After talking about garden soil earlier in the week, it just makes sense that we would talk a bit about another crucial component in the how does your garden grow equation: water. It goes without saying that water is critical to a healthy and robust garden. In a perfect world, Mother Nature handles watering the garden but she’s been a little busy in recent years so to make sure your garden is getting the right amount of moisture at the right time sometimes we have to take matters into our own hands.
How to water a garden depends several factors:
- The location of the garden and its proximity to a water source
- The plants in your garden
- The climate and weather at your garden location
One common mistake made by well-meaning gardeners is setting an automatic watering system and thinking the work is done. There are several reasons this is a bad idea:
- First, the sprinkler timer may malfunction causing the system to neglect watering, resulting in dead or severely stressed plants.
- Second, the sprinkler may work exactly as it should, but if you don’t adjust the flow and timing according to how much water is really needed, you will likely be over or under watering.
- Third, automatic watering systems don’t know when it is raining, so they’ll turn themselves on even after (or during) the deluge of the season, further flooding your plants and wasting more water.
To ensure that you are watering your urban garden adequately but not overwatering, you should remind yourself to regularly check automatic sprinklers and watering systems to make sure they are doing their job. When the forecast calls for rain, don’t forget to bypass the scheduled watering time. Your water bill will thank you and so will your plants. As an alternative to high flow watering systems, soaker hoses are inexpensive and effective, and they release smaller amounts of water over longer periods, right at the base of the plant where the roots can get it. If you water by hand, don’t just use the hose. A good quality hand sprayer will control water flow and make the process much faster and easier.
I commonly am asked how I know when my plants are getting enough water. The answer is relatively simple. I insert my finger into the soil an inch or two away from the base of my plants, up to the 2nd knuckle. The surface of the soil will dry out much more quickly due to sun and wind, but at this depth you will have a much better idea of how moist or dry the garden soil is. If the soil you feel is dry, water. If the soil is moist, wait. Beyond that, watch for sign that your plants are too dry (brittle, stressed, limp leaves) or too wet (waterlogged, droopy leaves, bloated fruit).