Water Well

Use these smart techniques to conserve water without leaving your garden thirsty.

By Lauren Sloane

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smart watering strategies save water and encourage growthYou've seen this common conservation crime: the oscillating sprinkler watering more sidewalk than garden in the height of the afternoon. Smart organic gardeners know that overhead sprinklers are so last summer—a waste of water and invitation to plant diseases. We asked experts in different climates for hints on watering your garden to keep it healthy throughout the season.

Hand check
Before whipping out the watering can, check your garden's soil moisture with that handiest of tools, your finger. Push it into the ground around your plants. You want the top 2 or 3 inches of the soil to be dry, and the soil below that to be moist. Oh, and don't forget to check your local weather forecast to see what Mother Nature has planned before turning on the hose.

Timing is everything
In warm weather, water in the morning to give plants a chance to drink up before the hot sun or strong winds evaporate the moisture. This protects plants from wilting in the afternoon heat, too. In a prolonged drought, cover more sensitive plants with a shade cloth to limit midday transpiration, suggests Cado Daily of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. If you can't water in the morning, try for late afternoon—but not too late; the foliage should have time to dry before the sun goes down so it doesn't develop fungal diseases.

Deep and infrequent
Seeds and seedlings demand moisture close to the soil's surface, but more established plants need deep watering to develop roots that will find water in the subsoil when drought strikes. Just be careful not to overwater! You want soil that's damp but not soggy down to 5 to 6 inches below the surface. In waterlogged soil, roots are deprived of oxygen and may lose the ability to take up water. If your plants' foliage begins to brown at the edges and fall from the plant, you may be overwatering.

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