Watering Tips for the Garden, Lawn, and Landscape

Care and How To

Watering is one of the most frequent tasks performed in any garden or landscape.  Proper watering utilizes water responsibly, reducing evaporation and runoff.   There are many ways to make the process easier and better for the gardener and the plants.  Use the tips below to water your garden.

Top Ten Watering Tips

These watering tips apply to all areas of the landscape.watering annuals in a container

  1. Check soil moisture frequently and water only when needed.  Irrigation is needed when the soil feels dry to the touch down 1 or 2 inches.
  2. Water the root zone, not the foliage.  Roots absorb the water, and wetting the foliage doesn't provide moisture the plants can readily use.  Plus, wet foliage is more likely to have disease issues!
  3. Water slowly, deeply, and infrequently.  Avoid a quick splash that can promote shallow rooting, leading to poor drought tolerance.
  4. Water in the morning to allow wet foliage to dry quickly in the morning sun.
  5. Thoroughly wet the entire root zone.  Apply water until the soil is moist to at least 5 or 6 inches.  Unsure how deep it is?  Water and dig a hole to see. 
  6. Use mulch to help conserve soil moisture and reduce the frequency of watering.  Mulch can be used in nearly all garden settings, including vegetable gardens and containers.
  7. Don't overwater.  Check the soil moisture frequently, but only apply water when the soil is dry to the touch 1 or 2 inches down.
  8. Set an alarm or timer on your phone so you don't forget to turn off sprinklers, drip irrigation systems, or soaker hoses.  Water timers can also be purchased to avoid running water unnecessarily.
  9. For garden areas such as annual beds, containers, hanging baskets, and vegetable gardens that require frequent watering, set up a watering system such as soaker hoses or drip irrigation systems.  Assemble them in spring before plants get large.  These systems can help save time and provide water directly to the root zone.
  10. If you will be away from your garden for more than a couple of days, have a family member, friend, or neighbor water.  Newly planted plants and containers cannot go for long periods without water. 

Photo of watering can
A watering can with a wide opening makes filling and mixing fertilizers easier.

Tips for Watering Equipment & Systems

  • Invest in a high-quality watering wand with a breaker at the end that gently showers plants but delivers a good volume of water.
  • Use a watering wand with a local shut-off to make it easy to stop water flow in-between plants or containers.
  • Use a long watering wand (24 to 36 inches long) to reduce bending and reaching.
  • Avoid using spray nozzles.  The powerful stream of water damages foliage and washes soil away.  When adjustable spray nozzles are used on mist settings, they deliver a small amount of water, requiring more time to wet the soil thoroughly.
  • Repair or replace leaky or broken hoses, sprinklers, and watering wands to avoid wasting water.
  • Buy a watering can with a large opening to make filling and mixing water-soluble fertilizers easier.
  • Install a rain gauge to know how much water Mother Nature has already provided for your garden.

Tips for Watering Trees & Shrubs

Watering a newly planted tree
Consistent watering during the first year is the single most important task that will ensure long-term success when planting a tree

  • Water trees and shrubs every 7 to 10 days after planting.  Woody plants will need regular watering the entire first growing season and supplemental water when conditions are dry in the second and third years.
  • When watering newly planted woody plants, focus the water on both the original root ball and the surrounding soil.   Most of the roots the first year after planting are still in the original root ball.
  • Consistent watering when soil conditions are dry for the first year is the single most important task that will ensure long-term success when planting a tree.
  • Consider using water bags or leaky buckets to water trees slowly and deeply.  Water bags will typically empty in 5 to 10 hours and need to be filled 1 to 2 times a week.

Tips for Watering Perennials

  • Water directly at the base of the plant focusing on the root zone.  Avoid overhead sprinklers.
  • The original root ball of newly planted perennials usually dries out faster than the surrounding soil.  Be sure to check both and water when either one is dry.
  • When watering garden plants that are really dry, apply water to the root zone of each plant and come back 15 to 30 minutes later and water again.  The first watering wets the soil allowing the second watering to more easily and deeply soak in.
  • Mark newly planted plants with a brightly colored golf tee, label, or flag to designate (and remind you) which plants need more frequent watering.  This will also make the task easier for anyone watering for you while you're on vacation!
  • If plants are wilting in the heat of the day, check the soil moisture before watering.  Some plants wilt to conserve moisture and perk back up in the evening. 

Newly planted perennial marked with golf tee
To make watering easier, label newly planted plants with a flag, wooden label, or brightly colored golf tee.

Tips for Watering Annuals and Containers

  • The soil in containers dries out much more quickly than soil in the ground.  Containers will require more frequent watering.
  • Check containers for water every day and water when dry.  By mid-summer, they will likely need water every day.  Set up a consistent schedule, so they don't dry out.
  • Many hanging baskets will need water every day, and late in the season, they may need water twice a day in open, sunny, or exposed locations!
  • Unglazed terracotta or clay pots are porous and will dry out more quickly than plastic or glazed containers.

Tips for Watering Lawns

  • Avoid using overhead sprinklers that spray a lot of water high into the air because more water will be lost to evaporation.  Instead, use sprinklers that keep water lower to the ground and can easily be adjusted to change the delivery pattern so water can be applied directly to the area that needs it.
  • Orient sprinklers so they don't wet sidewalks or driveways where water will just run off.
  • Consider using spot sprinklers rather than oscillating sprinklers to water small areas, such as patches of newly seeded lawn.
  • To reduce watering needs, consider letting the lawn go dormant during summer.  Cool-season lawns can typically go with minimal water for up to six weeks in summer with little long-term damage.

sprinkler on lawn
Use a spot sprinkler to water only the areas of the lawn that need it, such as newly seeded patches.

Tips for Watering Vegetable Gardens

  • Vegetable gardens should receive about 1 inch of water a week provided by the gardener when not provided by Mother Nature.
  • Most vegetable gardens will need to be irrigated at some point during the growing season to be the most productive.  Situate vegetable gardens near a water source to make watering easier.
  • Whenever possible, avoid wetting areas outside of the plants' root zone to help reduce the germination and growth of weeds.
  • Whenever possible, avoid overhead watering in the vegetable garden.  Wetting the foliage and surrounding soil promotes disease and weed growth.  Hand water or install soaker hoses to deliver water directly to the plant's root zone.
    soaker hose on annuals
    Soaker hoses are a great way to reduce water loss to evaporation and deliver water directly to the root zone of the plant. 

Last Reviewed: 
July, 2022