Jon Mychal Heatherly
6 Ways to Water Your Plants and When
Updated: Dec 3, 2021
When do you water your garden, and what are some clever ways to do so? Let’s find out.
Photo by Filip Urban on Unsplash
Most avid gardeners know the basic needs of plants: sun, water, nutrients, and air. Today, we narrow our focus to the hydration of your garden. Your local climate determines your garden’s water needs. So when does one water their plants, and what are some clever ways to do so?
Life, as we know it, relies on water for sustenance. Water cleans, transports nutrients, removes wastes, and more. Its flowing behavior, tendency to adhere and cohere, and ability to dissolve most things define its function in a system. As water fills all our spaces, so does it with other living creatures.
Whereas water in blood connects all body parts, dissolved nutrients flow from the roots through the xylem to the leaves. Yet, plants lack pumping hearts like we have. Instead, they transpire water through their leaves in tiny pores called stomas. The negative pressure of water escaping the stoma pulls water up from the roots in a molecular transport chain.
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Water fills out the structure of stems and leaves. Plants can show signs of water stress, so let’s break that down a bit. When they need water, leaves will start to curl up, and the stems will even droop, too. If you wait this long, you can cause irreparable damage.
The more reliable way is to develop your gardener’s eye. As you plant each season, you learn the different needs of each species. Tomatoes, for example, love deep watering less often — say once or twice a week, 4–6 inches down. This is because they have deeper roots than some. But, a shallow-rooted crop like corn wants water more often but in smaller amounts — like the top inch or two, once or twice a day.
When do you water?
Morning time appears to be the ideal time to hydrate your photosynthetic friends. This allows plants to absorb moisture and dry their leaves, as allowing water to sit on the leaves harbors fungal growth. Furthermore, the afternoon heat will evaporate more water rather than letting your plant absorb it. Water around the plant base rather than above it on its leaves and flowers.
Gardens in the ground need less frequent watering than those in containers — which need it daily. Be sure the soil level in your containers sits a couple inches below the lip of the container; otherwise, your water will overflow and not absorb. Keep reading to discover some ingenious solutions.
Stick your fingers into the soil to know if your plot needs water. Gardeners generally go for moist, loamy soil if they can help it. But, if your top layer is dusty and dry several inches down, you definitely need water.
Some use the “indicator plant” method. Keep an eye on which plant is usually first to wilt when too dry, as this shows when your garden needs water. A broad-leafed, soft-stemmed gourd — such as cucumber or pumpkin — works great for this task.
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How much should you water?
Water your plants for at least 20 seconds. Be sure the water settles instead of sitting on top of the soil — a sign of drainage issues. Determine how deep you watered using your finger or tool to poke a hole into the surface and feel the soil’s dampness.
For parched soil, water a bit and then allow to settle for a moment. After it starts percolating into the ground rather than running away, proceed with a deeper watering. This improves the soil’s absorption of water when it has little to start.
Most gardens need about an inch of water a week, or 2.54 centimeters. If you live in an arid climate, expect to need twice that. For every ten degrees above 60° F, add a half-inch to your garden’s weekly water needs. To calculate this variable, add the daytime high and nighttime low; then divide that by two.
Young plants need more water, too. If you’re baking in the summer sun, then so are they. Seedlings haven’t established robust root systems, so they respond more sooner to scorching heat. Generally, older plants tolerate heat and drought better than their youthful counterparts.
Photo by Cassidy Phillips on Unsplash
What ways can you water?
Summer brings long periods of drought, and some experience infrequent or inadequate rainfall. You may leave the garden for a while, or you have finicky plant varieties that need steady attention. How can you water your garden while easing the task?
Sure, many folks water their garden by hand with a pitcher or use a hose and wand. Those can be handy choices, but there are several ways to add or keep moisture for your plant babies. Let’s cover a few here.
A drip irrigation system is a type of micro-irrigation designed to reduce waste and conserve soil nutrition. One spreads these hoses over designated areas with holes splaced to water what you planted. People combine drip irrigation with container gardening to reduce the time they spend watering the plants.
This irrigation form reduces water loss by watering close to the ground, and you reduce the risk of pests and disease by watering this way. Since there is no run-off, soil nutrients stay in place next to your crops. Some gardeners introduce nutrients to the water line to supplement plant needs.
Photo by Lynn Betts, courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Garden globes are hollow glass orbs that funnel into a long bottleneck that pierces the soil. Use these if you’re going on vacation or have plants that need a constant, slow infusion of hydration.
When implemented correctly, they permeate water into the soil surface. Reuse water or wine bottles as a cheap or free upcycle project. Decorate them if you like.
Be sure your container plant is well-watered before adding your garden globe. Fill the garden globe with water and then pierce it into the soil. Use a screwing motion to ensure a flush connection. The water permeates over time.
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Mulching doesn’t water your plants, but it helps decrease watering needs. Adding an organic mulch layer retains water in the soil by lowering its surface temperature, thereby reducing the rate of evaporation. It boasts the added benefit of blocking weed growth. Untreated wood chips or pine needles are great options.
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Ollas originated in North Africa over 4000 years ago as a sub-surface irrigation technique to water crops in dry conditions. Farmers buried unfinished terra cotta/clay pots shaped like gourds with a bulbous bottom tapering to an open bottleneck on top. Unfinished clay has a porous quality which allows the seeping of water.
Farmers would fill these vessels with water and cover the top with a rock. Plant roots would find their way to the side of the ollas, latch onto their side, and pull in water. This method keeps crops watered for two to three days.
Make your own olla with some inexpensive, modern materials. Gather white tacky, an unfinished clay pot, and clay liner. Tack up the hole at the bottom of the pot from the inside and outside. Buried it underground near your plants with only its tip above the surface. Fill it with water and cover the top with its congruent clay liner.
Photo by ARINDAM SINGHA MAHAPATRA on Shutterstock
Collecting rainwater gives you yet another option to satiate the needs of your garden. Check with your local municipality on the legality of collecting rainwater. Some cities and states regulate or ban its collection. When researching this article, I discovered it’s legal in Tennessee to collect rainwater.
Not only is it legal, but my city offers a brochure explaining how to make a rain barrel. Channel rainwater gathered from a gutter system into your choice of vessel. You can install a spigot at the bottom, which attaches to standard garden hoses. Combine a rain barrel with a drip irrigation system, and you’ve made an almost effortless watering system.
Photo by Acabashi on Wikimedia
Adding a timer module to your setup further automates your farming or gardening experience. Attach a watering timer between your spigot and the watering system. Combine a timer with a sprinkler, rain barrel, irrigation system, and more! Experiment with frequency to determine the needs of your plants. Check back to determine whether the timer functions as programmed.
We covered a lot today. First, we learned a bit about a plant’s circulatory system by comparing it with our own. Can you believe they move water around without a “heart?”
It’s hard to tell you exactly how much to water your garden because you could be reading this from anywhere in the world. The best mindset is to develop the “gardener’s eye,” which considers factors like weather and soil moisture. Remember an indicator plant to know when to water.
After all that, we discovered some clever ways to water your garden even if you’re away. We saw modern designs like drip irrigation and ancient practices like ollas. Rest assured these techniques hydrate your crops well. Research your local ordinances about the legality of components like rain collection. Keep an eye on complicated setups to ensure they function.
Enjoy these helpful tidbits to nurture your green pals. Be sure to tell a friend. If you have any other novel ideas to water your garden, feel free to leave a comment. Find more helpful, fun gardening ideas in my collection.