Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
August, 2001
Regional Report

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Use a water wand to break the force of the flow of water.

Watering The Right Way

I've noticed most people don't know how to water the garden. I watch in horror as people use "gun nozzles" to water, washing soil away from plant roots. Gun nozzles are more useful for water gun fights or car washes than watering your plants. Here along the coast, we don't get any rain from about May until November. If you want your plants to thrive, you need to know how provide water correctly.

How Much To Water

To water correctly, the water needs to reach down to the roots. How often you water depends on the soil type, whether it's been windy, hot, or cool. Plants use more water when it's been windy or hot, less when the temperatures are cool.

You'll know if you aren't watering enough by looking at your plants. Vegetables will be tough, lettuce will be bitter, and fruit trees will drop their blossoms without setting fruit if they're allowed to dry out between watering. Poor watering habits will stunt plant growth and, at the very least, cause brown tips on the leaves. Always check the soil with your fingers before watering. If it's dry to the touch, then water. If it feels damp, wait.

When to Water

The best time to water depends on the type of plant. For well established plants, water in early morning or evening. By watering in the morning or evening, the plant has a chance to take up the water without it evaporating before they can utilize it. New plantings don't have established roots. Water in the morning so the moisture will be available during the daylight hours when plants actively need the moisture. Plants need to have water available during the hottest part of the day to prevent them from wilting, but it's also important not to over water young plants. If you damage roots with too much water, they won't be able to take up any moisture, no matter how much you provide.

Also, supply ample amounts of water during the regular rainy period if there is a drought. Some plants in our region rely on winter rains for most of their moisture needs. You can take the roll of Mother Nature if the winter rains fail to arrive.

Wind and Water

If you live in a very windy area, try to do your watering before the wind starts blowing. Wind is very drying and will rob moisture from foliage. If you have an automatic irrigation system, a strong wind may carry the water far from its intended location.

Avoid Overhead Watering

Water the soil, not the plant. In other words, don't water overhead. Use a water wand or gentle bubbler head and keep it near the ground. Don't wash the soil away from the roots by using a strong jet of water. If you don't have a bubbler available, use a rubber band to wrap an old sock around the end of the hose to break the force of the water flow. For irrigation systems, use low flow sprinklers so the water has time to soak into the soil instead of running off the surface.


Use mulch to prevent moisture loss and keep the soil surface and plant roots cool. Water deeply to encourage roots to follow the water into the soil to meet the natural moisture levels.

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