Your Season-by-Season Guide to Watering Your Garden Effectively

Keeping your plants well hydrated is key to helping them thrive all year. Use these tips to ensure they get the moisture they need.

Much like you, your plants get thirsty, especially during those long, hot summer days with no clouds in sight. A wilted plant is a stressed plant, so it won't grow well and is less able to fend off pests and diseases. Figuring out how much to water your garden can be a little tricky, since it depends on a number of environmental influences, including the season and weather conditions, as well as the types of plants you're growing. Here are a few basics you need to know in order to have the healthiest, best-hydrated landscape, while more efficiently using every last drop.

watering lettuce plants in garden sunlight in the background
Bob Stefko

When to Water Your Garden by Season

The time of year and precipitation (or lack of it) impact the amount of water you may need to supply. Plants grow less quickly, if at all, during the cooler months, so they don't require as much moisture to support their stems and leaves. But even cold-hardy trees, shrubs, and perennials, which are dormant in winter, still need hydration. Most areas of the country do experience some drought, so your job is to ease your plants through those dry spells.

A wilted plant is a stressed plant.


Because of more plentiful precipitation in the spring, Mother Nature will take care of a lot of the watering. Be aware of how much rainfall you're getting. If you get less than one inch per week, you still may need to supplement.


As the weather heats up and droughts occur, you'll need to step in with more watering. When temperatures go above 85°F, you can expect to water your plants every day to keep them from wilting.


The end of the growing season usually won't require as much watering, since temperatures start cooling and precipitation often increases. Also, most hardy plants will start slowing down their growth and losing leaves in preparation for winter, so they need less hydrating. Water your plants about two times per week when temperatures are above 40°F and snow hasn't fallen yet.


Watering is only necessary before the frost hits and your hardy plants have gone dormant for the winter. Until then, when temperatures are above 40°F, water your plants two to three times per week. Once there's snow on the ground, you can relax until spring rolls around.

Test Garden Tip: Keeping track of your area's precipitation is easy with a good rain gauge. To get the most accurate reading, place it away from trees or overhanging structures.

drip irrigation system with lettuce
Helen Norman

How to Water Your Plants

You can water your garden with a watering can or hose, or use sprinklers or irrigation systems. It doesn't matter very much to your plants, it's more about what's most convenient and affordable for you. For example, for a small garden, or just a few plants, a watering can or a hose works well enough. But if you have a lot of plants over a large area, you may want to consider investing in drip irrigation, or a sprinkler system on a timer, which can aid in conserving water.

When using a watering can (like this Better Homes & Gardens version, $18, Walmart), keep the water temperature in mind. You're not alone in disliking cold showers or baths—many plants hate really cold water. Always use cool or tepid water, never freezing cold, especially for seedlings and young plants, since they're less able to tolerate the temperature shock. You'll also want to avoid the other extreme, which is water that's too hot. This can happen when a hose or watering can (especially a metal one) has been sitting in the sun. It's best to first run the hose over the pavement until you feel the water cool. Empty and refill overheated watering cans before using.

Test Garden Tip: If you're watering plants from overhead, try not to get the leaves wet. It also helps to start early enough in the day for the foliage to dry completely before nightfall, which will discourage foliar diseases.

Two people planting a new tree in a yard
Chalirmpoj Pimpisarn, EyeEm/Getty Images

Tips for Watering New Plants

It usually takes a year after planting for most perennials, shrubs, and trees to become fully established, which means they've had a chance to develop a strong root system. During their first season in your garden, make sure your new plants never wilt or completely dry out. This will help them concentrate more energy on growing healthy roots rather than on damage control when they're drought-stressed.

New annuals and vegetable transplants also need soil that's evenly and constantly moist, but not soggy, at least for the first two weeks. When planting small peat pots directly into the soil (a practice often used with plants that don't tolerate root disturbance well), be careful that no part of the pot protrudes above the soil. If it does, the dry peat will act as a wick, pulling water from the soil and letting it evaporate into the air.

Test Garden Tip: When watering small seedlings with a watering can (this white Better Homes & Gardens watering can, $13, Walmart is a classic), turn the rose (the rounded piece on the end of the spout) at the tip so that the holes point upward to the sky instead of down toward the earth. This minimizes soil disturbance and keeps seedlings from being flattened to the soil.

dave and jenny marrs walmart ceramic planter and lanterns
Aaron Menken, Hatch & Maas Collective

Better Homes & Gardens Green Ceramic Planter (from $12, Walmart)

Tips for Watering Plants in Containers

Plants in containers can dry out faster than plants in the ground, as the soil in pots tends to retain less moisture. The ideal time to water container plants is early morning or early evening. This gives the plants time to absorb water before the heat of the day. On hot summer days, outdoor potted plants may need to be watered as often as twice per day. If the soil around the plant is dry, or the plant shows signs of brown, shriveled leaves, it's time to water. Look for planters with a drainage hole at the bottom, so the container doesn't retain too much water. This versatile Better Homes & Gardens ceramic planter (from $17, Walmart) can be displayed outdoors during the summer and brought inside during the winter months.

How Much to Water Your Plants

Some plants are more drought-tolerant than others (succulents are among the least thirsty plants), so they can get by with less water. But in general, you can think of plants as living straws that suck water out of the ground and release it into the air. This process speeds up during hot, sunny weather and especially when there's a noticeable breeze or wind, which causes water to evaporate more quickly. If there isn't enough water for roots to send to leaves and stems, your plants will wilt and eventually die. The trick is to make sure your plants, especially new ones still getting established, always have enough moisture, but not so much that they drown (roots need to breathe, too).

And no, just wetting the surface isn't enough. Apply water thoroughly, letting it soak into the ground all the way down to the roots. It can take a little time for water to penetrate deep into your soil, so it's best to add moisture slowly, using low pressure, rather than going for a quick blast from the hose (the force of which can damage more delicate plants).

If you see puddles forming immediately, or runoff, you're adding water faster than the ground can absorb it. Try moving on to another area, then returning five to ten minutes later to add a little more water at a more gentle rate. This will give the moisture time to trickle into the earth.

Of course, it's just as possible to overwater your plants. If you're concerned about that, remember that once you give them a drink, most plants can recover from wilting, but if the roots start rotting from too much moisture, they often can't be saved. Add plenty of compost to your soil to improve drainage. This will prevent overwatering from drowning the roots.

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