Written by Kim Smerek

As with everything else about gardening, how to water and how much to water is not an absolute science. The amount, frequency and time you should water is dependent on many variables, like the weather, your soil type, the kind of plant, even the time of year. 

Here are a few easy rules to follow (and a few exceptions to the rules!): 

1. Water deeply - Make sure the water you give your plants is actually reaching the roots. Just because you've wet that top layer of soil, it doesn't men you have gotten water all the way down to the roots. Watering deeply and less often promotes deep root growth as roots will grow downward to seek out water. Watering more frequently and shallowly means the roots are staying closer to the surface to get what they can, which also means your plants are not as stable and are at risk of being uprooted by heavy wind or rain.  

2. Over-watering - Don't over-water! Plants need even moisture, but also benefit from the soil drying out slightly between watering. Again, this promotes deep root growth. Water-logging does not allow the roots to breathe – and root cells will drown without oxygen. How do you know if you're overwatering? The most obvious sign of overwatering is wilting. Leaves will turn yellow and wilted – not crisp and green. Wilting can also occur throughout the plant, including the stem, buds and flowers. You will also notice the plant growing more slowly. Overwatering is more likely in clay soil, which holds water for a longer period of time than sandy soils. It is also more likely to happen in pots without proper drainage (make sure you're planting in containers where excess water can run off and not sit at the roots).

3.  Water the root zone - It's the roots that need water, not the leaves. While sometimes, pest problems demand that we give our gardens a good shower, water on leaves promotes mildew. While you're watering those roots, be sure to water all sides of the plant, as  one-sided watering leads to one-side root growth and poorer nutrient absorption. Watering from overhead means the water may never actually hit the ground because the foliage may overshadow the plant’s base.  

4.  How much? - Different plants have different water requirements. Crop plants, vegetables and fruits, require even moisture throughout their growing season until harvest. Container gardens need more frequent watering as the soil in a container will heat up more in the sunshine and dry out faster than garden soil. Stick your finger in the soil. If it feels dry all the way to your second knuckle, it’s time to water. Usually containers need watering once a day in the summer. Sometimes twice on super hot and sunny days. Plants require less water in cool or rainy weather. 

5. Water in the morning. The best time to water is in early morning, between 5am and 9am. The ground is cooler then and the water has a chance to be absorbed by the soil and not evaporate in the heat. It also gives foliage a full day of sunshine to dry. Wet foliage at night can attract insects, fungus and disease. Wet foliage in the hot sun can cause scorch marks.  

6. Mulch. A good layer of mulch over your garden beds will ensure less moisture loss, keep soil moist for longer, and protect the soil (and roots) from getting too hot (as well as deterring weed growth). This said, mulch can also prevent moisture from reaching below, into the soil. So, when you mulch, be sure to water deeply and less often. 

7. Use the right tool for the job. A lawn will benefit from a sprinkler, or irrigation system that allows for a good, even one inch of water a week during drier spells. Containers are easiest to water with a wand, so you are able to direct the water at the base of the plants. Vegetable gardens and perennial beds are best watered with soaker houses or drip systems, again, directing the water to the roots.

In our present world, water conservation is an issue; it is a precious resource that should be used with care. With a little knowledge we can learn to be better stewards of the environment and water our gardens more efficiently.