How to Make Watering Your Vegetable Garden Easier

A green watering can sitting on the ground in front of vegetable plants

Are you wondering how much water to give your plants? And how do you measure the water if you're using a hose to water your garden? Keep reading for the answer.

Use these tips to make watering your garden easier and more effective. Find out how much water your garden needs, how to take care of your hoses, and how to avoid wasting water. Here's how to water your vegetable garden.

The heat and thick humidity of summer have arrived in Oklahoma, and even the morning and evening hours are hot and extremely sticky.

Years ago, I would sometimes just quit watering the garden because it was too hot and awful to stand out there in the oppressive heat. 

By then, the weeds had probably overtaken my garden rows and perhaps bugs had wreaked havoc on my plants. No wonder I'd give up.

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Fortunately I've learned a few things since then. I thought I'd share my tips for making it easier to water the vegetable garden - and any flowers you might have growing too.

In this article you'll learn how much water your garden really needs, some tips on watering and some products that might be handy and helpful.

Use a water timer

The Chief and I are both guilty: we tend to leave the water on when we fill the water troughs. Sometimes overnight. Sometimes even longer than that.

It takes awhile to fill a water trough, so we stick the end of the hose in the water and walk away to do other things. We'll remember to turn it off, right?

But my problem wasn't just filling water troughs. I'd finish watering the garden and set the end of the hose down, then walk back to the house to turn off the faucet.... and by the time I got to the front door I'd forgotten. Again.

I was desperate to stop wasting water and money! I finally bought a water timer and now I'm constantly recommending it to people. 

Honestly, I hate admitting that I was so careless as to leave the water running like that, but if I can help one person save money with this tip it's worth confessing.

That water timer has saved me so much money over the past couple of years!

When I turn on the hose I set the timer to 30 minutes. Hopefully I'll remember to shut off the faucet by then, but if not, the timer is my back-up insurance. 

If I once again walked from the garden to the house and forgot to turn off the water, the timer will close the connection to the hose after 30 minutes.

Is that perfect or what?

Amazon carries several water timers; this is the one I use. It has lasted for more than three years and I'm extremely happy with it. 

I even have a replacement timer (the same brand and style) in the shed just in case the original quits working.

Nothing lasts forever, but I'm prepared.

UPDATE: It lasted four years! The first water timer finally died in the summer of 2021 and I replaced it with the other water timer I had on hand. I didn't waste a single gallon of water!

Water timer tips

Personally, I never turn the water timer dial to "off" if I finish watering before that 30 minutes is up. Instead I turn off the faucet and let the timer run out naturally. 

I also remove the timer from the water spigot during the winter. Maybe these two tips are why mine has lasted so long.

I usually clean out the inside of my water timer once during the summer by removing the washer, flushing it all out and then reassembling it. 

It's really been a water-saver and a money-saver for me.

A blue water spigot with a yellow and grey water timer attached, in front of the cream-colored wall of a house.

How much water does your garden need?

So how much water does your vegetable garden need, anyway? The generally-accepted answer to that question is one inch of water per week. 

But that's a generalization; it's different for every garden. 

Young plants and container plants require more water more often. High temperatures and wind can wick the moisture out of the ground.

Soil type also affects how much water your garden needs. Sandy soil needs more water. A garden that is rich in organic matter will require less water. 

(Compost will add organic matter to your garden soil, and it's so easy to make your own. Find out more about composting here.)

Mulching your garden helps prevent evaporation and keeps your soil moist and cool. 

I use whatever I have available as mulch: dried grass clippings, autumn leaves, straw (beware of weed seeds in hay), and leftover bags of the wood shavings that I use as bedding in the chick brooder. 

Wood chips are a great mulch, but not all wood chips are created equal. Learn more about using wood chips as mulch here.

A two- to four-inch layer of mulch is the most effective for keeping your soil cool and moist. Keep the mulch at least one inch away from your plant stems.

How much water do tomato plants need?

Some plants will need more and some will be happy with less, but a good rule of thumb is to give your tomato plants (and most of your garden plants) one inch of water per week. 

If you receive an inch of rainfall in a week, great! If you get some rain but not as much as one inch, you'll need to supplement. A rain gauge is a great investment!

How to measure one inch of water

"One inch of water" is vague when it comes to watering your garden, right? Here's how to figure out how much water to give your plants.

One square foot of garden space would need 0.62 gallons of water to equal one inch of water or rainfall, or approximately 2/3 of a gallon.

Next, figure out the square footage of your garden area. For example, a typical raised garden bed is 4' x 8', which equals 32 square feet. 

So a 4' x 8' raised bed would require 32 x 2/3 gallons of water to equal 1" of rainfall or 1" of water - in other words, 21.3 gallons of water equally distributed over the area of the raised bed in our example.

To figure out how much water from your hose equals 2/3 of a gallon, mark a bucket with that amount. Now fill the bucket up the mark, keeping track of how long it takes you to fill it up.

