Watering – Guidelines to Consider

I had to run out to the garden about noon today to get some radishes for lunch.  When I walked out the door in the cool shade of our big maples it was delightful. I was comfortable and shaded all the way to the garden.  Once a few feet past the gate, I felt the true warmth of the day since all but a tiny corner of the garden at noon is in full sun. Too hot for me!  I was glad I was only pulling a few radishes.

While I was out there I couldn’t resist looking around a bit. The big leaves of Outredgeous Red Lettuce were bent over to the ground and looked “done in” —— as did beet leaves, chard, kale, and late cabbage.  Even the peas which are loaded with pods were not liking the heat.

I’ve seen this many times under the same circumstances over 34 years.  And no matter how many times I see it — it always make me feel a bit upset even though I absolutely know from experiencing it — that all those leaves will perk up at soon as the sun gets lower and less intense.  And – after a night of recovery — their life force will be strong in the AM and I can harvest any of it and know I’m getting the best.

Sympathizing  – But Encouraging Resistance

Feeling that “upsetness” made me think of my readers that tell me they are addicted to watering.  If I feel upset — what must they feel!

I encourage you to resist the urge to water.  It does much more harm than good under these circumstances.  The plants have been use to the cool weather and all of a sudden it’s hot.  So they’re just giving off more water than what they’re physically able to take in.  If there was more water in the soil — they wouldn’t be able to take it in anyway.  That’s just the way things work with plants.  Some show the signs more than others.

What Too Much Watering Can Do

Watering too much can cause the yellowing and death of seedlings and also plants in the garden.  If soil becomes too water logged, roots can’t breath.  Soil needs air —- NOT AIR POCKETS — but air throughout the soil.  Without air seedlings can yellow and die —- and so can plants.

One of the reasons for preparing soil deeply is so that roots can go down to get water.  If you constantly water, they won’t go deep in spite of the soil being properly prepared.  And then if any stress comes — they can’t handle it. So they either die or don’t produce fruit in abundance. Sort of a lot like people.  If someone has always had everything given to them and hasn’t done without anything —- it’s tough for them to even survive when difficulties come, much less produce an abundance of good fruit.

I’m not set up for watering and never have been.  So I don’t water.  But if you are and you want to water —- resist the urge to do it all the time.

Here are some guidelines that might help.

  • Rain water is the gold standard for water.  If you don’t have a means of collecting rain water, and you are using a municipal source of water with all it’s chemicals — rethink watering period!  It could be doing much more harm than good by leaching nutrients from the soil and not allowing the plants to take up nutrients that are there.
  • If you have a nice rain — don’t water until at least a week after the rain  — and only then if you are not expecting more rain.
  • Just because plants wilt in the day — it doesn’t mean they need water.  If they’re wilted at daybreak the next day — water might help.
  • Don’t go by the top of the soil being dry. Push your finger into the soil.  If it’s moist 1 1/2 to 2 inches down — don’t water.
  • With seedlings, let soil almost dry out before watering again.
  • And – as I’m sure you already know — if you choose to water,  water into the ground not onto the leaves.

Last but not least, I hope you’re keeping your soil protected and covered with mulch to keep more moisture in.

Final Thought

If you resist constant watering and water ONLY when the plants really need it, I think your overall results will be a better, healthier and more productive garden.


Sources for Watering Supplies: Gardener’s Supply,   Zoysia Farms


Related Posts:

Watering – It’s Overrated

One Reason Plants Wilt and Actions that Help

Ten Reasons to Mulch

Needs One Inch of Rain a Week!  Oh Yeah?

Should You Garden if You Can’t Water? Yes!

How’s Your Garden in This Drought?

Adding Organic Matter – 2nd Key to Soil Improvement


Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient and it’s a lot healthier.


All content including photos is copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.  All Rights Reserved.


  • Very good advice! Thank you for the tip about checking the soil to 2″. I like the comparison to people. It’s so true. Have a beautiful day!

  • Thanks Diane! Always appreciate your comments. Sure enjoy having you as a reader!

  • Theresa, You are reading my mind! I watched my beautiful borage wilt yesterday during the heat. It was so tempting to go give it a drink, but I came out this morning and it was just as perky as it could be. Today with the same heat levels, it did NOT wilt. Hmmmm.

  • Hello Theresa. I am a new reader and am thrilled to have found your blog. Last year was my first vegetable garden (central Maryland, DC suburb) and, while I prepared my soil deeply (2 feet down with hardpan clay – that was a workout!), my biggest mistake was not mulching. And now I see, overwatering as well!

