Spring is decidedly here and gardening is in full swing! With all the new plants in your Square Foot Garden and the increased heat that comes along with this time of year, watering your young plants adequately is a vital consideration. One of the hallmarks of Square Foot Gardening is that it conserves precious resources like water, and Mel definitely had his preferences for what kinds of watering systems worked the best and wasted as little water as possible.
So, let’s do a quick run-down of different ways you can successfully water your Square Foot Garden to keep your plants growing and your harvest hopping!
- Hand-watering: There’s no question; this was Mel’s hands-down preferred method of watering, and it’s the one we continue to encourage as well. Place a bucket of water next to your Square Foot Garden, allow the sun to warm it, and then water each plant around the root zone with a cupful of water. You may need to adjust the amount given to each plant as it grows and its need for water grows along with it, but this method allows you to customize your watering as you get farther into the gardening season.
- Hose-watering: If you don’t mind lugging the garden hose around, this can be an efficient way to water your SFG as long as you remember a few guidelines. First, anyone who has ever turned on a hose in the summertime can attest to the fact that the initial water that comes out of the end can be scalding hot. This is not what you want to water your plants with! Be sure to feel the water coming out of your hose before turning it onto your plants. Next, aim to water only those plants that ask for a drink, direct a gentle flow at the base of your plant by the root zone, and avoid spraying water onto the plant itself.
- Drip irrigation: This is a very efficient way to water your plants, because it gets the water where it needs to go and avoids the inevitable evaporation of overhead irrigation systems. Drip irrigation uses a system of small-diameter (1/4”) tubes with drip-emitter heads that deliver water to each individual plant rather than broadcasting it over the entire soil surface. While it’s possible to put this drip irrigation system on a timer, we encourage you to rely on regular inspection of your plants so you’re watering on their schedule rather than the timer’s.
- Watering grids: You know the grid that we recommend to plan out and visually organize your Square Foot Garden? You can use PVC plumbing pipe to create your grid, while employing some ingenious adaptations to turn your grid into a double-duty watering system. Simply use ¾” Schedule 40 PVC pipe (with appropriate fittings) and drill small holes for the water to seep out, then attach a corner fitting to allow you to hook the system up to your garden hose. Anyone with a few light construction skills and possessing an ability to follow directions (p. 174-175 in All New Square Foot Gardening 3rd Edition) will find this a fun and rewarding project.
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3 Quick Watering Tips
- Know when your plants need a drink. Water only when your plants need it, as overwatering can be just as damaging to underwatering. Aim for a daily inspection of your Square Foot Garden so you can become familiar with subtle changes in your plants as the weather warms up. Look for signs of wilting or faded color, then water. You can also check the soil. The soil in your SFG should remain about as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
- Water regularly but carefully. Because Mel’s Mix™ is so loose, it drains well and poses little risk of over-watering. However, it can also dry out a little more quickly as a result, so be sure to give your plants a drink when they ask for it rather than flooding your garden weekly and allowing it to dry out in between.
- Avoid overhead watering with automatic sprinkler systems. Those systems are designed for large areas (like lawns) that need a broad application of water, not your Square Foot Garden that’s designed to take up little space. The overhead spray never gets to the root zone beneath your plants’ leaves, so the watering winds up being insufficient. That overhead spray also quickly evaporates, leading to water waste, and leaves foliage wet which can lead to pest and disease issues.