How to 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. Only water, if 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.

The 3 best times to water are in the morning, when its cloudy or when its drizzling.

An easy test for soil moisture

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 soils needs to be moist at the topsoil. 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.

Watering for different phases of growth

Baby phase: direct sown seed/ new transplants/ newly emerged seedlings

brocolli 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, as is humus rich soil.

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 – at about the 6 leaf stage. This is different for every crop, so use common sense.

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

How to make liquid feed Put the rotten comfrey under the tomato plants Ediblebackyard NZ

This is a key time for consistent moisture. Pull back on the tough love, and go mother love – keep the soil 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. The differences are subtle – a little more or a little less makes alot of difference.

  • Chillies develop more spice with less water
  • Tomatoes are tastier by far with less water – think of the watery tasteless offerings in the supermarket.
  • Squash and cucumbers, need more water than tomatoes and potatoes.
  • Beans rot easily at the seed stage – water once and then leave them until germinated. Consistent moisture from flowering for best performance.
  • Avoid fungus-y basil foliage by letting soils dry out between watering’s.

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?

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

Plants give you all the feedback you need – listen to what they tell you. Do all the things we’ve talked about, keep checking in with the soil, trust your gut and overtime you’ll become a pro.



    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.