"It’s Time to get Serious About Watering," by the Whistling Gardener

Gorgeous and huge Dinnerplate Dahlias. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Gorgeous and huge Dinnerplate Dahlias. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Last week I gave you several tips on how to become a better gardener. As promised, this week I will enlighten you on how to water properly. Good gardeners seem to have a sixth sense about when and how much water to apply to their gardens. This information should help the rest of us who aren’t quite as gifted.

Probably the biggest challenge for gardeners when it comes to proper watering is that the application rate of the hose exceeds the infiltration rate of the soil. Simply put, the water comes out of the hose faster than the soil can absorb it, so the extra water runs off and doesn’t have a chance to soak in.

As I mentioned last week, adding copious amounts of compost to the soil annually will help alleviate this problem. Using the correct kind of sprinkler will also help. Here are a few additional thoughts:

1. Most gardeners water too often and not deep enough. If you are the type of gardener that has a hose in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, chances are you’re not doing a very good job of watering. Before you water, stick your finger into the soil two inches down (if it will go that far) and see if there is any moisture. If there is, DON’T WATER YET. Wait a few more days. If it is dry, apply some water slowly so it has a chance to soak in.

2. Use an appropriate sprinkler:

 a. Soaker hoses, such as those recycled rubber tire ones, that ooze or sweat are perfect for shrub borders and permanent plantings. Turn them on when you go to work and turn them off that evening or even a couple days later (after you have stuck you finger two inches into the ground to check the moisture penetration).

b. Oscillating or impact sprinklers. These are perfect for large areas and apply water fairly uniformly. You can usually run them for 20 to 40 minutes at a time.

c. For spot watering my all-time favorite sprinkler is a spike fan sprinkler. They come in both 90 degree and 180 degree patterns that sell for around five bucks. Trust me when I say, once you have one of these you will guard it with your life. I have had mine for over 40 years.

d. For hand watering pots, it is hard to beat all the various sprinklers that Dramm manufactures. With their wands and hand held nozzles you can do anything from lightly misting the foliage of a delicate fern to blasting off the bug remains on the windshield of your car. With all the designer colors they come in, it can actually be fun to do these chores.

So to summarize, first and foremost, stick your finger two inches into the soil to see if you really need to water. Established shrubs and trees need deep watering only once or twice a month, while perennials, annuals and lawns will prefer a shallower watering one to three times a week and containers might need watering every day or every other day depending on how root bound they are.

Efficient watering is good for our pocketbooks as well as our gardens, so everybody wins when we pay attention to good watering practices.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at

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