the soil vs. having it evaporate in the face of the afternoon heat. The other reason for early or late watering is to protect the leaves of the plants. Droplets of water that fall on the plant leaves can be heated by the sun casing them to literally burn.

  • If you have the option, watering later in the evening is preferred. Majority of the plants’ growth happens at night. Sending plants into the night freshly watered allows roots to pull moisture from the ground, disseminate the moisture throughout the plant, preparing it for the heat of the next day.

Cultivate then Hydrate
Soil literally bakes in the summer sun and will naturally compact on itself as time goes by. Before watering your garden use your hands or a hand cultivator to carefully loosen the soil in the garden bed. Cultivating the soil not only allows water to penetrate down to the roots but it also allows air to reach the depths of your garden and release gases trapped in the soil.

Watering Mechanisms

  • Drip Irrigation: A slow drip method of watering the garden. This design has drip holes spaced 1 ft apart. The water drips directly into the soil saturating the plot within 30-45 minutes. Drip irrigation can be set to timers much like sprinklers systems.
  • Garden Hose: Hoses are the tried and true way of watering a garden. Hoses come in a variety of lengths and, if needed, hoses can be linked together to customize a length that serves your garden needs. If the hose is attached to a spigot turn the spigot half way to gently water the garden.
    • Hoses can also be affixed with a spray nozzle. Some spray nozzles have different settings allowing you to choose the setting most needed for a watering project.
  • Sprinklers: Sprinklers are great for large open areas like golf courses but are not practical for garden use. Sprinklers systems tend to water the surface of a garden bed meaning plants will develop shallow roots which will inhibit the plant as it continues to grow. Shallow watering also puts water droplets in danger of being transmuted into water vapor.
  • Watering Cans: Watering cans are great for showing students how to water crop roots. They also help pre-k gardeners develop hand, eye coordination.