How To Water A Garden (5 Best Methods & When To Do It)


When it comes to watering your garden, it helps to know how to do it – and how often.  There are lots of methods you can use, depending on what you have available and how much time you have.

So, how do you water a garden properly?  Gardens need about 1 inch of water per week from rain or irrigation (more in hot, dry, or windy conditions). Water deeply to get moisture well into the soil (to a depth of 4 to 6 inches), encouraging deep roots. You can water with a hose, sprinkler, drip irrigation, watering can, or other methods.

Of course, it also helps to know the best time of day to water, along with what might change the amount or frequency of watering.

In this article, we’ll talk about when to water and how often to water. We’ll also take a look at various watering methods and what to keep in mind when using each one.

Let’s get started.

How To Water A Garden (8 Methods)

There are lots of ways to water your garden, including:

  • Hose & Nozzle Attachment
  • Sprinkler
  • Plastic Bottles With Holes
  • Drip Irrigation
  • Bucket Or Watering Can
  • Rain Barrels
  • Well With Hand Pump
  • Solar Powered Water Pump
hose spray nozzle
A hose with a spray nozzle is just one way to water a garden.

Some of these methods will conserve water, and others will require very little work once you set them up.  The table below summarizes each method and the pros and cons for each one.

Watering
Method
Water
Use/
Waste
Effort
Use &
Setup
Cost
$ &
Time
Hose &
Nozzle
MediumMedium
Low
Low
High
SprinklerHighLow
Low
Low
Low
Plastic
Bottle
MinimalLow
Medium
Low
High
Drip
Irrigation
MinimalLow
High
High
Low
Watering
Can
LowHigh
Low
Low
High
Rain
Barrels
VariesVariesVaries
Well
with
Pump
VariesVariesVaries
Solar
Water
Pump
VariesVariesVaries
This table shows the water use, effort, and
cost for various irrigation methods.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these methods and what you should keep in mind for each one.

Hose & Nozzle Attachment

Using a plain garden hose (with or without a spray nozzle) is a classic way to water your garden.  Some nozzle attachments have multiple settings, including:

  • Soaker – this setting allows you to water without using a strong spray of water (so you can avoid washing away dirt and exposing the roots of plants).
  • Mist – this setting allows you to lightly water soil where you have recently planted (to avoid washing away seeds).
  • Spray/Shower – this setting allows you to reach a little farther if the hose is not long enough, and makes it easier to water an entire row at once.
  • Jet – this setting is useful if you want to clean something off (for example, algae on the inside of a greenhouse).
hose spray nozzle
A hose with a spray nozzle is one way to water your garden. A nozzle with multiple settings can give you flexibility in how you water.

The main advantage of this method is the ability to control how much water you use.  A hose lets you water a plant just as much as it needs, and then move on to the next one.  This reduces water waste and helps you avoid over watering.

The main drawback of this method is the time required.  You will have to walk around with the hose and make sure every plant that needs water gets a little time under the spray nozzle.  It can be boring to wait around to finish watering a big garden.

garden hose
A hose gives you control over the water per plant, but it takes time to water each plant, one by one.

Remember that hauling a hose around the garden can be heavy work (the longer the hose, the heavier it will be).  Also, a hose can crush some of your plants if you aren’t careful when pulling it through the garden.

Sprinkler

A sprinkler is a great way to save you time when watering the garden.  There are various types to choose from, including:

  • Oscillating sprinklers – these sprinklers have a part that looks like a curved tube.  It moves back and forth, watering an area around the sprinkler.  You can find ones with adjustable width settings so you can change the size of the area that is watered.
  • Impact sprinklers – these sprinklers have a part that rotates, driven by the water pressure from a hose.  They can throw water quite a distance.  Drive them into the ground and set them to work, or put them on top of a stake to give them even more reach.
  • Fixed sprinklers – these sprinklers spray water evenly across an area at all times, and are not meant to move.
  • Rotating sprinklers (Rotary sprinklers) – this sprinkler has a part that rotates around and throws water in all directions.
  • Moving Sprinklers – these sprinklers are on wheels and move around the yard by themselves to change position and water a different part of the garden at different times.
impact sprinkler
An impact sprinkler is just one type you can choose from when watering your garden.

A sprinkler still requires a hose, but it saves you a lot of time when it comes to watering your garden.

The main advantage of this method is the time saved – you don’t have stand around holding a hose or hauling water around.  This is great if you have a demanding job or home life that doesn’t leave much time for gardening.

The main drawback of this method is the amount of water used or wasted.  For one thing, a sprinkler doesn’t know when to stop watering when the soil is already soaked.

oscillating sprinkler
An oscillating sprinkler does not know when to stop watering an area, so it can waste water if you don’t monitor it.

Sprinklers also water an entire area, including the paths between rows of plants.  This encourages weeds to grow where you don’t want them!

In addition, a sprinkler allows for more evaporation than a hose, meaning that you will have to use more water to irrigate the same area.  Finally, a sprinkler gets the leaves of your plants wet, which invites disease in some cases.

