Being a new gardener is hard.
There’s so much to learn when you’re tending a vegetable garden — 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?
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.
P.S. Make sure you’ve got a quality garden hose, hose nozzle, and hose reel before you water! We carry the Dramm Premium Garden Hose, the Dramm Touch‘N Flow Revolver Spray Gun, the Dramm 30″ Select Rain Wand, and the Yard Butler Handy Reel in our shop. These are all quality products sure to assist you in watering effectively.
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The Absolute Best Time To Water: 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 plants (or any 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 (the worst time to water plants), 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 a slightly worse time to water plants than the early morning watering, if you have no other option it’s certainly better than not watering at all!
If you go with evening as the time to water plants, 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. Best case scenario, you’ll have excess water lost.
Do Not Water at Night
If you can avoid it, don’t water plants at night time, and avoid evening watering. 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 of too much excess water can be disastrous. Watering too often can kill vegetable plants and container plants just as easily as watering too little. If you’re having trouble identifying signs of over-watering, look for:
- Wilting plants 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 and container plants 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 and water container plants 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 and you find the soil dry, 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. A rain gauge can assist in determining how much you might need to supplement. If you haven’t had rain in months and have high temps, then give your garden some extra liquid love!
Above all, regular watering is the most important rule.
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. You can irrigate at the best time to water, but lose precious H2O by doing this.
Instead, water the soil right at the root zone. This way you’ll encourage root growth and water as efficiently as possible. Couple this with using morning time to water plants, and your garden will be properly irrigated.
When you water, water deeply.
Instead of a light morning watering 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, developing a healthy root system.
Deeper plant roots usually means better plant growth, so deep-watering plants even with a watering wand for a long period of time is often better!
Ways to Water Your Garden
Now that we’ve covered the basics of the best time to water plants, let’s discuss a few ways you can water your garden.
Soaker Hose and Drip Irrigation
Seasoned gardeners often spring for using soaker hoses in their vegetable gardens due to their ability to consistently water deeply. Ditch the garden hose! All you have to do with soaker hoses is place them around the base of your plants and turn them on when you want to water.
Similarly, drip watering is a slow watering method that gives gardeners the option to water vegetable gardens via emitters that irrigate above the soil surface from overhead sprinklers, or via drip tape that slowly releases water into the garden bed.
An awesome feature of both of these watering methods is they can be set to a timer, allowing you to schedule waterings for the amount of time you choose. In hot summers, this is a huge asset to have in your gardening tool kit. Personally, after I switched to timed drip watering, my summer crops began to pop!
Another great aspect of using timers is they help you conserve water in times of drought. This helps you comply with local regulations related to water conservation.
There are tons of passive irrigation methods out there that are sure to help you water your garden, and stay within municipal water regulations. We don’t have time to cover them all here, but let’s discuss a few!
Of course, we’re biased when it comes to ollas. The Dripping Spring Ollas Small Olla Watering Pot is a time-tested way to passively water your garden via clay pot irrigation. You bury ollas in your garden and fill them with water. Over time, the pores in the clay pot slowly release water for plants to absorb at the root level.
Other passive systems, like swales and rain gardening allow your garden to soak up water from the sides, and give you some dimension to your landscaping at the same time. Both include digging somewhat shallow trenches next to the growing area where rain water will flow. As it collects in these areas, plants absorb water from the sides.
One other way to passively water is through rain barrel water collection. You can install an overflow pipe to the side of the barrel that funnels water into the garden when the barrel can’t hold it. This helps you conserve water, and enjoy the garden a little more rather than expending energy to ensure everyone has what they need.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: When should you water plants on a hot day?
A: The best time to water plants on a hot day is in the morning before the sun warms the earth. This provides the best irrigation to your plants.
Q: Should I water my garden every day?
A: It depends on how old your plants are, what kind of plants you’re growing, and what season it is. When it’s hot, and you have newly planted vegetables, you’ll need more frequent watering than if your plants are established and it’s cooler.
Q: Should I water my garden every day in hot weather?
A: A good rule of thumb is to water at least 2 to 3 times per week in hot weather. Sometimes you may want to water at a higher watering frequency once or twice a day. Let your plants tell you what they need to determine how often to water.
Q: When should I not water my garden?
A: While you can water at dusk in temperate seasons, avoid watering in the middle of the day. This is the worst time to water plants as evaporation occurs much faster.
Q: Is it OK to water plants at night?
A: While you can, it’s not a good habit to get into. Watering at night can promote proliferation of pests and diseases, and make soil stay moist for too long, putting plants at risk.
Q: How long does it take to water 1 inch?
A: In healthy soil, if you water for 20 minutes at a frequency of 3 times per week you’ll water your plants with 1 inch. You can break up this ratio as needed to keep healthier plants.
Q: Can a garden be overwatered?
A: It certainly can be. Overwatering can flush the soil of nutrients and put many plant in distress. This can leave them open to higher incidences of pests and disease.
Q: Should I water my garden even if it rains?
A: As long as it keeps your plants on their watering schedule and doesn’t overwater them, you’re good!