When, How, and How Much to Water Your Garden

Too Little Water Too Much Water
Wilting throughout the day Wilting in bright sunlight
Leaf scorch on the edges of leaves Yellowing leaves
Leaves that curl or drop prematurely Leaves that drop while green
Leaves that lose their bright green color Sudden collapse of plant
Flowers that drop prematurely Rotting roots
Fruit that shrivels and drops before maturing Malodorous soil
A lawn that shows footprints 10 minutes after you’ve walked across it Edema (blisters that form on leaves)


What Time of Day to Water

Start the day off right. If plants need water, early morning is the perfect time to do it. This will carry them through the heat of the day. Late afternoon is not as good because of increased water loss through evaporation. Also, if leaves do not have time to dry, the cooler evening air can encourage fungal growth.


Different Watering Methods & Tools

The equipment appropriate for your garden depends on how often you need to water, the size of your garden, and how much gear you want to buy. Below, we break down the different types of tools for applying water—from simple handheld sprayers to hose-end sprinklers to more complex underground rigid-pipe and drip systems.


These come in lengths up to 100 feet and with standard diameters from 3 ⁄8 to 1 inch. The 5 ⁄8-inch size is best for all-around use. Keep in mind that as hose length increases, water pressure decreases, so the longer the hose, the larger diameter you should consider.

Portable Hose-End Sprinklers

These include stationary models that resemble salt shakers or rings; oscillating, rotating, and impulse sprinklers; and “walking” types that slowly roll through the area to be irrigated. When selecting a sprinkler, look for one with a coverage pattern that most closely matches the area to be irrigated (the shape and size of the space the sprinkler covers should be listed on the package).

Soaker Hoses

These long tubes—made of perforated or porous plastic or rubber with hose fittings at one or both ends—deliver water slowly. When you attach a soaker to a regular hose and turn on the system, water seeps or sprinkles from the soaker along its entire length. We suggest watering wide beds by snaking soakers back and forth around the plants, or trees and shrubs by coiling the soaker hose over the outermost edges of the root zone. When covered by a layer of mulch, soaker hoses lose very little water to evaporation. They are ideal for rows of vegetables or long, narrow beds, but they won’t work for an expanse of lawn. They are also good on steep slopes, where sprinkler sprays might lead to runoff and erosion. You’ll probably need to leave soakers on longer than you would sprinklers. To determine timing, check water penetration with a trowel or screwdriver.

In-Ground Sprinkler Systems

These offer some advantages over hose-end options. They free you from moving hoses and can operate even if you’re away from home. Newer sprinklers produce less runoff and overspray and distribute water more evenly. It’s a good idea to hire a professional to plan and install the system, which involves a lot of physical labor. For such a system to work properly, it must be well designed, with as few sprinklers as possible to achieve head-to-head coverage, and sprinkler heads positioned to prevent overspray onto paved areas. After all, you don’t want to water the street. Also set separate spray patterns for lawns and other plants. A heavily mulched planting bed will need much less water than your lawn.

Sprinklers simulate rain, except that sprinkler heads often throw the water horizontally. This means you need to watch out for rain shadows, which are dry areas caused by trees, shrubs, and other obstacles that block the water spray. Sprinklers are the best method for watering turf and large areas of ground covers. Set sprinkler heads at different angles and with generous overlaps to make sure all areas are covered.

Drip Irrigation

Drip or low-volume irrigation delivers water at low pressure and volume (in gallons per hour) to specific areas or individual plants. Water penetration is slow, its depth regulated by the length of time the system is on. The tubing with inline emitters, shown at the bottom, encircles the citrus. U-stakes hold the line in place.

As with soaker hoses, drip irrigation systems can be covered with mulch to minimize evaporation or runoff. They are perfect for roses and other plants that have problems with black spot, mildew, and other diseases caused by water on the foliage. They can be used anywhere you have individual plants, from cabbages to oak trees. They also work for containers and even hanging baskets. Components of a drip system include:

  • Drip Emitters: These release water directly to the soil and waste virtually no water.
  • Mini Sprinklers: Available in many different styles, which vary primarily in output (gallons per hour) or in the watering pattern. Mini-sprayers and mini-sprinklers, which spray water into the air, deliver less water than ordinary sprinklers do.
  • Controllers: Technology can help you water more efficiently. Rain sensors override automatic controllers after significant rainfall. Newer controllers are easy to adjust seasonally, and some can be connected to moisture sensors or weather stations. They can reduce waste and do a better job of watering than most gardeners can.


How to Use Rainwater Wisely

Like pennies from heaven, rainwater is a gift. Don’t let it run off your roof and down the storm drain. Save it for a non-rainy day. Here are some smart ways you can make the rain work for you:

Install a Rain Barrel

All the water that hits your roof and is channeled through the downspouts can be saved to water your plants. Simply cut your downspout to the height of your barrel and divert water into it. For ease of watering, elevate your rain barrel so when the hose is connected to the bottom, gravity helps the water flow from the spout. Place containers nearby to keep them within reach, or plant around your barrel. To keep mosquitoes at bay, choose a barrel that is sealed around the downspout. For more water, install barrels at each downspout, connect several rain barrels together, or go for a larger cistern.

Sound of Rain Chain

This simple, time-honored gardening trick guides rain down from the roof into a large pot or planting bed. It can be as basic as a heavy gauge metal chain you pick up from the hardware store or as elaborate as a hand-forged piece of art.

Plant the Rain Garden

A rain garden is a depression in the landscape where runoff can collect. It’s filled with plants, so don’t picture a giant mud hole. Water that collects there will slowly soak back into the landscape over a 24- to 36-hour period. Check with your local nursery for plants best suited for your area that don’t mind being inundated with water for short periods.

Pick Permeable Hardscaping

Paths and patios that are paved with gravel, spaced flagstones, or porous concrete are the best choices for water-conserving gardens. They allow rainwater to pass through them and into the soil, watering plants and preventing runoff that can clog storm drains and pollute nearby lakes, streams, and coastal areas.