    So how about carrot seedlings? I know they say to keep the soil moist at all times so that they can germinate, but once they are up (mine are about 2″ tall now, only about 1/3 germinated), should I switch to this watering plan?

    Also, I put in strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries this year. Do these watering guidelines apply to those? After reading this post I’ve been letting the strawberry soil dry out to 2″ down before watering, but the most recent set of fruits seemed to have not progressed beyond about 1 cm in size – they look stunted. Was this a mistake? How about the new raspberry and blueberry bushes? Is this watering method appropriate during the establishment period?

    Thank you so much,

  • Hi Heather. Welcome to TMG. Nice to have you as a reader.

    Regarding your carrots. Yes, once they are up — follow the guidelines I gave in the post for watering. Keeping the soil moist at all times is only for the germination of the carrot seeds.

    Strawberries — your second set of fruits from strawberries are not as big as first fruits.

    I mulch my strawberries, but I never water. I get tremendous crops. The first flush of berries on most varieties are much bigger than those that come after. It is possible in drought to have stunted strawberries. But if you have been watering and then just letting the soil dry out to 2 inches down and then watering —- that’s NOT drought. You should be fine.

    Raspberries usually don’t need watering. But — as I mentioned in the post — if it doesn’t rain for a week and you want to water — do so. In drought conditions watering as instructed in the post will be helpful to getting bigger and better fruit.

    Blueberries have shallow roots. Keep them heavily mulched. I don’t water mine but I get great crops and we eat blueberries all winter from the freezer. When you water, follow the guidelines — they work for established plants and new plants just getting started.

    Let me know how things go.

    And Heather, would you please let me know how you found my site?
    Again, welcome to TMG!

  • Thank you so much for answering my many questions!

    The strawberries – these actually were the first fruits on my brand new Eversweets. The first 1 or 2 berries (in the whole bunch of 6 plants) were normal size, but then all the rest have been stunted. Perhaps they did need more water during the establishment period? I think I put them in about 5-6 weeks ago. I have them mulched with pine straw – remember this is my first year doing any mulching – but I think it might not be thick enough to keep the soil from getting too dry too quickly. I’ll have to get some more.

    Or might it have something to do with all the runners they are putting out? It seems I read somewhere to remove all the runners the first year. Do you recommend that?

    I believe I found you via a link someone posted on Gardenweb. Which USED to be my go-to source for all my questions – but no longer, thanks to you!


  • You are very welcome Heather. I will try to help whenever I can.
    Conventional advice for strawberries is to NOT pick the berries the first year and to cut the runners.
    Having said that — here’s what my approach would be —– Go ahead and pick berries BUT- don’t expect a huge crop after they’ve only been in the ground for 6 weeks! Strawberries need a good year to establish themselves.

    I’m not adamant one way or the other about runners, but I can give you some principles. Runners take energy. Usually strawberries put out runners after the crop is almost finished. There are some exceptions to this. My Tristar everbearing plants are giving me their 3rd round of berries and are putting out runners at the same time.

    If you cut the runners the strength of the plant will go to the plant and not the runners. If you want a few plants and leave a few runners with new plants on the end — it will do no harm. If you only have 6 plants now, you probably could do with a few more.

    Pine straw is absolutely PERFECT for strawberries. And yes, you are correct, they love a nice THICK mulch. The next time you get a nice soaking rain — pile more mulch around the plants. They’ll love that.

    Regarding the establishment period for your berries: I don’t know how much mulch you had on them from the beginning and I don’t know what weather conditions were —- but — as a rule of thumb —- after planting most anything — water well (this is for good root to soil contact) and mulch well. Then follow the guidelines in the post.

    Thank you Heather for letting me know how you found me. Garden Web is an excellent source of input.
    Again, I am pleased to be able to help you and to have you reading TMG.

  • Preventing evaporation of stored water: sometimes it’s necessary to store water, for use in outdoor pots and greenhouses for instance.

    We have several covered water butts but also an old dustbin and a dolly tub which collect water from a shed roof and the greenhouse roof. In very hot weather the water evaporates from these – just when you need water most of all.
    I had the idea of covering the surface with something which would also let the roof water in and a light bulb lit over my head. I cut two circles, roughly the diameter of the tubs, of bubble wrap and laid them on the surface. It works!

    I think I deserve the Nobel Prize for Gardening or Water Saving!

    What do you mean, there isn’t one? There jolly well OUGHT to be 🙂

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