Applying Water

Basically, there are four ways to distribute water to a garden — by hand watering, sprinkling, flooding, or through drip irrigation. Each of these watering methods has benefits and drawbacks.

Hand Watering

Hand watering usually means holding the end of a hose to deliver water to plants. The hose might have a sprinkler nozzle, a watering wand, or just a thumb to break up the stream of water. Hand watering might also include hauling water to plants in buckets, but this is seldom necessary in modern gardens. Hand watering relies on the gardener’s skill to know when each part of the garden has received enough water. If the gardener is impatient or inexperienced, it’s easy to water too shallowly.


Sprinkling, with a hose-end sprinkler or an underground sprinkler system, works best where plants are spaced close together, as in a lawn or ground cover. It’s also effective when plant roots cover a large area, such as in an orchard or grove where the trees are spaced far apart, but the roots need water over the entire surface of the area.


This method of irrigation, which does exactly what it says, is particularly valuable for directing large amounts of water into basins around deeply rooted trees and large shrubs. It’s also useful for watering long rows of vegetables.

Drip irrigation

This system of flexible tubing that distributes water directly to a plant’s roots is valuable in areas where water is in short supply. It has the added advantage of keeping moisture off leaves of plants that might be affected by mold or other diseases, but it’s not well suited for watering expanses of lawn.

Apply Water Slowly

To avoid run-off, apply water at a slow enough rate that the soil can absorb it. If your irrigation system applies it too fast, let the system run until puddles form or water runs off the garden, then shut it off for an hour or so to allow the soil to absorb what you’ve applied. This is called “cycling” irrigation. Many sprinkler timers have settings to allow two or three cycles at each watering.