10 Tips for How To Water Plants

Watering is an essential part of gardening. Following a few basic guidelines ensures your plants get the water they need.

Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.

After decades of watching my garden survive some rather dry summers, I no longer run for the garden hose the minute we go without rain for a few days. Experience has taught me many established plants will survive for a long time without extra watering.

However, I know newly planted flowers, trees and shrubs, plus the vegetable garden and the patio containers, do need water in between rains. Over the years, I’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t work. And yes, I think I’ve also found the perfect garden hose!

Water in the Morning

The best time to water plants is early in the morning. Morning watering lessens the likelihood of some plant diseases because wet leaves dry out more rapidly in the sun. And in the early morning, you can definitely tell if plants need water, because they’re still wilted.

Generally, plants that wilt in the afternoon sun often draw up enough water overnight to recover, so they don’t need that extra sprinkle. Plus, in the morning there is likely to be less wind, so the water from sprinklers won’t drift into your street, patio or driveway.

Water Deeply

Always water deeply. This encourages roots to grow stronger and deeper, which improves the overall health of the plant.

In general, provide an inch of water a week, through watering or actual rain. Use a rain gauge to keep track of how much you get. Rain gauges can also help measure water from overhead sprinklers. Here’s everything you need to know about watering house plants.

Water the Soil Not the Plants

It’s the roots of the plants that need the water. So if you can, water the soil around the plants.

For trees and shrubs, lay the hose nozzle at the base of the plant, then turn on a trickle and let it slowly soak in. This gives the soil a chance to absorb the water. For container plants, water at the edges of the container. Avoid turning the hose nozzle to a spray setting and soaking plants from the top.

Water Selectively

Not all plants need the same amount of water. When planning your garden, consider the water needs of the plants and group plants together accordingly. Then, when you water, you won’t drown those plants that actually like drier conditions, or parch plants that prefer wet soil.

Use Clean Water

As tempting as it may be to use “grey water” (wastewater from a sink, bath or washing machine) don’t do it unless you know for sure what is in it to make it grey and definitely don’t use it on vegetable gardens. Chemicals in our soaps and shampoos may be harmful to plants.  If you’re collecting water in rain barrels, check your state laws for any restrictions.

Avoid Water Run-Off

If you notice the water from your sprinklers running off your lawn or garden into the street, you may be trying to water too much at one time. Reduce the water pressure so the ground can soak it up.

Choose a Lightweight Hose

After too many years of lugging around heavy hoses, I finally found this FlexH2O Lightweight Fabric Hose. I love it. It’s easy to carry around the garden, and it’s flexible enough to coil up after use.

Does it kink? Sometimes, but a quick snap of the hose usually straightens it out. And because it’s lightweight, even if I accidentally drag it across a plant or two, it doesn’t hurt them much.

Choose a Good Nozzle

Pair your perfect garden hose with a great nozzle that doesn’t leak or require squeezing the handle lever to keep it on.

My favorite is a Dramm Revolution 9 Pattern Adjustable Multi-Pattern Nozzle. Flip the small lever on the top forward to turn it on, and flip it down to turn it off. It lets you water without tiring out your hand, which is great if your grip isn’t what it was.

Install Drip Irrigation

If you live in a hot climate, Dee Nash, author of The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff, recommends installing a drip irrigation system for containers and vegetable and flower gardens.

“Drip irrigation systems ensure water is efficiently used and applied at the base of the plants,” she says. “If you set them up on a timer, they are almost fuss-free.”

Check Timers and Irrigation Systems Regularly

If you set up your irrigation system on a timer, check it regularly to ensure it’s working properly. Many timers are battery operated, so start the season with fresh batteries. Also, check irrigation lines and sprinkler heads occasionally to be sure they work properly throughout the season.

Popular Videos

Carol J. Michel
Carol J. Michel is an award-winning author of several books including five gardening humor books and one children's book. As the holder of degrees from Purdue University in both horticulture and computer technology, she spent over three decades making a living in healthcare IT while making a life in her garden. She started writing about gardening on her blog called May Dreams Gardens which lead to numerous magazine articles, her books, and a podcast called The Gardenangelists. She was recently named a GardenComm Fellow by Garden Communicators International.