Did you know that there is a right and wrong way to water your garden? It may seem like a simple task, but watering your garden incorrectly could cause all sorts of problems like disease, root rot, and pests! Small changes like time of day, how much, when, and how you water can have a significant impact on your overall garden!
What Time Of Day Is Best?
A lot of new gardeners don’t think about what time of day to water their garden. Does it matter if you do it before the sun comes up, in the middle of the day, or before bed? Either way your plants are getting the water they need, right? This is one of the biggest mistakes new gardeners make and it has a huge impact on the well being of your garden.
It’s best to water your garden in the morning for several reasons. The first is that evaporation is going to be less since the sun isn’t beating down on your garden yet and the soil is still cool, allowing less waste while watering and better penetration into the soil. This also gives your plants a chance to dry if you accidentally get water on the foliage. You might think watering at night would be ideal since evaporation would be minimal with no sun at all but that would be a mistake. Watering at night allows any excess water to sit on the plant, increasing the risk of disease, fungus, and pests.
How Much & How Often?
While there is no hard set amount or frequency to water your garden, the general rule of thumb is 1-2 inches of water a week. Bonnie Plants recommends adding an additional 1/2 inch of water for every 10°F above 60°F the average temperature is (take day high and low, divide by 2).  The biggest mistake most people make when watering a garden is watering too frequently and not deep enough. This creates a shallow root system for your plants. You should be watering infrequently (once or twice a week) but deeply (moistening the soil about 5-6 inches deep). Texas A&M AgriLife recommends that you water in two successive cycles to make sure that the water is really being soaked into the soil. So for example if you water your garden for 20 minutes, water for two 10 minute cycles.  Of course, this amount will vary depending on factors like weather, soil type, and what plants you are growing.
The local weather has a huge impact on how much you water your garden. We live in Southern Texas so we don’t get the benefit of rainfall to help assist with our watering efforts very often. However, if you live in an area with regular rainfall, you may be lucky enough to let mother nature do the majority of the work. We suggest investing in a rain gauge for your garden so you can measure how much is water your garden is getting and how much you need to supplement with. While it may not be intuitive, if you get a small amount of rain it would be best to continue to water your garden to take advantage of the moisture from the rain. This is because the rain started to moisten the soil but probably didn’t rain enough for a deep watering. You can take advantage of this by finishing the job instead of waiting a few days when it’s all evaporated.  In addition to rain, you also want to take temperature and sunlight into account. In the spring and fall your plant’s watering needs are going to be less than in the middle of the summer where temperatures are higher and water is evaporating faster. Mulching your garden is key to helping retain moisture in your soil – learn more here!
Your soil type is going to have a significant impact on how much and how often to water. Does your soil drain well, retain water, is it mostly clay or sand (Want to learn more? Check out our article on soil here)? Knowing the composition of your soil will allow you to understand how it’s going to react to being watered, letting you make a more educated decision on your watering routine. Sandy soil isn’t going to retain water very well while clay soil will hold on to water for a long time. You may be thinking, clay soil must be better since it holds water longer but that’s not the case. It’s easy to over water with clay soil, creating a water log that could harm your plants and create root rot. That’s why it’s so important to properly amend your soil prior to planting with additives like compost!
The specific plants you chose also have an impact on how much you should be watering. If you live in a drier climate and picked native plants, you may need to water them less than plants from a different climate. It’s important to look at the information tag that comes with your plants/seed packets to ensure you know what your plants need. It also helps to take this into consideration when planning your garden’s layout, locating plants with similar water needs (that are also compatible) in proximity to each other. For example, cabbage needs about 2 gallons of water a week to be happy and healthy, while onions only need about .5 gallon. If they were next to each other your run a high risk of damaging your onion plants with excess water! Want more information? The Old Farmer’s Almanac has an excellent chart to show not only how much water each type of vegetable plant needs, but also when to kick up your watering efforts to best helps your plants develop! 
Most importantly, test the soil before watering. Keep in mind you want moisture 5-6 inches deep to ensure the roots are getting the water it needs. Look at the soil, if it’s dry and crumbling, it’s probably time to water. If it’s moist and can form into a ball, you should be weary of adding more water. Check back in a day or two and see how it looks!
Proper Watering Technique
The best method to water your garden is drip irrigation or soaker hoses. This is because it’s applying constant water to your plants’ root system and minimizing water evaporation, runoff, and splash back. Overhead watering like with a sprinkler system is not recommended for gardens (though this method is preferred when watering a lawn) due to the adverse conditions it exposes your plants foliage to. Hand watering, while time consuming, is an acceptable method if executed properly. So you may be wondering, what is the best way to water your garden? Here are our tips and tricks to becoming a watering expert!
- Water your plants at the base of the plant, not overhead. This is because the water can cause fungus and diseases to spread to your plants. This also causes a problem of not knowing how much water is actually getting to the roots if you plant has a lot of foliage, or if the water is close enough for the roots to absorb.
- Avoid using sprinklers to water your garden. Not only does this waste a ton of water, but you also saturating the foliage of your plant, which as we learned in the last step, is a big no no! This is why drip irrigation or soaker hoses are great for a garden!
- Mulch your gardens! Not only does this prevent unnecessary run off and evaporation, but it also helps prevent water splatter on the underside of your plants, another source of plant disease!
- Make sure to test the soil when you are watering. You want to make sure that you are getting the soil moist 5-6 inches down. Just gauging from how the top soil looks could cause inadequate watering to your plants. 
Keeping all these simple tips in mind will not only help ensure that your plants are getting the water they need to grow, but it will also help prevent fungus, disease, and pest problems in your plants!
Looking for more gardening information? Check out some of our other gardening posts:
- The Easiest Way to Germinate Seeds Indoors
- Egg Shells: 3 Easy Ways to Use Eggshells in Your Garden
- Growing Plants: Essential Nutrients for Healthy Plants
- Hardiness Zones and Why You Should Care
- Common Gardening Mistakes: Plant Selection
- How Much Water Do Vegetables Need? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://bonnieplants.com/gardening/how-much-water-do-vegetables-need/.
- Common Gardening Mistakes. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ccmgatx.org/gardening-resources/popular-garden-topics/gardening-mistakes.aspx.
- Old Farmer’s Almanac. (n.d.). When to Water Your Vegetable Garden: Watering Chart. Retrieved from https://www.almanac.com/content/when-water-your-vegetable-garden-watering-chart.
- The Proper Way to Water Your Garden. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.hgtv.com/outdoors/gardens/planting-and-maintenance/the-proper-way-to-water-your-garden.