by Mary Ann Walz, High Country Gardens
Watering is an art that each gardener must learn because everyone's soil and climate are so different. And these differences play such a major role in determining how much water plants need, and how often they need to be watered.
When to water
The general rule is to water after the soil has dried out but before the plants wilt; and early morning watering will minimize evaporation and discourage foliar diseases caused by wet foliage at night.
In frozen soil, winter watering is essential for first season transplants. Water deeply every three to four weeks.
For loose soil, the best way to tell if the soil is still wet or dry is to feel it with your hand, not just the top inch but way down (8 to 12 inches, depending on size and age of plant roots) and using a trowel. After doing this several times, you will get a good indication of how long the water lasts in the different soils in your landscape. This will change in different seasons so it'll be necessary to feel the soil again as the weather changes.
How to water
The general rule for watering established plants is to water deeply as opposed to surface watering.
Deep watering encourages the development of deep root systems, which leads to healthy plants. Annuals and perennials need water to a depth of 6 to 12 inches.
The easiest way to water deeply is with drip irrigation, or soaker hoses.
A drip system applies water very slowly so it soaks in deeply. Because the water is not sprayed, very little is wasted to evaporation. There is a drip system appropriate for every application.
A soaker hose works well too but may not get an adequate amount of water to plants that are not close to the hose line. You will also need to do a feel test with your hand several times to see how long you should let the water run. Very little moisture will be observed on the soil surface but rest assured there will be more moisture below that does not show.
Hand watering a few plants may be necessary with either of the methods above. Use the hose and watering can. If you prefer hand watering, make a saucer or rim around each plant with garden soil. Fill the saucer, let it drain, and fill again.