In Love With Leaky Hose (And How To Water)

I feel cheeky suggesting you need watering lessons. You’ve raised a family, built a house; you drive a car and may even run a small country…. but, clever as you are, do you know how to water?

Because understanding how and when to water makes an enormous difference to the health and productivity of your crops.

moisture testTest for soil moisture

Does your soil need water today?

Always check. Don’t waste water if its moist enough already (take a nap instead).

Make a new start this January and do this one new thing – check before you water. Give up your evening habit of hose in hand, sprinkler attachment on, vaguely swishing water everywhere.

Three ways to check for soil moisture:

  1. Check by pushing your forefinger all the way in. If it’s moist at the tip of your finger then your soils are ok to go another day.
  2. Tony Murrell’s moisture check is a goody – he pushes a garden trowel into the soil, and if bits of soil are clinging to the tip when it’s pulled out then the soil is moist enough.
  3. Another way is to collect a handful of soil, squeeze it together then open your hand out giving it a small shake as you do. If the soil mostly holds together with a few crumbs fallen away then it’s perfectly moist. If you can make a pot with it – too wet, if nothing sticks together too dry.

Newly sown seeds and transplanted seedlings are another story. They need daily watering in hot, dry weather until their roots are down and they can hold their own in the heat.

How to water

  • Water the root zone –  it’s the soil needs wetting, not the foliage. Wet foliage is beloved by fungus and mildew, it doesn’t contribute to your plants well being at all. Only good after a dust storm, a frost, or a bad case of spider mites.
  • Water slowly/ gently. Be sure the water is soaking into the soil, not running off.
  • Morning is the best, it allows the garden to be dry by night. Especially if you insist on sprinkling and getting the foliage wet – atleast do it in the am to let it dry by the pm
  • Give a good soak, then let the soil dry out slightly before soaking again (apart from seeds and new seedlings who need water every day when it’s dry and hot). This will encourage your roots to go deep. That light sprinkle of yours barely reaches the soil. The roots go where the water is. Shallow water, shallow roots. Shallow roots can’t find minerals/ water. Big wind, fall over. Big crop, fall over. Big problem, no resources.
  • Learn the key watering times and requirements for each crop. There is a helpful table below.

Sprinkler, Leaky Hose, or By Hand?

oscillating sprinklerSprinklers

Are best suited to seeds, newly transplanted seedlings and smalls like saladings. I prefer oscillating sprinklers that can be set to where you want the water to go. Minimise water loss by using in the morning and by taking time to direct the sprinkler to exactly where you want it.

Are not at all suited to mulched areas and established plants.

Leaky Hoses

It’s been a long road figuring leaky hoses out, and I hung in there because in theory they’re bloomin’ marvellous.  They encourage deep roots, keep the topsoil and foliage dry, conserve water (no evaporation), and at the turn of one tap loads of plants get water. I’m glad I persevered, the destination’s worth the journey.

Three important things

  1. Low pressure. Attach them to a full pressure tap and they’ll split and spout! Slot a pressure reducing valve onto your tap and away you go. (Farmlands, hardware stores etc)
  2. Bury them – 10 to  30cm – to keep them out of UV, keep the topsoil dry and make the most of the capillary action in the soil. I lay my leaky hose afresh before each sowing or planting to ensure the layout best suits the crop. Not all beds need them – eg greencrops, potatoes.
  3. Use clamps at the joins to avoid drips and leaks. I started with cable ties, moved onto plastic hose clamps, ended full hog with screw on metal clamps.

To buy good quality leaky hose and for more information see here.

hand wateringHandwatering

If you have a small garden, or a limited supply of water – handwatering is the way to go. A slow hose at the base of the plant (just remember it’s on!) or a watering can without the head at the base of established plants, with the head on for seeds and seedlings.

There are always a few plants out of reach of my leaky hose – they get an inverted bottle/ water reservoir alongside. Cut the bottom off and push the open, narrow top into soil beside the the plant. Fill with water to give your plant a long, slow drink right where it needs it.

There are many cool handwatering ideas out there – you’ll come up with something wondrous.

How much water do your plants need?

There is no rule here. Sorry guys. I know you want one. I see all sorts of measures and guides, but every plant is different, every stage of the plant growth is different, and every soil is different – how can there be one rule?

Keen observation teaches you everything you need to know. Wisdom comes after many seasons of doing, of observing and pondering. Plants give you all the feedback you need, they show you how well connected you are to their needs.

Do all the things we’ve talked about and your crops will flourish, you’ll use heaps less water and all will be well.

Here is a helpful table with different crops and their water needs.


  1. Patricia Carpenter says

    As always — your info is what people need to learn.

    I agree with what you have said!!! but as a gardening coach in the US and a Supergran volunteer here (veg. gardens, what else) I am always asked how much to water.

    In Davis California we generally feel lawns and veggie gardens need about 2 inches water a week during the summer. In pring and fall then half that much. So since your climate here in summer is about like our spring and fall, I assume 1 inch (about 25mm) a week. (yes, I know I am ignoring compaction, mulch, exact veggie crop, and soil type…….) If it rains, I might not have to water.

    You might like the article I wrote.
    This chart has been helpful for showing water needs but also what happens if you take out a lawn and put in perennial or natives…. We are in year 4 of drought. I have an acre of CA natives as well.

    I have used these two charts to help people understand raised bed needs (I hate them–but Kiwi’s seem to love them) and watering deeply and less often. In California I mostly use drip irrigation rather than your leaky hose. However, many swear by them. I find drip systems easier and more flexible, easier to fix and less likely it gets stabbed with the garden fork.. ucd chart

    • That’s a really helpful chart with root depth – something people have yet to fully understand, and makes a real difference to how they water (and work/ prepare their beds).

      There are so many variables when it comes to water which I why I prefer that people develop a relationship with their soil via checking and realise that well prepared soil appropriate to the crop is the key. I haven’t had to water my corn bed once! it’s holding its moisture beautifully, however my squash have dried out (almost disastrously – will they recover?) but that is in line with a speedy bed preparation and lack of attention during end of year madness. I am needing to water regularly.

      Interesting how we fall into one of two categories – over watering or underwatering – may we all find the lovely place in the middle!

      Thanks so much for your thoughts
      happy new Year Patricia
      kind regards Kath

  2. Trish Sarr says

    This is REALLY helpful, Kath. Some I knew, of course, but you always have extra tips and the reasons behind the way you suggest doing things. You remain such a beautiful presence in my garden. Trish

  3. Hi kath
    Just wondering if you can advise me on if I need to spray my edible cherry tree at the pruning sites when I come to give it it’s first prune this year. If so what sort of spray? Wanting to keep in natural

    • Hi Lauren

      What are you wanting to spray for?

      If tree is healthy then nothing to do! Prune on a dry, breezy day and wipe your seceteurs clean with vinegar beforehand.

      regards Kath