Water smart gardening

Water longer, less often

A long soak is better than a quick sprinkle; it prevents scorching, diseases and pests, encourages strong roots, and uses less water over the summer.

Water before 9 a.m.

In the middle of the day, the heat of the sun causes evaporation. In the evening, any dampness left on leaves and soil surface may attract pests or diseases.

Rain barrels, watering cans and soaker hoses are better than sprinklers

Water the roots, not the leaves

Watering by hand lets water soak deep into the ground.

Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation; water goes into the soil, not on leaves. Using a soaker system on a mulched garden can reduce water needs by up to 50 percent.

If you use a sprinkler, it should spray low to the ground not up into the air. Consider a garden tap timer too.

Use mulch

Cover exposed soil with 7 to 10 centimetres (3 to 4 inches) of mulch to prevent weeds, retain moisture, add nutrients and keep roots cool. You can use leaves, bark, wood, stone, rubber and more. Keep mulch away from plant stems and tree trunks to allow air circulation and prevent rot.

Watering annual plants and containers

Containers dry out faster than established flower or vegetable gardens. Put them where rain will reach them, and water frequently to prevent soil from drying out completely – keeping soil moist is easier that re-hydrating dry soil.

Most plants grow best in soil that remains evenly moist without becoming soggy. Make sure containers have adequate drainage holes. Excess water contributes to root rot problems.

Clay and wood containers wick moisture from the soil. Use plastic liners to help retain moisture.

Cover exposed soil with bark nuggets, straw or another organic mulch to retain moisture.

Vegetable gardens

Some vegetables, especially new seedlings may need watering more often than other plants. Here are a few ways to get great vegetables without wasting water:

Prepare a flat soil surface. Raised areas and hills dry out more quickly; water runs away from the root zone and is wasted.

Group your vegetables and herbs according to their moisture needs. Don’t waste water on herbs like rosemary, sage, oregano, winter savoury, and thyme; their flavour is improved by hot, dry conditions.

When to water more often:

  • Water tomatoes more often when the fruit is starting.
  • Water leafy vegetables more often when the hearts are developing.
  • Water peas and beans more often when the plants are flowering.
  • Water potatoes more often when tubers begin to form.

Water-wise tip: cut the top off of a few four-litre (one-gallon) plastic jugs. Punch very small holes in the bottoms (like a shower head) and dig a hole in the garden where you can set them in the ground with only the neck showing. Use a jug near each large plant (tomatoes, cucumbers, or squash) and fill the jugs once or twice a week to maintain even moisture.

Vegetables in containers

Choosing a container

Choose a light-coloured pot to help keep roots cool. Clay and wood pots can wick moisture out of the soil; use a plastic pot or liner to help retain moisture.

  • Lettuces, herbs and other shallow root plants will thrive in small pots – one plant per pot.
  • Cherry tomatoes or baby carrots need large pots with enough space for their roots.
  • Potatoes need a very large container like a garbage can
  • You can use a trellis for beans, miniature cucumbers or squash


Conventional potting soils are not always ideal for growing vegetables. Adding organic material like compost or manure will offer enough food for plants to thrive throughout the season. Organic matter adds structure and nutrients to the soil, so you don’t need chemical fertilizers. It also helps the soil retain moisture.


  • Water the roots, not the leaves.
  • Water containers once a day during the summer.
  • Water slowly to let the water soak down into the soil to maintain even moisture in the entire container.
  • Don’t let the container dry out. Especially when the plant is flowering. You’ll end up with a smaller, less tasty harvest.