Watering Smart

Strategies to reduce evaporation and get water to where it counts--your plants' roots.

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Dramatic fluctuations between wet and dry soil can slow plants' growth and harm the quantity and quality of the fruit. A layer of mulch—straw, grass clippings, shredded leaves, bark chips—helps keep the soil consistently moist. Organic matter, such as compost, mixed into the soil when you plant helps to hold moisture, too.

When is the best time to water your garden?
In the morning, so the plants can drink up during the heat of the day. Evening is the next best time, so long as you get the water to the roots—foliage that stays wet during humid nights invites diseases and fungi to move in. Watering during midday is wasteful, because much of the moisture evaporates before the plants can take it up.

Where is the best spot to water plants?
Directly on the roots.

How much water do plants need?
About 1 inch per week is a standard rule of thumb. A single weekly soaking is much better than daily sprinklings, because shallow watering encourages the roots to stay in the top 4 inches of soil. Shallow roots make plants more susceptible to water stress and weed competition. Wet the soil to at least 1 foot deep (that's 1 foot down from the soil surface, not the mulch layer).

Signs of water stress

  • Leaves have brown edges
  • Leaves are smaller than normal
  • Fruit is undersized or misshapen
  • Plant looks droopy in the morning or late evening
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