If your garden is big enough, you may need to move your sprinkler around one or more times to wet the whole area.  You can also consider using multiple sprinklers, which can save you even more time.

Plastic Bottles With Holes

This is a great method to use if you are going away on summer vacation for an extended time, especially during the hottest part of the summer.

The idea of this passive watering system is pretty simple:

  • First, get a plastic container (like a plastic gallon water or milk jug).
  • Next, poke one or more small holes in the bottom of the container (more holes means faster water flow).
  • Then, dig a small hole near the plant you want to water (not too close – you don’t want to disturb the roots).
  • Now, put the container in the hole (the bottom of the container should be in the bottom of the hole).
  • Finally, fill up the container with water.
water jugs
Bury a plastic bottle with small holes in the bottom and fill it with water to create a passive watering system while you are away!

The bottle won’t be able to empty right away.  Instead, the water will slowly drip out over time to keep the soil wet (but not soaked).

The main advantage of this watering method is that you can be away for an extended time (set it and forget it).

The main drawback is that you will have to refill the bottles whenever they run out.  So, it isn’t completely passive.

You can learn more about this and other watering methods here.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is a great method to use if you want to save both time and water when irrigating your plants.

Drip irrigation is a type of irrigation system that waters crops and plants efficiently.  It uses plastic tape to apply water directly where your plants need it: at the base of the plant.

drip irrigation emitter
A drip irrigation system has drip emitters that release water slowly to avoid waste.

The main advantage of a drip irrigation system is that it conserves water.  It waters plants at the soil level and doesn’t get their leaves wet.

It also doesn’t waste excess water like a sprinkler, since it only applies water near the base of plants (not in between rows).

Drip Irrigation Guide Home Page Image
Drip irrigation applies water where it is needed at the base of plants (not between rows like a sprinkler).

Also, you can use drip irrigation systems for many years.  If you take care of the system, it will take care of your garden!

The main disadvantage is the cost and setup.  A big drip irrigation system for a large garden can easily cost hundreds of dollars.

Once you have the parts, it can take a while to set up your system the way you want it.  You can also hire someone to help, but it will cost you either time or money to get setup.

You can learn more about drip irrigation (and why you might want to use it) here.

Bucket Or Watering Can

This is another classic method for watering a garden.  It doesn’t cost much, but it takes some time and effort.

The main advantage of this method is control.  A watering can gives you a lot of control over how much water each plant gets.

watering can
A watering can gives you control over how much water each plant gets, but it takes more time and effort to water your garden this way.

When you are done watering one plant, you move on to the next one, so there less chance of over watering.  You will also get a good workout walking around and carrying the weight of water

The main disadvantage of this method is the time and effort required.  It can take a long time to water an entire garden with a watering can, especially a large garden in hot, dry conditions.

Philodendron
A watering can might be best for indoor plants, not a large outdoor garden.

This method might be best reserved for a small garden, indoor plants, or for plants you cannot reach with a sprinkler or other methods.

Is Tap Water Bad For Plants?

Tap water is not necessarily bad for plants.  However, it depends on the plant and how the water is treated.

tap water
Some tap water may be bad for certain plants, depending on how it is treated.

Some plants with long, thin leaves are sensitive to fluoride in tap water.  If you add water softeners to your tap water, the salts could harm plants as well.

You can learn more about using tap water for plants here.

How Can I Water My Garden Without Running Water?

If you do not have running water at your house, there are still some ways to water your garden.  Some of those methods include:

  • Rain Barrels – barrels will fill up faster if you run water from downspouts and gutters into them.
  • Well with hand or electric pump – this is a good way to water plants by hand (or with a generator if you need electricity).
  • Solar powered water pump – these pumps use electricity generated by PV (photovoltaic) panels.  Some have a battery where they can store energy for later use (such as on cloudy days).

Let’s take a closer look at these methods.

Rain Barrels

If you don’t have running water and rain is infrequent, you might need to use rain barrels to capture enough water for your garden.

water
A rain barrel can help you catch rainwater and store it for dry weather.

A rain barrel catches rain when it falls.  You can also direct water from downspouts and gutters into a rain barrel to fill them faster.

When the barrel is full or you need to water, fill up your watering can and give your plants water.  You can also look into an electric pump (if you don’t have electricity, you will need a generator, solar panels, etc. to run it).

rain
Catch extra rain when it is falling, and use it when there is no rain.

Well With Hand Or Electric Pump

If you have a well on your property, you can use that instead of relying on the municipal water system.  Hand pumping is hard work, and hauling the water in buckets makes for even more work (but it is doable).

covered well
You can use a well for watering, but an electric pump will make things easier.

An electric pump (run by a generator) will make things easier.  If you get enough water pressure, you might be able to connect a hose to a sprinkler or drip irrigation system.

The limit here will be how much power you can generate.

Is Well Water Bad For Plants?

Well water is not necessarily bad for plants. However, you should still try to test your well water regularly to make sure.

Well water is probably fine for your plants, but some can harm specific plants, depending on how it was treated.

You can also use a reverse osmosis filter to clean the water.  Some well water has excessive amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron, lead, nitrogen, or other chemical contaminants (this is more likely if you live near an industrial or agricultural area).

