Being a new gardener is hard.
There’s so much to learn — how to start seeds, how to care for your plants, how to prevent diseases…the list goes on.
But would you believe me if I told you that one of the most common mistakes that new gardeners make is one of the simplest to fix?
Understanding the best time to water your garden is crucial to growing healthy, luscious plants.
This article will give you an overview of when to water a garden, but more importantly will explain the why. Once you understand the why, you’ll never forget when to water again.
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The Absolute Best Time: As Early as Possible in the Morning
If you’re a morning person — unlike me — you’ll be happy to learn that the early morning is hands down the best time to water a vegetable garden (or any other garden, for that matter).
The reason is simple: when you water in the morning, the sun is barely up and temperatures are still cool. Water has time to actually penetrate the soil and get down into the root systems of your garden without being lost to evaporation.
Watering early also protects your plants from intense heat in the middle of the day, as they will be full of water by the time the heat of the day actually hits them. This is much better than trying to “save” your plants on a hot day by pouring water on them in the afternoon.
Busting a gardening myth: Some old-time gardeners insist that watering in the daytime will cause your plants to be “scorched” by the sun. They claim that the water droplets sitting on the leaves of your plants will have a magnifying effect as the sun comes out and will burn the leaves.
While this is physically possible, it’s extremely unlikely, simply because most climates don’t get anywhere near hot enough to cause this effect. And if they did, your plants would likely have other more serious issues.
Bonus points if you use a drip irrigation system or a soaker hose to get your watering.
The Second Best Time to Water Your Garden: The Late Afternoon / Early Evening
If, like me, you’re not much of a morning person, then water your plants in the late afternoon or early evening. The principle here is clear: you’re trying to do whatever you can to avoid watering in the middle of the day.
While watering at the end of the day is slighly worse than the morning, if you have no other option it’s certainly better than not watering at all!
If you go with evening watering, do your best to not get water all over your plants’ leaves. Damp leaves are a root cause of many pathogens and diseases, like the dreaded powdery mildew that can decimate an entire garden.
Do Not Water at Night
If you can avoid it, don’t water at night time. The biggest reason why is what I mentioned above — you are dampening leaves and plant matter at night, when little to no evaporation will occur. You’re not giving the soil time to dry. This is a great recipe for diseases and rot, and not a good recipe for a healthy garden.
If you absolutely can’t wait, then sure…water at night. But use a bit less water than you normally would, because there will be no evaporation. That means all of the water you pour onto the soil will sink in and be used up by your plants.
Tips for Watering Your Garden
Now that you know the best time to water a garden, let’s cover a few other mistakes that gardeners make when watering:
Avoid over-watering your garden at all costs.
Over-watering is one of the biggest mistakes that gardeners make. It’s incredibly easy to do and the results can be disastrous. Watering too often can kill plants just as easily as watering too little. If you’re having trouble identifying signs of over-watering, look for:
- Leaves that are limp or “soggy” looking
- Rotting at the root or stem level
- Tips of leaves that are browning
As a rule of thumb, giving your garden about an inch of water per week is a good idea. But this is just like any rule — it’s made to be broken. Some plants need a ton of water, while others barely need any at all. You should research the plants in your garden and get a good understanding of how much they need.
You may need to water sections of your garden 2-3x a week, and other sections just once a week, if that. To judge if your garden needs to be watered, you can use the finger test:
The Finger Test: Put your finger 2″ deep in the soil. If there is no moisture at all, you need to water your garden. If it’s wet to about 1″ deep, it probably doesn’t need to be watered.
Also, use your head! If you just had a storm, you probably don’t need to water for at least a week. If you haven’t had rain in months and have high temps, then give your garden some extra liquid love!
Try to water near the surface of the soil, not over your leaves.
When you water your garden, you’re trying to get it to the root system. Avoid haphazardly pouring it all over the top of the leaves. This is just wasted water that will evaporate off of your plants.
Instead, water the soil right at the root zone. This way you’ll encourage root growth and water as efficiently as possible.
When you water, water deeply.
Instead of watering lightly a few times a week, consider watering deeply once per week. This means staying on a spot until you’re sure that water has penetrated deep into the soil. The deeper the water goes, the less likely it is to evaporate out of the soil, and the more encouragement it gives your plants’ roots to spread deeper.
Deeper plant roots usually means better plant growth, so watering deeply and for a long period of time is often better!
Well, there you have it – a primer on how to best water the garden. Whether you’re watering a veggie garden or a large landscape, these principles will save you a lot of time, money, and frustration.
As always, let me know if you have any questions or suggestions in the comments below 🙂
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