It seems like a relatively simple thing: you put on the hose and you water the plants. But not quite.

Good watering habits can make or break a garden. But when and how to water seems to baffle a lot of gardeners; in fact, it?s one of the questions I?m most often asked.

Moderation in watering is always a good thing, especially since we?ll soon be on water rationing if we have the long hot summer predicted. But there are many ways to water sensibly and here are a few tips to help out:

  • If you like to use a sprinkler, put it on top of a ladder and let it go back and forth at a slow speed. This will replicate a gentle rain, which is best for the garden.
  • Hand watering is the best way to go if you have a small garden. I have hoses hanging on the fence in all sections of the garden. Each one is fitted with an inexpensive nozzle which I can aim at a section propped up by a hose guide.
  • If you are watering containers, use enough water to make sure it flows out of the bottom. By adding water retentive material such as Soil Sponge to the bottom when planting, you can cut your watering in half.

Automatic watering systems are much beloved by designers and landscapers. They can save a lot of worries if an owner gets careless and forgets to water. But there are problems here too.

They are big ticket items even if installed during construction of a garden. Retrofitting them is even more expensive. But why are settings often done incorrectly? I go around to gardens and see them in various states of disrepair because the system is set to come on automatically for 15 minutes every day. Such shallow watering doesn?t help the plants at all. They either starve or the roots head for the surface where the water is.

Automatic systems should be set to run at least an hour and 15 minutes once a week, twice a week if you?ve got newly installed trees and shrubs. This means water is going to percolate deeply into the soil. The deeper the root system in most plants, the stronger the plant.

If you have a system, set it so you can do it manually unless you?re away for a long time. If it?s pouring rain for three days you don?t need your sprinklers churning away?a truly pathetic sight.

Make sure there are no blind spots where the water doesn?t hit (round watering areas in square gardens often isn?t very efficient).

Since I?m a gardener whose idea of a great summer cottage is right behind my house, I don?t have to worry about installing anything as complicated as automatic watering?I am the watering system. I water early in the morning, hanging on to a cup of coffee, or early in the evening, and I take a good look into the garden. If a plant is droopy, I?ll put the hose beside it and let it dribble in long enough to make sure it?s gotten down at least 20 cm (use a transplanting trowel with measurements marked on it) to check if the penetration is deep enough.

I love to water because it means I?m crawling around looking carefully at the plants to make sure they are getting enough to drink but not enough to drown in. Once again, moderation in watering is the watchword of this summer.