Growing Green, A Family Gardening Series: Week 3

Weeding or watering? How was I to decide which was the more important topic to tackle after planting?

I’ve decided to go with watering, partly because we haven’t had rain to speak of in weeks so things are looking really dry where I am, and partly because weeding right after planting is relatively easy: Pull or dig up everything green that isn’t where you planted seeds, because it is a weed. (Stay tuned – the next post will go into more details, such as weed prevention!)

You don’t need super-fancy irrigation equipment like drip tape when you are a beginning gardener. You can easily get by with just a watering can. Mine broke last summer and I was tempted to make one out of a milk jug, but my partner wanted to do a “fancier” fix out of a plastic bottle bottom and some heavy-duty tape. 

I still think the milk jug would work. If your garden space is a bit larger or farther from your house, it’s nice to have a hose and a nozzle or wand. These two options require you to be present for the watering. If you have a sprinkler, just set it up and turn it on – I use the watering time to weed other areas. 

Kids typically love to water things – and to get wet! A sprinkler can be a real enticement into the yard, and a nozzle great fun to spray things with. 

“My son at two years old, intent on watering”

The key questions with water are how much and when. A rule of thumb is to provide plants with one inch of water per week. Rain gauges are relatively inexpensive, or your child could make one to see how much rain is falling and how much you might need to supplement. 

Making a Rain Gauge with kids 

Some sprinklers have information about how much water, in inches or cm, that they put out per hour. I am less formal; I just keep an eye on my plants and water with a sprinkler for about half an hour or a nozzle until I get bored, if they haven’t had water for some time or if they are drooping. Plants in pots will need watering more frequently because the soil dries out quicker. With any soil, you can dig a little hole or stick your finger in the dirt; if it’s dry about two inches down, then it’s time to water. Do you need to worry about over-watering? In the prairies, it’s not likely! If you water so that a puddle stays on top of the dirt without soaking in for more than say, 15 seconds, then that’s enough. 

The best time to water is early in the morning before the sun is high and hot enough to evaporate much of the water that you’re putting down. Windy days are not great – they also cause water to evaporate more quickly. The evening is the second-best time. The worst time is in the middle of the day when the most water is likely to go unused by plants.  

Living in a drought-prone area, I am always mindful about the careful use of water. You can keep water near your plants’ roots longer if you mulch the ground around the plants. Mulch can be free if you have a yard with trees or grass – use leaves or grass clippings to shade the soil from the sun after watering. I have even used weeds as mulch as long as they haven’t gone to seed or won’t root from other parts of the plant. Speaking of weeds, the most weed-free summer I had in my community garden plot was when the city was under watering restrictions so I watered the rows or plants individually with a watering can. There was no rain, so no weeds sprouted between the rows in the dry soil!

Finally, water yourself! Make sure to keep a water bottle nearby or take water breaks while gardening, protect yourself and kids from the sun, and have fun.

Naomi Beingessner has lived and gardened in the Prairies for most of her life. She has two children, an enthusiastic gardener and an enthusiastic eater. She was a high school teacher and is now back in university studying food sovereignty. Her favourite vegetable is green beans but she finds that the most significant taste difference between store-bought and home-grown is in tomatoes.