6 Watering Mistakes You’ve Probably Already Made

July 31, 2014 | By | Comments (7)
Lawn sprinkler

Photo: RCB

My plants demand it, but I hate watering. Every minute I spend at one end of a garden hose is like a teaspoon of my soul being sucked into Purgatory. I loathe wasting water even more, which is something I see gardeners do all the time. You can avoid this sin and save our planet by promising never to do any of the following dumb things ever again.

Mistake #1 — Setting Your Sprinkler System on Automatic
When you’re driving, do you point the car so it’s going straight, turn on cruise control, and take a nap? Not if you’re reading this. When you’re cooking, do you turn on the burner and then leave for two weeks in Australia? You bet your Aussie you don’t. Then why would you set your sprinkler system to come on at 4 AM for 20 minutes every single day, no matter the season or weather?

I’ve seen sprinkler systems showering plants with water during a tropical storm. I’ve seen them glazing hapless plants with ice during an Arctic freeze. I’ve seen broken systems shooting geysers of water the height of  “Old Faithful” onto the driveway and street, because the homeowners have never actually been awake when the systems were on.

Run your system when you’re conscious so you’re sure it’s operating correctly. Install a water sensor to keep it from operating in the rain or when the soil is wet. Turn it off when your plants and lawn are dormant. And during the growing season, instead of running it 20 minutes every day, run it for an hour twice a week. The water will penetrate the soil more deeply, so plants will grow deeper roots and better tolerate drought.

Mistake #2 — Watering in Mid-day When It’s Hot and Sunny
This is like pouring Jack Daniel’s on weeds to kill them. What a disheartening waste! Watering when it’s hot means that most of the water will evaporate before it ever reaches the roots. The best time to water is very early in the morning when it’s cool.

Mistake #3 — Watering the Leaves and Not the Roots
Leaves absorb a minute amount of water, but roots suck up the lion’s share. So when watering with a hose and nozzle, don’t shower the foliage, even though the droplets on the leaves look so pretty and sparkly in the sun. Direct the water to the roots. If it starts to run off, pause until it soaks in, and then continue.

Mistake #4 — Planting Lots of Water Junkies
During hot, dry weather, French hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) need watering every day. So do impatiens, coleus, hibiscus, elephant’s ears, caladiums, pentas, many ferns, and vegetable plants. After watering them for 6 days in a row only to see them wilting like they did before you started is the best way to sell plastic flowers I know. So temper these choices with plants that tolerate drought, like sedum, daylily, black-eyed Susan, yucca, agave, lantana, salvias, ornamental grasses, and yarrow. Or plant mainly in containers that are quick and easy to water.

Mistake #5 — Overwatering
Just because a plant wilts doesn’t mean it’s thirsty. And giving a plant too much water will kill it quicker than giving it too little. Group together plants with similar water needs, so you won’t be drowning some and parching others. In times of drought, let warm-season grasses like Bermuda, Zoysia, Bahia, and buffalo go dormant and brown. They’ll green back up and be fine with the first good rain. And here’s a tip about wilting. In hot sun, a plant can wilt even if the soil is wet. So look at a plant early in morning before the sun hits it. If it’s wilting, water it.

Mistake #6 — Neglecting to Mulch
Adding a 2 to 3-inch deep layer of mulch over the soil around plants is a great way to conserve water. Mulch cools soil, reduces water run-off, and keeps moist soil moist.


  1. Lucille

    My spouse and I stumbled over here by a different website and thought I might as well check things out.
    I like what I see so now i’m following you.
    Look forward to checking out your web page for a second time.

    September 22, 2014 at 4:39 pm
  2. Steve Bender

    If you’re putting down sod of a warm-season grass like Zoysia or Bermuda, put it down no later than September 1, so it has time to root in before winter. Be prepared to water it thoroughly every single day that it doesn’t rain for about three weeks.

    August 8, 2014 at 10:43 am
  3. Steve Bender

    Make sure they’re getting plenty of sun. The more sun they get, the more flowers you’ll get.

    August 8, 2014 at 10:40 am
  4. King Dee

    I just found this…I worked at UAB w/ Judy…so please tell her hi.
    When is the best time to plant grass.

    August 6, 2014 at 8:57 am
  5. CyndaP

    My black-eyed Susans aren’t doing so well. The flowers are tiny and few, the leaves look okay. I have not watered them because we’ve had plenty of rain so far this year. Should I have watered them?

    August 1, 2014 at 5:27 pm
  6. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)


    No, I let the pine straw decompose in place and add organic matter to the soil. Then I place new straw on top.

    July 31, 2014 at 4:03 pm
  7. Christy Cader

    Regarding #6, do you change out your pine straw? If yes, how often? Is it really necessary? Great info, by the way!

    July 31, 2014 at 10:24 am

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