For Less Disease + Better Vegies – Water Your Garden Like a Pro

Feb Tomatoes

Start the summer season with a new intention – to check the soil before you water your garden so that you only water when your soil needs it.

Overwatering creates fungus and encourages sappy, pest prone foliage. Underwatering ergo dry soils – means minerals aren’t converted and plants are stressed. Either way soil life, the key to our whole operation – disappears.

Plants perform far better and the reduction in disease is stunning, when you water on a needs basis, not just cos its the end of the day and that’s what you always do when you get home.

Here’s your do-I-need-water? test

just right
  • For established crops, the tall and the sprawling – test by pushing your finger in. The tip of your finger tells you whether to water or not. Yes, really! All the way down there. I know gardeners who push it out further than this to two fingers deep – go on I dare ya! (I dare myself!) If it’s moist at your fingertip let it be. If it’s dry –  water.
  • For newly sown seed, new transplants, shallow rooters and little guys test by squeezing a handful of soil together. Open your hand out giving it a small shake as you do. If the soil mostly holds together and a few crumbs fall away then it’s perfectly moist. If it holds its shape and you can infact shape it into something – way too wet. If nothing holds together – way too dry.

How to Water Your Garden Like A Pro

Here’s a snapshot of different watering needs at different times.

Cabbage seedling planted into seaweed

Baby phase (direct sown seed/ new transplants/ newly emerged seedlings) Begin on a win by soaking the soil at planting/ sowing. Where the water goes the roots will follow. Roots that go deep bring strength and lasting power. Keep soil moist at this vulnerable stage. Never wet, just moist. This is key. Make barely moist your mantra.

A layer of mulch is really effective at making moisture last.

Teenage phase – pre flowering, make ’em work for it! Create robust/ resilient plants by rolling out a bit of tough love once they can handle it (for most plants, this means 5/6 leaf). Load on the mulch and push the gap between waterings as far as you dare to force their roots deep. Testing using the tip of your finger as a moisture guide begins here.

Mumma phase – flowering/ fruiting is a key time. Pull back on the tough love – go mother love and keep the soil nicely moist. I leave the topsoil to dry a tad between waterings for plants prone to fungal disease like zucchini, basil and tomato.

Exceptions To The Rule


Of course, there are! Different crops have different water needs, and understanding this is the journey to a food gardener.

  • Chillies develop more spice with less water and tomatoes are tastier by far (think of the watery tasteless offerings in the supermarket).
  • Squash and cucumbers, need more water than tomatoes and potatoes.
  • Beans rot easily and need to be barely moist until germinated, but after that need consistent moisture from flowering for best performance.
  • Avoid fungus-y basil foliage by letting soils dry out between waterings.

Watch and learn. Trust your eyes.

How much water do your plants need?

hand watering

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. Plants give you all the feedback you need, they show you how well connected you are to their needs. Overtime you’ll become a pro.

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.

3 best times to water your garden

November morning

Cloudy or drizzling and definitely in the morning = 3 best times.

Make this coming summer, the summer of testing first and less is more. Look about the world and be inspired by all the food grown in home gardens without pumps and hoses and on a water budget far tighter than ours.



    I really enjoy your blog as it has so much relevant information to NZ gardens. Do you use the 3 or 4 year rotation system in your vegetable beds? Which do you think is the best? I’m confused from reading about both and cant decide which to use!
    Kind regards, Christine

    • Too much information aye Christine! Heres how I roll
      I know gardeners who dont rotate their crops and have been growing amazing veggie gardens for years. Its possible too much is made of it, especially some of the very complicated systems out there. So don’t worry about too much about it, just find a way that resonates and jump in!

      • Sarah Thompson says

        I see in one of your images an upside down bottle with bottom cut off with water in it…is this a watering system? I need something better than my level of irresponsibility!

        • Ah yes it is! A great visual reminder those bottles. Simply fill the upside down bottle with water when the soil needs it. Stick with testing the soil before watering, ie dont just fill it back up because its empty. The right amount of moisture makes a huuuuge difference to crop success making it easier to ramp up the dedication once you click onto it. 🙂


    Thanks heaps Kath. I agree that it can get toooooo complicated.

  3. Annie Cochrane says

    Watering, so relevant to these increasingly dry spring and summer seasons – here in Raglan at least. So i’ll do the finger test from now on. I just wanted to add something about crop rotation – I tried to follow the Koanga one for years, and always found it such a trial and ended up not maximising my urban garden space. After listening to Charles Dowding (of no dig fame) on you tube, who doesnt rotate, unless disease or some such, indicates the occasional need to – I no longer do and am growing more and healthier veges than ever. The no dig is wonderful also. Always look forward to your wonderful and wise posts!!!

  4. Mandy O'Neill says

    Hi kath,
    I’ve just removed all the nectarines off my dwarf tree as they were covered In sticky, gooey stuff. Can you tell me about cause and cure please.

    • Oh darn – sounds like bacterial canker. Are there any other oozy bits on the trunk or twigs? Any other die back? Or sunken areas on the trunk?
      Typically caused by poor drainage or equally being too dry or a rootstock thats not fit for your site – dwarf trees are very prone – being inferior and weak to begin with.

      • Mandy O'Neill says

        Thanks kath. Just found some gooey gummy stuff on trunk of peach tree next to it. Both dwarf.
        Is it fatal and can I stop it spreading to other stonefruit near by.

        • The thing is now already in the house as it were. Not necessarily fatal, but I cannot promise anything. Best approach is to adjust your environment where you can – is the soil heavy and wet? or conversely poor and dry? Take care to feed gently and in rhythm with the seasons. Woody type mulch is your best bet. Excellent airflow. Pruning after fruiting in summer. Biological sprays throughout the growing season. If you can prune out the worst affected branches back to good wood then do so – immediately after spray with EM. Check out my goods and gurus page of resources and also my blogposts on fruit trees for how to feed and spray.
          This disease highlights the need to choose the right rootstock to match your soil conditions – something to think about should you ever replace the trees.
          All the best Kath

  5. I notice this year especially we have very few insects. Especially the obvious ones Bees, bumble bees, butterflies, lady bugs etc? Is there a reason why? We keep the wild flowers all around our gardens

    • Always a reason why my friend. Insects are a symptom of the whole. Every thing that is in the air, water and soil around you impacts on insect life – pollution, sprays inside and outside the house etc. Good on you for keeping the flowers going, but truth is they are a small part of the whole. Habitat is also key – eg wild areas, rotting bits of wood and also access to clean water and always always no spray. I love how you are noticing their absence. As you build more diversity into the little eco system of your garden you will notice more and more.

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