The number one thing plants need to grow and thrive is WATER — but how much do they need? Keep reading to learn how often to water your garden and how to tell when your plants need water. Plus, grab our free printable plant watering chart!
How much water do I need for my garden?
Water is vital for photosynthesis — the process by which plants turn sunlight into nutrients. Too much or too little water can keep your plants from reaching their full potential or even kill them.
But how do you know exactly how much water your plants need?
How much water you need for your garden will vary based on a few key factors:
- Size of garden
- Types of plants
- Geographic location
To make sure your plants are getting enough water so they can grow and produce, the first step is to learn the needs for each of your specific plants. We created a printable plant watering chart (available at the bottom of the post to print or download) that details the water needs for 12 common vegetables.
However, with variable factors such as weather, you also need to learn how to check your soil and make adjustments to your watering schedule at any time. We’ll talk more about that below and I’ll show you my two favorite (EASY) ways to tell when your plants need water.
How to Tell When Plants Need Water
It might seem like it would be easy to tell when your plants need watering. However, overwatering actually produces some of the same effects as under-watering, such as yellow leaves. There are also many other factors, such as disease, that can cause plants to yellow or stop growing.
That’s why it’s important to check the soil itself, instead of trying to judge by the appearance of the plants. Here are my favorite two ways to check to see if it’s time to water my garden:
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1. Feel the Soil
The condition of your soil is the best indicator of the need for watering.
If your garden soil it moist to the touch, it’s ok. If you pick up a handful and it sticks to your hands or clumps together, it’s wet enough for now.
But if the top of your soil looks dry, it MAY need watered. The key word is “may” …you can’t just put your hand on the surface — you’ve got to dig down a little bit!
That’s because the very top layer of dirt may appear dry, but just beneath the surface, the soil is plenty moist. But you wouldn’t know just by looking.
The best way to test your soil by touch is to stick your finger straight down into the dirt, just over an inch deep. If your fingertip reaches damp soil, your garden is fine for now. If the soil at an inch depth feels dry, it’s time to water.
There is also the danger of over-watering, which can cause damage too! Soil may look dry at a glance, but beneath the surface it may be plenty moist.
The good news is that there is a simple trick to test the soil to see if you need to water your garden. Though it does require getting your hands dirty 😉
2. Use a Soil Moisture Meter
This handy little gadget takes all the guesswork out of watering your garden!
All you do is stick the probe into the soil, so that it reaches root level for the plants. The meter will tell you if your garden is too dry, moist enough, or too wet.
Now, I’m all about getting your hands dirty and learning how to feel what you garden needs the old-fashioned way. However, I found this awesome device for under ten bucks on Amazon and it is SO easy. No more second guessing myself! Highly recommend it!!
What is the Best Way to Water Your Garden?
If your garden does not have an irrigation system (that’s ok!), you’ll need a way to get water to your plants as efficiently as possible.
For larger gardens, a hose with a spray nozzle will be perfectly sufficient. For smaller gardens, containers, and pots, a watering can will work just fine.
Roots or Leaves?
You may have heard not to water overtop of the plants because any water that gets on the leaves can cause scorching in warm weather. The scorching thing is a myth — BUT that water on the outside of the plants will just be wasted to evaporation.
Instead, focus on watering the roots. Direct the hose nozzle to the base of the plants, taking care not to blast away the soil. You want the entire root zone to be thoroughly moistened.
If your plants are in a pot, you’ll know that they’re all set when water starts to drip out the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. For in-ground gardens, allow your water to soak in, then test the soil as described above.
How Long to Water?
Is it better to water your garden often, for just a few minutes? Or less often, but for longer time?
Answer: A long, soaking water is better because it gets down to the deeper soil and encourages strong root growth. Watering just the surface may cause plants to grow shallow roots to grab that moisture, especially if the deeper soil remains dry.
Baby Plant Care
Young plants, sprouts, and seedlings may need watered more often then established plants, often daily. That’s because their roots are small and close to the surface, which dries out faster.
When is the best time of day to water my garden?
The optimal time to water plants is in the early morning, preferably while it is still cool. If you can’t water in the morning, the next best time is in the evening, after the sun begins to set.
Watering during the heat of the day is not ideal because you’ll end up losing a lot of moisture to evaporation. You may think you’re giving your plants plenty to drink, but they may still be thirsty later.
Printable Garden Watering Chart
A plant watering chart can be a handy guide when you’re new to gardening and trying to learn the watering needs of all your plants. We made a chart with some of the more common garden vegetables to help you get started.
As we discussed above, those needs may change depending on where you live and the current weather conditions.
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