Watering Lawns and Gardens

By National Gardening Association Editors

One secret to achieving lush, healthy lawns and bountiful gardens is thorough, careful watering, which encourages deep, drought-resistant roots. Both the frequency and method of irrigation and amount of water required vary with your climate, soil, and plants' needs.

Tools and Materials

  • Shovel
  • Sprinkler or drip irrigation
  • Measuring tape

Determine current soil moisture. Dig a 12-inch deep wedge of soil from your lawn or garden. Observe the amount of moisture in the sample. Water only if the top 6 inches of soil is dry.

Choose time of day. Evening and early morning are the best times to water because less water is lost to evaporation than with midday irrigation. On disease-prone plants such as roses, water in the morning to encourage the plants' leaves to dry quickly. Also avoid overhead sprinkling.

Choose watering method. Aboveground sprinklers cover large areas, such as lawns, most effectively but may encourage the spread of disease on roses, raspberries, beans, and other susceptible plants. In arid climates, around shrubs and trees, and in gardens, use drip irrigation for maximum water efficiency and disease control. Cover irrigation lines with mulch or bury them just under the soil surface.

Adjust sprinkler and drip systems. Set up overhead sprinklers so that water falls only on your lawn or garden and not on sidewalks, roads, or buildings. Adjust the water pressure of either type of system to allow water to penetrate the soil without puddling or running off.

Measure water depth. After 30 to 60 minutes, recheck the depth of water penetration in the soil at different places in the irrigation pattern. Move or adjust the sprinklers to achieve uniform coverage. Stop watering when soil is moist at a depth of 6 to 12 inches. To avoid digging test wedges in the future, note the length of time needed to achieve thorough watering.


Water your lawn and garden before plants show signs of wilting. Wilting stresses plants and may cause flower and fruit loss and poor growth.

To water vegetable and flower gardens containing tall plants that may otherwise block the spray, set sprinklers on a sawhorse, or use a tower-mounted sprinkler.

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