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Best Options for Watering the Backyard Garden


Every gardener must water his plants occasionally and there is a lot of information out there about the best options for watering the backyard garden. Each author seems to believe there is one correct way to do it, and of course each “right way” is different.

As in most garden related processes, there is not one correct way for everyone. This type of thinking alienates people and keeps them from gardening either because of cost or ability. My philosophy is, just do the best you can. Nature is forgiving.

Overhead Watering vs. Drip Irrigation

Most professionals suggest drip irrigation and there is a good reason for this. When plants are watered overhead, soil splashes up on the leaves potentially causing fungal diseases, such as blight, to spread. Drip irrigation systems also use less water, which saves money for those using municipal water. The problem with drip irrigation is the initial cost and the complication of design. A more frugal solution is to mulch the garden well and use a typical overhead sprinkler. There are so many benefits of mulch, and, since nature waters from overhead in the form of rain, the design can’t be that flawed.

Water Sources

Water sources fall in the categories of good, better and best.

  • Good: Municipal water from the house. There’s no setup fee, but your monthly bill will increase depending on how much water you use. Plants do not care for chlorinated water, since it’s sterile and lacks the beneficial minerals of rainwater, but in a pinch, it is enough to keep your garden alive. 
  • Better: Rainwater from rain barrels. Saving rainwater is obviously a great thing because it conserves resources and money. You can either purchase pre-made rain barrels or make some yourself from food-grade containers or trash cans. Some skills and tools are required to make your own but it is rather uncomplicated. Unless you invest in a water pump, you will have to also invest in a drip irrigation system to use with a rain barrel, or fill watering cans and water the garden by hand. 
  • Best: Rain straight from the sky. As long as it rains at least once a week, I don’t bother with watering. I wait as long as I can without putting the plants in stress.

Tips for Watering Your Garden

  • If you are an early bird, water in early in the morning. Morning watering allows the water to be absorbed by the soil with very little evaporation and moisture will not remain on leaves causing mildew. You can water at night, which offers the least amount of evaporation, but water remaining on the leaves overnight could lead to mildew issues on leaves. If you are watering at night and start noticing an increase in mildew, switch to morning watering.
  • Frequent, shallow watering causes plants to put down shallow roots. Water deeply less often for stronger plants.
  • Mulch well to prevent evaporation, erosion and the spread of fungal issues.
  • Water well anytime the soil is dry 1 inch below the soil surface. If you aren't sure about watering, consider getting one of these soil moisture sensors.
  • Containers require much more frequent watering than in-ground plants. In the heat of summer they will likely require watering once or twice a day.

The best options for watering the backyard garden really depend on the ability of the gardener, the type of garden and availability of funds. Do the best you can with the resources you have and do not worry about doing it "right."

Do you have a watering tip to share?

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The Restoration Garden by Tiffany Selvey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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