Keeping plants well hydrated is as easy as sipping ice tea on a sweltering day, right? Yes, if you stick to a few simple guidelines.
Pick your plants. When deciding what to grow, choose plants suited to the soil, climate, and site. A plant that grows best in shade, for instance, will demand lots of water in a sunny spot. As you set up your garden, try to group plants according to their water needs, so you can irrigate them efficiently.
Putting down roots. Every plant needs extra attention in its early days. Check newly planted crops frequently, and don't let them wilt from lack of water.
Try early or late. Water your garden in the early morning or in the evening—cooler temperatures mean less moisture evaporates than during the heat of the day. Direct your hose or watering can at the soil around plants to get them the maximum moisture, with minimum evaporation.
Take the two-knuckle test. Before you water, push your index finger two knuckles deep into your garden's soil. Feel damp? If so, don't water the garden, no matter what the plants look like. (Many appear to wilt during high heat.) Also, prioritize your water usage—seedlings, for example, have small, delicate root systems that require consistent watering. Give priority to transplants and newly planted crops, and leave trees, shrubs, and perennials to find water in the soil with their deep roots.
Dig the drip. To use water most efficiently, use a soaker hose (which "weeps" water along its length) or, even better, a drip-irrigation system (which lets you target exactly where you want the water to go).
Weed and mulch. Weeds compete with plants for water. Mulch shields the soil from the baking sun and keeps it moist.
Key to success: Make sure your plants get about an inch of water a week, either from rainfall or you.