For Less Disease + Better Vegies – Water Like a Pro

Feb Tomatoes

Sometime this month or next we’ll be gearing up for watering. Before summer hits proper I want to encourage you to ponder the way you water. In part to conserve this precious resource, but also to improve the overall health of your gardens.

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

Start the summer season with a new intention – to test before you water.

Tag team this keeping the soil covered with living mulch or mulch + keeping on the job of building gutsy, hummus rich soil and success comes knocking.

Know your soil

First up is soil. Always soil. Hearty soil is water retentive and full of life bringing the mineral exchange and immunity our plants need to go the hard yards of production under a hot sun.

Test your soil with a worm count. Dig out a spade by spade by spade chunk and if you’ve got 20 worms therein you are at the top of your game – keep going my friend. If not, no worries all the good things you are doing are taking you there.

Feel your soil. The ideal fabric feels peaty with a little bit of cohesion.

sniff the soil

Smell your soil – earthy is good!

Keep your soil covered

Keep the soil covered with mulch or a living mulch, and you’ll be using less water + spending less time watering than you thought possible (and building soil at the same time).

With hearty soil and mulch at play you’ll be amazed at how long you can go between waterings. Freakin’ AMAZED!!

Here’s your do-I-need-water test

just right

Check your soil before you get the hose out. You can turn the health of your garden around just with this one change.

  • 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.
  • Water only the plants that need it.
  • Only water to that 50% (just moist) mark.

Do these things and your plants will perform so much better, soil life explodes and the reduction in disease is stunning.

  • 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.

Water Like A Pro

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

beetroot seedlings

Baby phase (direct sown seed/ new transplants/ newly emerged seedlings) Begin on a win with a soak 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. Like babies, a bit of nurture here pays off later. A thin 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. 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.

3 best times to water

November morning

Cloudy or drizzling and definitely in the morning = 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


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