You can learn more about using well water for irrigation here.

Solar Powered Water Pump

A solar powered water pump uses electricity produced by PV (photovoltaic) solar panels.  These pumps can use either AC (alternating current) or DC (direct current).  A battery is optional, and it will store energy so that the pump can operate at night or on cloudy days.

solar water pump
A solar water pump provides a way to move water to your plants when the sun shines.
Image courtesy of user:Aksharenter2 via:
Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Solar_water_pump.jpg

If you get lots of sunlight year-round, this is a great option to help you keep your plants watered.  You might even be able to generate enough electricity to run a sprinkler or drip irrigation system as needed.

In a less sunny area, this method can help you to store up energy if you are off the grid (or if electricity is expensive).

You can learn more about solar powered water pumps here.

When To Water A Garden

The best time to water a garden is when your plants need water.  Often, the best way to tell is by:

  • Looking at the plants (wilted plants or crispy leaves may indicate a lack of water),
  • Feeling the soil (soil that is dry to several inches down will need water).

Below are some suggestions on how often to water your garden (and when to do it during the day).

What Is The Best Time To Water A Garden?

The best time to water a garden is early in the day.  According to the University of Illinois Extension, early watering allows water to evaporate before nightfall.  This prevents dew and avoids diseases that thrive in wet conditions.

sunlight
The best time to water a garden is early in the morning, to prevent evaporation and wasted water in the hottest part of the day.

Watering early in the day will also conserve water.  When the day gets hotter and the sun gets higher in the sky, water evaporates from the soil faster.

You can learn more about why to water plants early in this article.

How Often Should A Garden Be Watered?

You should water your garden often enough to keep the soil from completely drying out (if it looks and feels like dust, than you have waited too long to water!)

According to the Michigan State University Extension, when you water depends on several factors, including:

  • Soil Type (texture and presence of organic material)
  • Temperature (climate and season)
  • Plants (they vary in their water needs)
  • Soil Cover (mulch or other plants)

Let’s look at each one briefly.

Soil Type

The type of soil will determine how fast it dries out – and thus how often you need to water.

  • Sandy soil will drain faster, and so it needs to be watered more often.
  • Clay soil is dense and holds water, so it won’t need to be watered as often.
  • Soil that has plenty of organic material and is not too sandy or claylike is balanced, and will be somewhere in the middle.
clay soil
Clay soil is dense, sticky, and retains water, so it won’t need to be watered as often as sandy soil.

Temperature

The temperature and weather will also determine how often you need to water.  You will need to water more often in hot, dry, sunny, and windy weather.

Check the weather forecast for a heat wave (multiple days 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above).  Also keep the humidity in mind (low humidity means dry air, and dry air has more space to absorb water via evaporation).

wind sock
Hot, dry, sunny, and windy conditions will mean that you have to water your garden more often.

Bright sunlight and strong winds will also speed up evaporation of water from soil, so keep an eye out for those on the weather forecast as well.

Plants

Some plants need more water than others.  For example, cacti and succulents can go a long time in dry conditions without much water.

succulent echeveria
Succulents don’t need as much water as other plants.

Other plants (such as peas and spinach) will tolerate wet soil.  Just remember that it is possible to over water (more on this later), so make sure your plants really do need water before irrigation!

Soil Cover

Soil that is covered with mulch or plastic will retain more water.  The reason is that the extra layer over the soil will prevent evaporation.

red cedar mulch
A layer of mulch over the top of soil will help to retain water (and it also suppresses the growth of new weeds).

Groundcover plants can also help to keep the soil shaded with their leaves, thus preventing evaporation by the sun.

Should A Garden Be Watered Every Day?

Generally, it is not a good idea to water a garden every day.  The reason is that this encourages shallow roots in your plants.

If you water every day, plants won’t have to create deep root systems to survive.  If you stop watering, they will have trouble getting enough water.

tomato plant roots
Watering plants deeply and less frequently encourages stronger root systems.

If you water deeply and less frequently, the water will soak further down into the soil.  This encourages plants to establish deeper and stronger root systems to find water.

The only possible exception is for “thirsty” plants (ones that need a lot of water) during a heat wave when temperatures are into the 90’s Fahrenheit, the air is dry, and conditions are sunny and windy.  In that case, it might be necessary to water daily.

Can You Over Water A Garden?

It is possible to over water a garden.  Some plants can tolerate “wet feet” (soggy soil) for a time.  However, most plants will eventually die from over watering.

The problem is that too much water in soil leaves no room for air.  Ideally, the space between soil particles is 50% water and 50% air.

If this balance is too far off, the plant roots cannot breathe.  They will start to rot, due to too much water and not enough air.

root rot
Root rot causes roots to turn brown and mushy, due to a lack of air and too much water in soil.

If in doubt, water less, wait and see, and add more water later.  After you over water, it is difficult to remove water from the soil.

You can learn more about the signs of over watered plants here.

Conclusion

Now you know how to water plants: the methods you can use, the time of day to water, and the frequency.  You also have some ideas for how to irrigate plants without running water.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!

~Jonathon

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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