April 21, 2013

Garden Watering Tips

If you’re an advanced gardener or a small-scale farmer, chances are that you have an efficient irrigation system set up for growing food crops. If you’re new to gardening, though, an irrigation system is probably the last thing on your mind (you’re more worried about the basic matters of life vs. death when it comes to your plants). And that’s OK.

Even still, you will need to water your crops—and there are a few simple garden watering tips to keep in mind when you do.

A sprinkler watering a vegetable garden

1. Water Deeply

Watering your garden very thoroughly and deeply less often is better than watering it moderately to lightly more often. In other words, watering it heavily every three days is much better than watering it lightly every day.

There are practical reasons for this. If you water heavily, the water gets deep down into the soil—down to the plants’ roots. As a few days pass between waterings, your plants’ roots will actually stretch and grow down deeper to access the water that’s further down. On the other hand, if you water lightly every day, you encourage your plants to only grow shallow roots that hover around the soil surface. Watering deeply less often means you’ll have healthier, more deeply rooted crops. Plus, you’ll save water in the long run.

Note: The above advice is for an established garden. If you just planted seeds, you may very well need/want to water those lightly every day as they germinate and grow strong. 

2. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Mulch

Mulching is like magic. Applying an organic mulch material—such as grass clippings (make sure they’re from a chemical-free lawn), leaves, hay or straw (or a combo of these materials)—deeply around your established garden crops has many benefits. One of those benefits is holding in moisture, meaning every time you water, more of the moisture will stay in the ground under the layer of mulch rather than evaporating.

A thick layer of organic mulch also yields the benefits of suppressing weeds and adding organic matter (and thus increased fertility) to your soil as the mulch decomposes. Mulch is a win-win-win. I can’t emphasize enough how great mulch is for your garden. And don’t be shy applying it: Some experts recommend that your mulch layer be 9 to 12 inches deep. You’ll notice the benefits even with just a few inches of mulch material though. (Stealing the bags of leaves neighbors set out on the curb = smart and awesome, by the way.)

3. Don’t Water in the Heat

This is a more obvious tip, but don’t water your garden in the heat of the day. Hot weather will lead to more water evaporating and less soaking down into the soil. Water in the evening or early morning instead.

4. Try a Timer

Setting up a hose and sprinkler to a timer (such as this Orbit Garden Hose Digital Timer) can be super helpful, especially if you’re going to be out of town and won’t be around to water your garden. You can set the timer to turn on for a couple of hours every three days.

Follow these basic garden watering tips, and not only will your garden grow better, you’ll save a lot of money on your water bill. After you get the hang of food gardening, you might start looking at other watering options, such as soaker hoses or rain water collection. Happy growing!

Photo by Flickr/mrsdkrebs


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