Garden watering tips

Keep your plants thriving in this hot weather and master the art of efficient watering with these handy tips from Andy McIndoe.

Watering when it is cooler avoids unnecessary evaporation.
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As strange as it may seem, watering is the hardest garden task to get right. Most of us overwater or underwater, so we don’t make the most of the precious water we give to our plants. We waste water by splashing it around where it isn’t necessary, and we neglect to water plants that are at that critical stage in growth where water is absolutely essential.

Directing water at the base of plants ensures water gets to the roots. Image: Martin Mulchinock.

Five essential watering tips

Although mid to late summer is an obvious time to get out there with the hosepipe or watering can, it is often when we are least effective. Here are a few tips to get the most out of summer watering and avoid clocking up unnecessary bills on the water meter.

  1. If you can, water early morning or late evening when the ground and plants are cooler. This avoids unnecessary evaporation before the water has even got to the roots. Use a fine rose watering can or hose-end sprayer, water gradually and take your time. Blasting the plants with a short deluge means waste and run-off. A slow gently shower means a good soaking.
  2. Direct the water onto the surface of the soil above the roots. The foliage canopy of most plants means that there is dry soil beneath. Take your time to water under the foliage canopy to get the water where it is needed. A long-handled hose end sprayer is ideal for this.
  3. Prioritise what you are going to water: pots and containers, vegetables, plants showing signs of stress go to the top of the list. Grass should be at the bottom. Grass goes dormant and brown in dry weather; it recovers when temperatures are lower and rainfall is plentiful. Sprinkling on a little water occasionally is usually a waste of time.
  4. Watering is also necessary after applying a solid fertiliser. You should have fed your roses after deadheading and they need water to absorb the feed and to stimulate new growth and flowers. Watering also helps to reduce diseases such as mildew on roses and perennials. These are more susceptible to attack when the ground is dry and the foliage is limp.
  5. An automatic or manual irrigation system may be worth considering if you have a number of pots and containers that are destined to stay in the same place. It can also be useful on a small vegetable plot near the house. In permanently planted areas with shrubs and perennials irrigation systems should be unnecessary if the right plants are chosen. If plants rely on irrigation systems the roots stay near the surface and the plants become more susceptible to drought.
An automatic or manual irrigation system may be worth considering in a large garden. Image: Martin Mulchinock.

When you are out there watering it is always worth considering what you could do next season to reduce the amount of watering you have to do. For example use bigger pots, group them together and use loam-based compost that doesn’t dry out as quickly.  In dry beds and borders use more drought resistant plants such as silver foliage shrubs and woody aromatics. Plant fewer plants in a pot to increase the amount of compost and water available for each one.

If you have an old hosepipe that bends and kinks or hose fittings that leak it’s time to replace them. Thousands of gallons of water are wasted in gardens with the use of poor equipment. A good hosepipe that easily reaches where you need the water is one of the most valuable garden tools, even if you only use it to fill the watering can!

So let’s take watering a little more seriously. It’s a skill. Master it and you will keep your plot in better shape right through into autumn.

Andy McIndoe

About Andy McIndoe

Andy has over 35 years experience in retail and production horticulture. A regular contributor to a number of magazines, newspapers and BBC Radio he lectures to gardening groups and societies at home and abroad and leads numerous gardening tours. As Managing Director of Hillier Nurseries he was responsible for the Company’s exhibit at RHS Chelsea Flower Show for 25 years, maintaining an unbroken record of Gold Medals. Andy’s special interests include hardy shrubs, trees, herbaceous perennials, flower bulbs and garden design and he has authored books on all of these subjects. His latest book, The Creative Shrub Garden is published by Timber Press in the UK and US. Andy blogs three times a week and is a tutor of several courses at the online MyGardenSchool.
View all posts by Andy McIndoe.