10 Smart Watering Tips for Your Vegetable Garden

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Watering can

Getting smart with how we splosh water about the garden isn’t just about conserving it – it’s also common sense. It will save you a lot of time and money, and your plants will be all the better for it. A win-win scenario!

1. Water Selectively

Watering by hand means you can be more selective about which plants you water. Only water if they really need it. You can check for soil moisture at root level if you’re unsure by digging a small hole with a trowel, or simply by poking your finger in. If it’s cool and damp, just move on.

2. Water at the Right Time

When you water makes a big difference to how much moisture your plants take up. Watering early in the morning gives crops time to absorb the moisture before it evaporates in the heat of the day. Any water that gets on the foliage will also have enough time to dry off before nightfall, minimising the risk from slugs and fungal diseases.


3. Aim Carefully

If you’re watering by hand, be sure to aim the flow of water at the base of plants where it’s needed. This will also keep foliage dry. A really good soaking every now and then is better than little and often, and will encourage a more extensive root system.

4. Trap Water

Sunken plastic pots make excellent miniature reservoirs. Sink them up to the rim next to thirsty plants such as squash, then water into the pot. The pot will feed the water directly to the root zone rather than running off on the surface. You could also use upturned bottles with the cap removed and the bottom cut off.


5. Irrigate Efficiently

If you want to automate watering, opt for drip irrigation or leaky hoses over sprinklers. These types of irrigation deliver water closer to the ground so that less is wasted. Place your setup on a timer and override it if it’s been raining or if rain is due. Keep an eye on the weather forecast!

6. Pick Pots with Care

Clay pots such as terracotta pots are highly porous. In essence this means they suck moisture out of the potting compost. Some other types of pots, such as those made of metal, heat up very quickly, accelerating moisture loss. Opt for plastic or glazed pots instead. You can always hide ugly pots within a more decorative metal or terracotta outer pot if you need to.

Group pots together to cast shade at root level and slow evaporation further.


7. Add Organic Matter

Soils that are rich in organic matter absorb moisture more easily – and hang onto it - so add well-rotted compost or manure to beds whenever you get the chance. Add thinner layers in summer so you can fork it in and replant, then thicker layers over winter.

8. Mulch Regularly

Laying mulches over bare soil dramatically slows evaporation. You can use landscape fabrics, or pebbles and stones on pots, but the best mulches are of well-rotted organic matter such as compost which will also help to feed the plants as they grow. Lay mulches at least two inches (5cm) thick onto moist soil. Coarser mulches such as bark chippings allow rainwater to drain through more easily, while grass clippings offer a ready supply of mulching material. Keep mulches topped up throughout summer.


9. Collect Rainwater

Collecting rainwater not only saves precious drinking water, it’s also better for your plants. Collect water off your roof, greenhouse and shed into water barrels close to where you’ll most need the water. Multiple water barrels can be linked together to store even more rainwater.

10. Get Rid of Weeds

Weeds among your vegetables mean competition for soil moisture, so keep on top of them. Annual weeds can just be hoed off and left on the soil surface, but take the time to dig out the roots of more pernicious perennials such as bindweed or ground elder.

Smart watering does wonders in the garden, giving us luscious plants and, of course, exceptional produce. I hope we’ve given you a few ideas to try out in your own garden. As ever, please let us know if you’ve got any other water-saving tips. We’d especially love to hear from gardeners in water-stressed regions – how do you make every drop count? You can let us know by posting a comment below.

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Show Comments


"I live in Southern Portugal, zone 10a, where rain is scarce. We are in a 4-year drought at the moment, so every drop of water counts. I do everything you mention but also do other things as well. In May I empty nearly all containers as they require a lot of water to keep plants alive in our hot summer temperatures of 35C-40C. During the winter I dig out the centre half metre of each raised bed (mine are 1.2m x 2.4m) and fill it with leftover mulch straw from the previous summer. I cover it with around 15cm of soil initially and top it up just before planting. I make sure that this straw core is soaked before planting out so that the plants have a good start. This evens out the bed moisture during the season, which prevents blossom end rot in the tomato/pepper family. I use a moisture meter everyday to assess the water requirement and each bed has a tap for the seep irrigation. Every summer I take one bed out of use, empty it and use it as a temporary compost bin for kitchen scraps, shredded paper and shredded prunings. The following year I cover it with soil and plant winter squash - they love it. Making compost during the summer, in a regular heap, requires too much water to keep it moist. I aim to have most of the vegetable plants already mature by July so that irrigating is reduced during the truly hot temperatures of late July and August. Choosing drought and heat tolerant vegetables is crucial. Forget lettuce! The washing machine outlet feeds a quince tree and I capture as much water as possible from the kitchen sink to water other fruit trees. We have a bucket in the shower to capture any cold water before it runs hot and that is also used to water plants. One other vital job is to regularly check all hosepipes for leaky joints and to always turn off taps to hoses in case there's a sudden leak. "
Sue on Saturday 20 July 2019
"Hi Sue. Wow! These are really great tips for coping with severe water stress. It's great to get sound advice like this from someone who has to cope with genuinely very hot and dry summers. It seems like not a drop is wasted anywhere in your garden!"
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 24 July 2019
"Hi Ben. Thanks for your kind comment. Another couple of useful tips I have are: place a bucket beneath any outdoor-mounted aircon units. They produce around 3 litres or more a day. The other tip is watering early in the morning whilst the water itself is at its coolest. I have heavy mulch (around a foot deep = 30cm) over seep hose so by watering with the coolest water, the soil stays cooler and therefore roots are cooler. I can even grow regular potatoes which stop growing when the soil temperature hits 25C. With air temperatures of 40C it can be a challenge."
Sue on Wednesday 24 July 2019
"Thanks again Sue. This is really thorough. Keep an eye out for our next video on YouTube, which will be coming out this Friday - we're doing a piece on coping with extreme summer heat, though it seems like you're already a pro at coping with the heat."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 24 July 2019

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