Now you know about how long to direct the hose on your plants.

Remember that this is an approximation, and that your plants will need more water when it's extremely hot and less if it has rained during the week. 

Some plants require less water, such as Mediterranean herbs which are native to drier climates. 

Use this amount (2/3 of a gallon per square foot) as a basic guide and use your instincts to provide more water if needed. Using the knuckle test is also helpful: Stick your finger into the soil up to the first knuckle. If the soil feels dry, it's probably time to water.

When and how to water your garden

The best time to water the garden is early in the morning or in the evening when the heat is less likely to evaporate the water. 

If you water in the evening be careful to keep water off the plant foliage. Damp foliage is more likely to develop fungal problems or diseases such as powdery mildew.

Plus, if the leaves haven't dried off before the sun hits them, your plants will suffer from sunscald.

Sprinklers and spray nozzles make watering easier, but using a soaker hose or watering by hand with a hose or watering can will also help prevent damp foliage and fungal issues by directing the water to the plants' roots.

Watering deeply but less often encourages plants to grow deep root systems, which increases drought tolerance.

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Use rainwater

Plants like rainwater better than water from a hose. Maybe that isn't a scientific fact but that's what I've noticed in my own garden. 

Well water is also better than city water, which contains chlorine and other chemicals.

Save rainwater if you can to use in your garden. You can put a rain barrel under your downspouts, for instance. 

I use the rainwater that collects in buckets, the horses' feeders and the wheelbarrow to water my garden.

Water reservoirs

Water reservoirs will help get you out of the heat faster and put water right at your plants' roots where it's needed.

Cut the top off of a two-liter soda bottle and punch small holes in the sides and bottom. Bury this reservoir next to a plant and fill it with water. 

The reservoir will allow the water to drip out slowly right at the plants' roots where it's needed most.

It's a great way to give more water to plants that need more while not drowning others that might like a drier soil.

Water reservoirs work especially well in containers, dispensing water over a longer period of time than a hose or watering can would. 

Water tends to run right out of containers, but reservoirs allow the roots more time to drink it up.

A plastic pot with two petunia plants and a green water reservoir inside of it.

But, if the water does run right through your container and you know it couldn't have been absorbed by the soil that quickly, you can set the container in a larger container of water until it soaks up enough to wet the soil at the top. Now, as long as you don't let the soil dry out too much for too long, it should absorb water the next time you water it

Take care of your hoses

Hoses are expensive! Keep them out of sunlight when you're not using them. Don't drive your car over a hose. Put them away in the winter.

If you have a split or broken hose - or if your dog likes to chew on hoses - here's a tutorial on how to repair a leaky hose.

My grandmother insisted that running over a hose that was stretched across the driveway would split the hose. As children, my brother and I had to coil up the hose after she watered the fruit trees. 

Use a soaker hose

Soaker hoses are a great way to water your plants slowly - which plants love - and to minimize the time you have to spend in the summer heat.

A black soaker hose winds around a raised garden bed of tomato plants.

Sunlight will weaken a soaker hose very quickly. They'll last longer if you cover your hose with several inches of mulch. 

Keep the mulch a couple of inches away from the stems of your plants.

Make it easy to water your garden

Your garden should be located in a spot that's near your water source. My first garden was a total, complete failure because I ignored this very important fact.

There are ways to move the water closer to your garden though. 

For instance, we had two 50-gallon plastic barrels next to the barn, where they collected rainwater from the roof. The Chief added a water spigot (hose bib) to each barrel, about four inches above the bottom.

The barrels sat on concrete blocks to raise them off the ground far enough that we could fit a bucket underneath the spigot, or we could attach a hose to the spigot. 

If you have a rooftop nearby, a rain barrel like this is a great way to bring water closer to your garden.

We lost the barrels when the barn burned down, but the Chief came up with an alternative, using what we had on hand.

A man standing in front of a white water tank. His back is turned to the camera and he is wearing a floppy grey hat. He is working on the top of the water tank, attaching a black rubber water trough to the top.

We moved this 250-gallon tank from the horse barn and set it near the garden on top of two rows of concrete blocks. 

The Chief rigged up a "funnel system" to catch rainwater and fill the tank. He set a black rubber trough on top of the tank to catch rainwater, cut a hole in the bottom of it and glued a funnel in the hole.

My hose is attached to the spigot at the bottom of the tank. I can water the garden from this tank without having to lug the hose across the yard in the heat. 

If there isn't enough rain and we need more water, we fill it with the hose.

Be sure to put a tank or barrels up high enough off the ground to have good water pressure coming out of the spigot. Let gravity help you!

Using these tips and tricks, you'll be able to keep your garden watered through the hottest part of summer and be rewarded with a plentiful harvest. 

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A green watering can in front of vegetable plants. TEXT: tips to make watering your garden easier.


About the author, Kathi Rodgers

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